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Curiouser and Curiouser August 19, 2008

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Reviews, Uncategorized, Video Games.
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Because I frequent a lot of video game blogs (particularly DS Fanboy and Kotaku, my personal favorite), I’d been excited about Professor Layton and the Curious Village for quite some time. Well, excited and curious. Could another puzzle game, on a platform awash with puzzle games, really live up to the hype it seems to have drummed up on Japanese shores? Even when localized? I just had to know. So sometime after its US release back February, I picked up my copy and set about putting the game through its paces .

Soon enough, I was pleased to find that it lives up to all the acclaim surrounding it, and then some.

By definition, puzzle games aren’t for everyone, but Professor Layton and the Curious Village does so many things right that it practically demands attention from a wider audience. Consider, for instance, the fact that it is manages to pull off story-driven puzzle gaming in a manner that doesn’t feel forced at all. Granted, the mystery-esque plot is fairly predictable with maybe a couple of inexplicable elements (who was that bad guy, anyway?), but it blends in rather well with the game’s overall feel, and is sufficiently engaging to keep players’ interested to see the story through to its logical conclusion.

Then there’s the game’s production value. In a word: wow. From the moment one leafs through the manual it’s plain to see that the game is a quality product. The artwork is topnotch and the anime cutscenes are the best I’ve seen on the DS so far (in terms of amount shown and overall quality, with the possible exception of the painfully bad voice acting for the Professor’s ward Luke). The gameplay mechanics are kept simple and sensible — note that there are built in hints to each brainteaser lest one get stumped — and the addition of weekly downloadable puzzles is a great way to keep a game with otherwise very little replay value fresh.

Finally, there is also the promise of unlockable content via a passcode to be made available with the game’s sequel. Some may look none too kindly on this marketing gimmick, especially because the sequels (there are two) have yet to be announced on Western shores. Me? I think this is a good sign of things to come, because this is one franchise whose audience shouldn’t be limited to Japanes shores alone. It’s that good, and may be proof positive that Level-5 is coming into its own as a game developer from whom we can expect great things.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village is yet another fantastic addition to the Nintendo DS’ library. As the box art says: “Solve brainteasers to crack the case.” Sometimes, it really doesn’t need to get much better than that.

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