A car strolls along through the quaint countryside on a dirt road, cutting through the vast green field, in a scene that could be pulled straight out of the early 1900s. We quickly see the driver is a gentleman, Professor Layton, whose presence is highlighted by his notable silk top hat. In the passenger side is a young boy, Luke, dressed as proper as any young British student should be. Together they are embarking on a mysterious journey to uncover the secrets of St. Mystere, a curious village indeed.
So what's the game about? This is the first Professor Layton game; the simplest way to explain Professor Layton is that the game consists of a series of stand-alone puzzles interwoven through an interesting and entertaining story line. These puzzles include brain teasers, sliding puzzles, logic puzzles, optical illusions, and others. I especially enjoyed the cleverly worded questions (ie trick questions, where 'red herrings' can turn a simple problem into something apparently more complicated than it is).
An example of some of the early puzzles in the game,
a small glimpse at the diversity of problems you have to solve.
The touch screen is put to great use through most of the puzzles (lots of times you can also simply doodle on the touch screen, which I really put to use as I find it very useful to write out what my brain is thinking) and includes a handy writing recognition program when you have to enter a specific number or word rather than simply picking from a multiple choice.
Another thing to note is that the puzzles are very self-contained, for the most part. Sometimes you will get a specific kind of puzzle that you will see numerous iterations of, each becoming increasingly more difficult than the last one similar to it. I truly feel like this game exercises all the different parts of your brain that you normally don’t use or trigger (depending on what your normal daily routine is like). This game definitely gives other brain games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy a run for their money, and I would argue Layton is the more entertaining of the bunch. In fact, if you look in the game's instruction booklet, you will find the puzzle master partly responsible in making this game possible:
The Japanese professor, Akira Tago. He's WAY smarter than you could ever hope to be!
There's no time limit on any of the puzzles, and you can use "hint coins" to unlock up to 3 hints, each more helpful than the last. Some puzzles are multiple choice, some of them require an exact answer. In the case you submit a wrong answer, you lose some points (called "picarats") and you have the opportunity to try over and over again, though you will lose more and more points. The picarat system enables you to track just how good you are at solving puzzles without making mistakes, by checking to see your total picarat score as you progress.
I found the puzzles quite challenging for the most part, with only a few being totally unsurmountable. You will find many puzzles, but you're not required to complete 100% of them to finish the game. (You will reach certain points in the game's 'chapters' where you merely need to have completed some minimum number of puzzles to move on to the next chapter, much like the Star system in the 3D Mario games).
And speaking of many puzzles: there are a total of 161 puzzles (135 in-game puzzles, some of which are unlocked by fulfilling certain requirements, in addition to 26 Wi-fi downloadable puzzles released back in 2008), so you definitely get your money's worth in this game!
The game is well designed such that it's not possible to miss out on any of the puzzles if you happen to miss a few during your adventure; there's a central location in the story to find all missed puzzles, in addition to having every puzzle available to you in the top menu of the game. These features make the game perfect for a quick pick up and play, and it also encouraged me to carry around my 3DS (besides getting Street Passes) and show my puzzles to friends; sometimes I would stump them with some of my favorite puzzles, while other times I got another perspective on a puzzle that I was still stuck on.
I will say though that some of the puzzles are so challenging that they almost border on being absurd, and even if you eventually get the solution, you may still be scratching your head, "How was I supposed to figure that out?" I also found this game to be more enjoyable in fixed length gaming sessions (ie a couple of hours or less), as you can quickly burn yourself out solving one puzzle right after the other. This game compliments an action-heavy, non-thinking game quite nicely!
Outside of solving these stand-alone puzzles, the game progresses as a simple point-and-click adventure, not unlike other DS games like 999 or the scene investigation aspects of Phoenix Wright. You find yourself walking about the village, entering houses, and talking to people. You are rewarded for tapping the stylus on every suspicious location during this mode, since this is the primary way to discover Hint Coins in addition to finding hidden puzzles or sometimes even critical items that will enable you to progress through the story line.
Exploring the town
The game's presentation is one of the most appealing aspects of the game. Fully animated cut scenes (much like the intro described at the start of this review) complete with excellent voice acting are fairly common throughout. The characters themselves are very endearing: Professor Layton is a stereotypical English gentleman, who enjoys solving puzzles and drinking tea. Through his words and actions, you can quickly come up with some accurate personality descriptors: polite, intelligent, somewhat humble, calm, cool, and courteous. His young apprentice, Luke, is presented as an ambitious (and also intelligent) lad who is ever mindful of his 'teacher.' Together they are called to investigate what appears to be a simple mystery surrounding a valuable object known as the "Golden Apple" left behind by a wealthy baron upon his passing away:
Instruction booklet said:
The Reinhold family treasure, the Golden Apple, is hidden somewhere within this village. To whomever successfully locates this treasure, I offer the whole of my estate.
