During 2008, people were swept up with a new puzzle game – introduced at the peak of the puzzle game era of the Nintendo DS, was Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Something that was able to set Curious Village aside from other games in the puzzle genre, such as Brain Age and Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Academy was the inclusion of a narrative.
Though during early development, Curious Village was not meant to have any form of story and be much closer to its kin, being comprised of multiple puzzles with no interconnecting context between them; this was quickly changed and the Professor, Luke and the village of St. Mystere were created.
Ultimately, the plot of Curious Village is predominantly basic in premise as well as execution and is apparent from the onset of the game – Professor Layton (a world famous puzzle solver) and his, self-proclaimed, apprentice Luke are heading to St. Mystere village at the behest of the wife of a late Baron. They are tasked with finding an elusive object – ‘The Golden Apple’, revealed to exist by the Baron on his deathbed.
Not long after entering St. Mystere, the Professor and Luke find themselves stuck inside the village with no means of leaving. As a result, they must solve the mystery of the village through solving puzzle after puzzle set to them by the residents of St. Mystere. I can’t help but find the narrative akin to Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
The sense of growth that the game instils in the player through narrative progression is rather impressive too. When you first enter St. Mystere you are limited to the areas that you are able to visit and explore, however, the further you get in your investigation and the more things you bring to light, the more the village expands to you. The Village is much larger than you would first be led to believe, and I love that about the game – the narrative expansion is reflected in its gameplay.
Towards the end of the adventure, the narrative pace picks up a bit and takes it in a direction away from the realm of natural belief. However, the way that the game slowly introduces newer ideas helps to keep this evolution of the plot feel grounded and plausible.
The game was designed to be picked up and played by almost anyone, from perhaps as young as 10 years old, all the way through to later years, not just video game enthusiasts. This may be why the plot of the game is relatively straight forward, furthermore, the game does a great job at preventing player from being misdirected or losing where they had reached up to.
Upon rebooting the game after closing it down, the game starts with a ‘the story so far’ recap of the key events that you had played up to in the story. Also, when playing through the game, there are always little notifications that are able to direct you in terms of your current task needed to progress forward.
I think that this is great at remaining faithful to the players that cannot play for extended periods of time, or more elderly players that are more likely to have forgotten what they are required to do – an aspect that I feel many larger games forget to do nowadays.
Despite its simplicity, there is a lot to enjoy in Curious Village’s narrative and is quite the joy to play through.
The gameplay of Curious Village is almost entirely puzzle-based. At almost every turn, everyone in St. Mystere including their pets and the décor throw puzzles at you to solve. Throughout the main scenario of The Curious Village boasts over 100 puzzles to sink your teeth into in order to unravel to deeply knotted mysteries. Many of these puzzles can test various aspect of your knowledge – ranging from mental arithmetic, pattern recognition or play on words.
These variety of puzzles take great advantage of the Nintendo DS’s touch screen. Most puzzles require you to write in the answers to puzzles or circle the correct answer; others are entirely reliant on the touch screen to complete tasks through block-sliding or through placing chess pieces.
I think that the sheer number of puzzles in Curious Village is incredible and it gives you something new to solve almost every time.
I do, however, find that there are quite a few too many mathematic-based puzzles in the game, some of which can be very tedious to slog through.
This brings me to a main complaint I have with the way that the game handles your thinking process. There are some puzzles that allow you to make notes via the touch screen and stylus of the Nintendo DS, this can be a huge help with some of the more difficult puzzles. However, this functionality isn’t present during every puzzle. This can mean, unless you’ve got a piece of paper and pen to hand, you’re stuck keeping track of all of your workings out in your head. While I know that this is only a minor discrepancy, but due to the portable nature of the DS there’s a good chance that you’ll be required to keep a mental note in your head – this can be a complete pace killer when you’re on a particularly difficult puzzle.
Regarding puzzles that you run into difficulty with the game offers its chief currency in assistance – Hint Coins. Using the game’s touch screen capabilities, you can search around every screen that you visit; hidden about the screen are Hint Coins that you can amass.
