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Critical Reception: Nintendo/Level 5's  Professor Layton and the Curious Village

Critical Reception: Nintendo/Level 5's Professor Layton and the Curious Village

February 13, 2008 | By Danny Cowan

February 13, 2008 | By Danny Cowan
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This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Professor Layton and the Curious Village a brain-teasing adventure title that reviewers describe as "remarkably stimulating," and "the smartest DS game ever."

Originally released in Japan early last year, Professor Layton and the Curious Village met with quick sales success, and spawned a top-selling sequel soon after. With Japan gearing up for the franchise's upcoming third entry, the series makes its Stateside debut this week. Critics have responded positively overall, with the title currently earning an average score of 81 out of 100, as reported by Metacritic.com.

GameSpy's Gerald Villoria scores Professor Layton at 4.5 out of 5 stars. "Professor Layton and the Curious Village is essentially a point-and-click adventure game," he begins, "an example of how this dying genre can still provide a remarkably entertaining gameplay experience."

Villoria explains that Layton's alternate take on the point-and-click adventure genre makes for a fun experience. "Instead of picking up item A and using it in situation B, you'll interact with characters and with locales in the town of St. Mystere to unlock logic puzzles," he writes. "These brain teasers are the core gameplay element in Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and they will both challenge your ability to think logically and to approach a problem with lateral thinking."

"With each completed puzzle comes another feeling of accomplishment," Villoria praises. "It's all remarkably stimulating; the easiest puzzles will make you feel like the smartest kid in class, while the tougher ones will keep your brain cells pleasantly occupied for longer periods of time."

Villoria notes that Layton's storyling and setting place it beyond similar fare on the DS, and makes for a worthy purchase. "Level-5 could have easily packaged the puzzles into a barebones daily format and have ended up with a game that's as entertaining as the Brain Training series," he says. "Instead, Level-5 went the extra mile and wrapped these puzzles into a beautifully presented world inhabited by endearing characters amid a compelling murder mystery. The effort paid off."

Jeremy Parish at 1UP.com gives Layton a rating of 8.5 out of 10. "Why is Professor Layton and the Curious Village the smartest DS game ever?" he asks. "If you answered, 'Because it's packed with tricky puzzles,' sorry! You're wrong."

Parish explains that Layton's deft combination of adventure and brain-training elements provides a unique experience. "Each [genre] has been content to keep to itself; Brain Age does one thing, Phoenix Wright another," he says. "Only in Layton do the proverbial twain finally meet."

"Admittedly, the game's puzzle and story elements likely wouldn't stand well on their own," Parish continues. "The puzzles are excellent but often rely on certain tricks of language that, once spotted, become transparent in subsequent iterations; the adventure game is unrepentantly simple and linear."

However: "The genius of Layton is that they don't stand alone. Instead, the two game types work together harmoniously, resulting in something altogether more entertaining than its base components."

Parish notes that Layton manages to avoid the pitfalls of "ambiguity, hunt-and-peck searches for hot spots, or stupidly arbitrary pretzel logic," usually associated with adventure games, while at the same time, "The puzzle-solving never gets in the way of the story."

Praise is also given to Layton's art style and detailed backgrounds, and the overall experience is described as universally appealing, despite its lack of replay value outside of future downloadable content. "With a game this entertaining, that transcends demographics so stylishly, that offers such addictive just-one-more challenge," Parish concludes, "the only real puzzle here is why anyone wouldn't want to give it a go."

GamePro's Tae K. Kim awards Professor Layton a score of 3.75 out of 5 in Fun Factor. "The narrative powering Professor Layton is definitely one of the game's strong points," he notes. "The art style is eye-catching and brings to mind the classic animated film 'The Triplets of Bellville'; it definitely serves as a nice platform on which the game's many mysteries are built."

Kim warns that Layton's brain-teaser gameplay may prove to be too puzzling for some, however. "Some of the puzzles in Professor Layton are ridiculously difficult," he says. "And really, that's the game's biggest fault: some puzzles are fairly easy and can be solved in a matter of seconds but there are some puzzles that will confound you for long stretches; worse yet, they're sometimes so tedious that it almost felt like I was doing homework."

Kim describes one particularly difficult puzzle: "I had put the game down, get out a pad of paper and do some calculations. Even then, I didn't get it right until I got video editor Michelle Jones involved in the process. By the time we solved the puzzle, we were more relieved than satisfied."

"Compounding the problem is that fact that you are required to solve a specific number of puzzles in order to progress the plot at certain points, which is a frustrating roadblock," he continues. "Also, considering the art style, it's easy to assume that the game will be kid-friendly, but really, it's not: unless the child in question is a genuine prodigy, they will probably struggle."

Kim admits that Layton otherwise has its merits, however. "The overall vibe of the game is charming and immensely likeable and the basic game mechanic is solid," he writes. "Even if the uneven difficulty robs the game of some of its fun and the slow, methodical pacing might lull some gamers to sleep, for puzzle lovers and brainy gamers, Professor Layton definitely has a lot to offer."

Though some may be turned off by its difficulty, critics regard Professor Layton as an enjoyable, charming experience that succeeds in spite of its occasional frustrations. Reviewers encourage fans of point-and-click adventure titles in particular to give Layton a try, and many feel that the game's broad appeal makes it a worthwhile purchase for any DS owner.


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