As the story unfolds, a lot of strange things begin to occur, and these are added to your "mysteries" section in your game menu. All of this gives you great incentive to push forward to see what will happen next. And the whole time, you will simply be amazed at Layton's amazing 'detective' abilities. Everything that made no sense before suddenly becomes crystal clear. In a very absurd way!
Other aspects of the game worth mentioning: In addition to the enticing presentation, you'll find lots of neat collectibles that will keep you searching for 100% (such as jigsaw puzzle pieces that will build up an important painting through the course of the entire game, furniture to decorate Layton and Luke's separate rooms, strange gizmo pieces that will complete a very valuable aid in your quest).
The graphics are quite well done considering that most of time you spend exploring the village, you're viewing static backgrounds (only a few backgrounds have a little bit of animation, like tree leaves gently swaying outside the Reinhold Manor). Each of these backgrounds is nicely detailed, with beautiful color variations and a definite attention to maintaining a specific art style that matches the whole package. When you see characters as you walk around, they have some animation but not much.
I greatly enjoyed the quality of the music. The instrumentation matches the old British setting very well. I'm not very knowledgable about music or identifying instruments, but I do know I like music like this:
Layton's theme sounds soooo good
However, I have one complaint about the music: the same music is used for each and every puzzle in the game. As great that particular tune is, it will get a bit tiring after a while.
To sum up: If you're interested in solving tons of mind bending puzzles that will challenge and frustrate you while enjoying a charming and entertaining story (with a very polished presentation), you will very likely enjoy this game. Highly recommended!
Just finished reading it. Very good review. I was hoping you would mention the music which is very cool and fitting. I actually have not gotten tired of the puzzle theme yet. Although, I think I'm only halfway through the game. Even though I've only played the first game, the Layton series has quickly become one of my favorite new IPs.
Yeah, I didn't talk about the music a whole lot, but I did have a couple of sentences saying it was good quality (see paragraph just above the youtube music) and that Layton's theme is definitely awesome. As I mentioned in the review, I was having trouble expressing how good the music really is, but I do like it a lot!
Let's see if you don't find the puzzle theme music tiring by the end of the game! (Maybe it was just me)
I was having fun with this game, but then I downloaded some of the extra puzzles, and they pissed me off so much that I never went back to it. I should, though. It's a cool game, and I enjoyed the puzzles. Except for those stupid bastard downloadable matchstick puzzles. ARGH.
I tried to get my non-gaming sister, who only plays Bust-A-Move and WarioWare, into Layton. Partial success.
I never felt that the two parts of the game (story and puzzles) really meshed well, though. They're fine on their own, but one never seemed to enhance the other. As far as I played, at least.
I look forward to seeing the world of Layton in 3D.
I usually play with the music turned off. I 100% back in 2008. Although I admit to using the help of game guides to some puzzles, most of it let's say (approx. 90 percent, "downloadable" puzzles included) was all me.
The presentation was definitely the strongest point of the game. The story also has a nice twist at the end. I just started a file in Professor Layton 2 and I just noticed how fake Luke's accent is. You can tell it's an American trying to imitate a cockney intonation, and not doing a very good job at it either.
At this point in the series, I'm still enjoying it a lot, but the whole "tap everywhere on every screen to find puzzles" scheme is getting old and I hope that Level 5 will change it up before it becomes so stale I won't feel like keeping up with the series anymore.
Hey, nice review! I think I gave it the same score, and I agree with you on pretty much everything here.
Layton is the best new IP of this generation. I fell in love with this, the first game in the series and have been keeping up with the sequels. The director of the Layton games over at Level 5 was actually inspired by Brain Age's wild success, and wanted to make something more "involving" that could be enjoyed by gamers of all types. I think they really succeeded. So fun and rewarding. Layton is a breath of fresh air and a reason to own the DS.
I also wonder how many sequels they churn out before the series starts to get old. I mean, the main feature of the game is its charm. At the rate they're churning these out, burn-out it isn't entirely out of the question. It's been three years since I played the last one, however. I'm probably going to buy the third one after I finish the second title. I'm not in any particular hurry though.
Haha, yeah some of the extra puzzles are ridiculous. Those match stick ones are so incredibly tricky. The first downloadable match stick puzzle was where you have to move two sticks so that the image of five squares becomes four. I looked at the puzzle many times over the course of a few weeks and could not fiure it out. Finally I looked up the solution, and the first thing I thought was "How could I have figured that out myself!?"