I’ve never been a big fan of lateral thinking based puzzles, and this is the main reason I have always written off the Professor Layton games on the Nintendo DS and not given them any bit of my attention.
After beating Henry Hatsworth again, trying to recover where I was at in the Dragon Quest IV remake (I can’t for the life of me remember how to get inside the circular mountain range), and grinding out a few levels in the Final Fantasy IV remake, I decided to give Professor Layton and the Curious Village a try after a friend brought it up in conversation.
I have to say I am really glad I finally set my prejudices aside and finally gave this game a go. I’m completely enchanted by it and find myself hard pressed to put it down, even when stuck on a puzzle.
Often I think that games don’t require a lot of extra bells and whistles, and that the core gameplay concept is generally all that is needed – anything else is just for polishing it or making it more appealing to a wider market. I think Layton has proved me wrong in this regard, or at least surprised me. I’m sure that if this game was just a matter of loading it up and being greeted with puzzle after puzzle (the core gameplay), my prior assumptions would have been met and I would dislike the game. However, it has such incredible character and world building that I find the puzzles a pleasure to solve (even though they’re usually only loosely based on where you found the puzzle) and look forward to progressing the story, and of course seeing the fantastically well done cut scenes. The dialogue between characters is terrific as well, and the world is crafted in such a way to actually promote exploring it. Not to mention the character design is as creative as the puzzles themselves, and fits into the quirky world very well. Strange traits for a game based on solving a series of minigame-esque puzzles, but without them it wouldn’t be nearly the same.
I also like how the game really doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Layton and Luke find it completely normal to stop in the middle of chasing down a murderer to solve a puzzle about cats, and will make remarks about doing so accordingly.
Sometimes I will encounter a puzzle that has a very awkward solution and makes me feel more cheated rather than accomplished. However, this is understandable as the game has hundreds of puzzles, and even as someone who is not accustomed to these types of puzzles, they are few and far between (and I’m sure these few esoteric puzzles are probably different for everyone).
Solving puzzles will sometimes reward you with a collection piece for various over-arching puzzles (such as jigsaw pieces), a nice bonus reward on top of the feel of accomplishment. The coin-based hint system is also done very well and again promotes exploring the world. Much like Braid, the game focuses on getting you to solve everything yourself rather than simply giving you answers, and the meta-reward of feeling like you’ve accomplished something is ever present. Again – sometimes puzzles are so awkward that even 3 hints don’t help at all, but you’re never forced to complete a puzzle; regardless of how far along you advance the story, the puzzle will always be in a storage area to try and complete later on – a fact that more than placates completionists such as myself.
While I don’t think I will ever be actively pursuing mind-bender puzzle books as a source of entertainment, Layton has definitely presented them in a way that allows me to enjoy them – I don’t just complete them because they’re “in the way” of the rest of the game, rather the game itself makes the puzzles enjoyable – even though the puzzles are the game itself. An interesting situation. My hats off to Level-5, Layton and his apprentice Luke.