Games for Lunch: Professor Layton and the Curious Village
0:00 I actually played a 10-minute demo of this game months ago at a Nintendo event. I was impressed with the concept if not with the difficulty of the first few puzzles. But I'm a puzzle addict, so it's gonna take a lot to stump me. I'm also very humble.
0:01 A haunting tune plays over a muted cartoon intro screen featuring a bouncing car and a askew houses. It reminds me of nothing so much as The Triplets of Belleville.
0:02 I enter my name "by hand" (i.e. using frustrating handwriting recognition) and the game segues into some nice full-screen animation on the bottom screen. A tall guy in a ridiculously tall hat hands his young friend get a letter.
0:04 The young one asks the old "professor" why they're settling an inheritance dispute. The voice acting is impressive, with some enchantingly precious English accents.
0:05 Baron Reinhold passed away. His treasure is hidden in the village. Whoever finds it gets his estate. Pretty boilerplate plot, but the animation and British accents keep me enraptured.
0:06 The place we're going is called "St. Mystere." Groan. Apparently we've been hired by Reinhold's widow.
0:08 The map to our location is the first puzzle. "Think of it as a warm-up for things to come." Hmmm... I can't help but think Layton is talking to ME and not his young companion! This puzzle is worth 10 "picarats," whatever those are.
0:09 "My village is on a road that leads to no other towns." Well that's a pretty stupid road then, innit? Still, it's incredibly easy to trace out the roads and figure out which one has only one house on it. Yawn.
0:10 CORRECT! The game tells me in big, bright letters "Layton's apprentice saves the day," Luke says in that jaunty British lilt of which I can't get enough. *Swoon*
0:11 Layton: "A basic puzzle like that is easy enough to solve with a glance." Dayummm, LUKE. You just got PUZZLE SERVED! And we come to another title screen.
0:12 Loving the architecture of the town. Mixes a classic Victorian look with a touch of madness. The British lilt is gone, now, replaced with plain scrolling text. *pout*
0:13 An extremely grumpy fat man can't lower the drawbridge for us unless we help him figure out how to put a crank in a slot. Dirty! What's this game rated, again?
0:15 "Another puzzle solved." If you can even call it a puzzle, it was so simple. I know... I'm an arrogant prick. So sue me.
0:16 A mustachioed, bescarfed fellow -- named Stachenscarfen -- calls us dandies. If I weren't a professor, I'd knock his lights out. He tells me where to find a hint-granting "hint coin" though, so I guess I'm glad I'm a gentleman.
0:18 "Welcome to St. Mystere, where our local export is... the puzzle!" says an old lady. Do other towns really trade things like flour and spices for... puzzles? "They say wonderful things will happen if you gain enough picarats." How vague...
0:20 New puzzle: I have to pick the hat with a width the same as its height. I forgot my tape measure at home... but I do have a stylus whose tip just happens to be the right length for comparison purposes. "Every puzzle has an answer," Layton tells me tautologically after I finish.
0:23 I find Puzzle No. 5 by tapping a clock, but Prof. Layton is actually giving this puzzle to Luke. So Layton has picarats to give away now? Or are they just magical things that appear whenever any puzzle is solved? What's the picarat-to-dollars exchange rate? Am I overthinking this?
0:25 I actually have to use a pen and paper to write out the number of times a digital clock shows three of the same numbers in a row in a day. But I get it WRONG because I forget to double the answer for PM time! Grumble.
0:26 I correct for my boneheaded mistake and I get it right. The game extracts a penalty of five picarats for my wrong answer. Nice to know you can't just guess your way through without penalty.
0:28 Percy, the resident writer, gives us a puzzle, because "a writer is nothing without an audience." Don't I know it. Note to people reading this column: PLEASE DON'T LEAVE. It'll get more entertaining soon, I promise!
0:29 Percy's puzzle is a simple matter of following directions and knowing the sun rises in the East. Bleh. He promises a harder puzzle for next time. I SURE HOPE SO!
0:33 This one's kind of tricky... I only have two uses of a scale to find the lightest weight among a set of eight identical-looking weights. You have to think a little counterintuitively to solve it. I won't ruin the specifics, but I will say I'm liking the direction things are going.
0:39 I'm in the middle of a tough puzzle involving wolves, chicks and a raft. I've done a bunch of these in the past, but this one is tougher than normal, mainly because the wolves and chicks insist on getting off the raft each time they cross. Just stay on the raft, you dumb chick!
0:42 Got it! It was simple once I realized a wolf can't eat zero chicks. I know, I'm a genius. The game tells me that this type of puzzle is over 1,000 years old. How about that!
0:45 A rotund butler makes us solve a puzzle before we go upstairs to meet Lady Dahlia. The predilection for puzzles in this town makes very little sense, but at least it's consistent in its own twisted way.
0:48 All right, I've always hated matchstick puzzles, but this one takes the cake. It asks me to change a dog into a dog after it's been run over. How am I supposed to know what a dog looks like after it's been run over? This isn't a puzzle ... it's an abstract art class!
0:50 I'm forced to use a precious "hint coin" to get a hint. "The original shape shows a dog walking. Think about how the shape will change after the dog gets hit by the car." Um... it'll be flatter? How is that supposed to help me?
0:52 Hint 2 tells me to move his legs, which I had figured out already. Dogs don't walk much after they're hit by cars. Doesn't mean I know where the legs should go, though.
0:54 The third hint pretty much just tells me the answer: move two of the legs above the dog. This is incredibly stupid, and I'm not afraid to say so. A puzzle shouldn't depend on intuiting what the asker thinks an injured dog looks like when depicted in matchsticks. The post-solving description explains things a little better, but I'm still bitter -- maybe because I'm realizing I'm not so smart after all?
0:55 Lady Dahlia and all manner of weird people greet us upstairs. The accents are back in this cut scene, which is unfortunately very short. I do love the art direction, though.
0:57 A noise causes the Lady's precious cat to run off, and we're recruited to find it. But first, a puzzle from a skinny nephew in glasses!
1:01 An interesting geometric puzzle to finish off the hour. I overthink it for way too long before intuiting the answer. Very clever.
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Despite one really annoying interpretive puzzle (see 0:48 to 0:54), the game appeals to my ultra-logical side in a big way.
This column was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
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