Friday, April 25, 2008

Raenius Recommends III:
A Professor and a Curious Boy

This week's recommendation:
Professor Layton and the Curious Village for Nintendo DS

Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Level-5
Released: February 11th, 2008
MSRP: $29.99
ESRB: Everyone
Download Play: No
WiFi Enabled: Downloadable Content

From the company that brought you Dragon Quest VIII, Rogue Galaxy, Dark Cloud and the forthcoming Dragon Quest IX we get a point and click puzzle adventure game -- huh? Wait a minute! This game was out a full year in Japan before it was localized, it already has a sequel and, with such an odd (and long) title, one could assume it would be a children's game of some sort. But it's far from it (unless your a kid prodigy)! This one will have you scratching your head and make you use brain cells you never knew you had!

The story begins with Professor Layton and his young assistant Luke (better call Chris Hansen). They are invited to the town of St. Mystere by Lady Dahlia, widow of the late Baron Reinhold, to solve the mystery of the Golden Apple. OK, still sounds like a kids game, right? Until you realize all the villagers love puzzles and will ask you to help solve them. I won't get into the story too much because of spoilers, but the dynamic duo will solve kidnappings and murder before the truth of the Golden Apple is revealed. With 135 puzzles to solve during the story, some are required for story progression while others are optional. The puzzles you don't get to will be waiting for you to solve later. Of course puzzles will get progressively harder as you go on but don't worry, hints are available (for a few coins, of course).

All controls are done using the sylus. Moving around the village is easy. Simply tap where you want to go. Make sure to tap objects or things that seem out of place for hidden puzzles or hint coins. You tap on people to talk to them as well. Puzzle answers are inputed on the touch screen in various ways such as writing out words or numbers, circling or tapping an answer or moving objects around. Text recognition isn't perfect, but it's better than Brain Age.

The cartoon graphical style of this game very European. The Frenchy sounding music, the Professor's English accent and Luke's squeaky going-through-puberty voice sounds excellent though headphones. FMV will seem like your watching Saturday morning cartoons rather than playing a video game. Your first-person still frame town scenes are fully detailed as are the exaggerated features of the residents. Puzzles range in quality but none look so bad that you wouldn't be able to solve it. This game really just proves that Nintendo isn't the only company that actually take time to develop games and prove the DS is capable of some pretty advanced graphics.

Without ruining too much, during your adventure you can collect parts of a helpful Gizmo as well as piece together a long lost painting. The game can be beaten over a weekend, but that's not all it has to offer. After the mystery is solved, the Professor will still have some challenges for you to prove yourself as a puzzle master. The puzzle index will allow you to solve any puzzles you've encountered from the story. Weekly puzzles (which strangely enough, are actually on the cart already) can be unlocked via Nintendo WFC for your weekly dose of puzzle frustration. And most mysterious of all, a top secret section can only be unlocked with a code from the manual of the sequel!

Let's see it broken down!

Presentation: Almost like an interactive murder mystery novel. Simple and easy to navigate menus. A story that's full of twists, turns and surprises. Some puzzles are very easy to exploit or you could look online for answers -- But don't!

Visuals: Beautiful, bright and colorful scenes and full of life characters done in a European art style is a nice change of pace from the world on anime on the DS.

Audio: Superb, but limited, voice acting even when not watching a FMV -- but it's just nice to see any voice acting in DS game!

Gameplay: Point and tap is very acurate. The meat and potatoes of the game is solving the puzzles which are very easy to input but not always easy to solve!

Multiplayer: None.

Wi-Fi Functionality: Unlockable weekly puzzles

Replay: Better replay than Brain Age because it's not so repetitive. Plenty to do after the game is over. You'll have to wait a while before you forget the answers to some of the puzzles over again. Weekly puzzles keep this title fresh until the sequel is localized.

Overall: A quirky little title that is a must have for people that love puzzles. It's a great start to, hopefully, a long running series for Nintendo's hand held system.