As the name would suggest, these Hint Coins are used to purchase hints for puzzles that you are having trouble with. In every single puzzle you can use Hint Coins to unlock up to three hints. These hints get progressively more revealing about the solution of the puzzle providing you with more support in solving them.
I like this system, as it encourages you to investigate your surroundings, especially if you’ve been having trouble with some of the more difficult puzzles the game has to offer. Furthermore, by being constantly on the lookout for Hint Coins, you increase you’re chance of finding hidden puzzles that are scattered about St. Mystere.
I feel that the vast majority of the hints the game provides are extremely useful and can give you a great push in the right direction. Although, the hints that are provided will always be the same, therefore, your set of hints may offer you guidance on a later portion of the puzzle when you’re still stuck on grasping the basic aspects of them.
Be forewarned, these Hint Coins are by no means an infinite resource – eventually you’ll find yourself running low. If you’ve been spending them tactlessly because you couldn’t be bothered to figure out the answer on your own, then prepare to be penalised for it, especially towards the final gauntlet of puzzles.
Overall, there is a good selection of different types of puzzles that can keep you getting bored as you progress. Furthermore, once you have solved a puzzle you can go back at any time to re-attempt it.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a game that adequately blends puzzle-solving gameplay into the main story of the game, however, it is clear that the main focus is on the puzzles, as you’ll find yourself running into potential roadblocks that can prevent you from progressing any further if you haven’t solved enough puzzles throughout the game. If you’re more interested in the story, you may find yourself being pulled out the experience while you’re backtracking to solve a required number of puzzles.
Outside of Hint Coins, there are also a few other kinds of collectibles that the game has to offer. Some of these provide a little side activity to keep you busy while you’re mulling over a puzzle that you’re having some trouble with, while other can provide a much greater reward.
I will refrain from delving too far into these and focus solely on Picarats.
Picarats are the ultimate collectible in the game and your reward for solving each puzzle – a specific number of Picarats are assigned to each puzzle and they represent its difficulty.
A puzzle with only a multiple-choice option may only net you a maximum profit of 20 Picarats, but a late game puzzle may be worth 65 or even 80.
These Picarats don’t just build a score, they are used to unlock special rewards and bonuses for after you have beaten the game – different rewards are unlocked after attaining a certain number of Picarats.
Just to highlight a few bonuses you can unlock, you can gain access to the game’s soundtrack as well as character profiles.
This is where perhaps my favourite element of the gameplay comes in. As previously mentioned, each puzzle has a Picarat value. However, should you answer a puzzle incorrectly, the number of Picarats you will then be awarded for solving it decreases.
Picarats decrease a maximum of two times, but the profit can dip to half of its original value if you’re not thinking carefully.
I love this as it actively encourages players to think carefully about their answers, as well as incorporating the finite Hint Coins effectively to allow the highest possible Picarat total by the end of the game. It is entirely possible for you to prevent yourself from unlocking every bonus corresponding to Picarat count – this tangible reward for amassing a large amount of Picarats adds a lot of purpose to hunting down and solving as many puzzles as you can through your time with Curious Village.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village is an excellent puzzle game that is coupled with a fun and endearing story. If you’re a fan of brain-teasing puzzle games, then there is certain something here for you to enjoy. If you’ve never given a puzzle game a go, I can whole-heartedly recommend for you to try this game if you’re looking for an entry point to the genre.
Of course, there is the nasty issue of replayability when it comes to any puzzle game, and unfortunately there isn’t much to break Curious Village away from this trope. However, while I wouldn’t recommend you replay the game immediately after beating it, due to the sheer number of puzzles, given enough time, the game can still present a nice challenge on a repeat playthrough.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village earns an 8.5 out of 10
Thank you for reading my review of Professor Layton and the Curious Village. I’m a huge fan of the Professor Layton series and so I felt like revisiting them and looking at them from a more objective viewpoint than I had before.
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