Professor Layton Hands-On

Level 5 has a quirky, puzzle-driven mystery headed to the DS in the very near future. We gave it a try.

In the recent tradition of offbeat, narrative Nintendo DS adventure games like Hotel Dusk and Phoenix Wright, ubiquitous Japanese developer Level 5 has a charming new game heading to stores called Professor Layton and the Curious Village. It's been out in Japan for a good year now, but the game's formidable mix of devilish logic puzzles and a heavy reliance on written and spoken dialogue made importing Professor Layton a daunting prospect for anyone but fluent speakers of Japanese.

Well, good news: Layton is due out in North America next week, and from the looks of a preview build we got to play, it has gotten a top-notch localization. You'll play the role of the affable Layton and his quick-witted assistant, Luke, who have traveled to the village of St. Mystere to solve the mystery of a puzzling last will and testament left by the late, eccentric Baron Reinhold. The will's bequeathal hinges on a mysterious object called the golden apple, so everyone involved with the will in some fashion is scrambling to figure out just what the golden apple is, and where it might be located.

The game is rendered in lovely 2D art and has been rife with continental charm so far, from all the authentic British accents to the accordion-heavy soundtrack and prolific donning of top hats and other old-world accoutrements. The architecture and prevailing design of St. Mystere make it look just like a sleepy little European hamlet out of some old storybook or animated film. In short, Layton has a surprisingly cohesive aesthetic and presentation that are so evocative you'd hardly know the game was developed by a Japanese team.

Some of the puzzles here will have you seriously scratching your head.

If you had to categorize Layton, it would fit best in the adventure genre; you navigate from one static background to another by simply tapping on arrows pointing in available directions. But the gameplay is driven almost entirely by logic puzzles. As an old lady informs you when you enter town, St. Mystere's "main export is...the puzzle!" Indeed, just about every resident you run into in the town will have some sort of puzzle for you to solve before you can progress, though usually the puzzles are unrelated to the storyline, from what we've seen so far.

Each puzzle has three hints associated with it that you can access if you're stuck, but you'll have a finite number of hint tokens for use in the game (with a handful more hidden throughout the town), so you'll want to be extremely judicious about when you want to get a hint. The puzzles also pay out an arbitrary number of picarats, the game's currency, and each time you fail to solve a puzzle correctly, the payout will be reduced. Picarats can apparently be traded in for some kind of benefit later on, though we haven't gotten far enough to see their effect yet.

We only got to play through the early area of the game before Nintendo swooped down and repossessed our copy of Layton, but we got a good feel for what the puzzles will be like. One puzzle presented us with eight identical-looking weights, one of which was lighter than the others, and we had to determine which one was the light one. We had a scale to use to compare the weights, but we could use the scale only two times, so we couldn't solve the puzzle by simple process of elimination. Another puzzle showed us four top hats with varying heights and brim widths and then challenged us to pick the one with a brim as wide as the hat was tall. This sort of optical illusion required a lot of eyeballing. We figure we'll be seeing more puzzles of this type later in the game.

Nintendo says more puzzles will become available on the Internet on a weekly basis.

Another puzzle gave us a riverbank with three wolves and three chicks on one side, and a raft at the bank. We had to get all six animals across to the other side while observing the following rules: There couldn't be more wolves than chicks on one side of the river (or the wolves would feast, natch); the raft could hold two animals at most; and at least one animal had to be on the raft for it to move. Yet another puzzle had a surprisingly subjective solution: We were shown a dog made out of matchsticks and then were asked to move only two of the matchsticks to make the dog appear as though it had been run over by a car. (Nobody said this puzzle-solving business was all laughs.)

Nintendo claims that the final version of Layton contains more than 130 puzzles, though it seems like some of those will be optional and not part of the main storyline. Furthermore--and rather surprisingly--the company will be making new puzzles available for download on a weekly basis, though we haven't heard how many you'll be able to fit on your Layton cartridge at once, nor whether you'll have to pay for them. As mentioned, Professor Layton is set to hit shelves next week, so look for a full analysis soon.

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Discussion

29 comments
oblivz
oblivz

the psp is only good at keeping good console games good for handhled were the ds makes great games of its own and why play psp remakes wen the console version is even better?

teknicz
teknicz

I heard that PSP owners can now get on Skype to discuss how badly the PSP sucks compared to the DS and all the titles they'll never get to play.

kayless122
kayless122

Yes the psp is very good and the ds can never be looool , please the DS wipes the floor with the psp.

Chris_555_TK
Chris_555_TK

"In short, Layton has a surprisingly cohesive aesthetic and presentation that are so evocative you'd hardly know the game was developed by a Japanese team. " It was TOTALLY obvious that this was done by a Japanese team! The "writer" sure doesn't know what Anime is!

limneosgreen
limneosgreen

I can say only one thing, DS is never gonna be good like PSP. But DS will always have games which will boost ur fun in a few seconds like Mario and this game what is really nice, I wish i could play this one on PSP. DS users can expect great game xD. ~lime&original hippie

Ryukai
Ryukai

Authentic British accents? Luke sounds like he learnt from the Dick Van Dyke school of accents. Other than that this game is really unique and addictive. One of the best DS games I've played.

Toysoldier34
Toysoldier34

I think the new puzzles thing goes along with another story in which Nintendo will use the DS to Wii connectivity. In other words you need a Wii to download more stuff. Good thing I can.

8smokes
8smokes

I've been needing a good DS game since Legend of Zelda. This looks interesting.

Phoenix2Raven
Phoenix2Raven

oh great, i've been needing a good adventure game. i hope is as good as phoenix wright n hotel dusk, i wish the makers of hotel dusk would make another game like that or a sequel cause there were a lot unanswered questions 4 me.

LisVender
LisVender

A bit too 7th Guest-y for my tastes.

Everon22
Everon22

You guys got stumped by the chicken/dog puzzle?? AHAHAHAHA. That's an old elementary school puzzle!

Timbydude
Timbydude

Level 5, besides Valve and Blizzard, is probably my favorite developer.

jakob_187
jakob_187

It's Level 5. Have they made a bad game yet?!? I don't think so!!! If I had a DS (which I don't know why I don't), then I'd definitely be picking this up. However...I'd like Level 5 more if they took their time to WORK ON DARK CLOUD 3!!!

ryroo22
ryroo22

Looks good for a long car ride or something. Great thinking game.

Shishio817
Shishio817

Hmm...it looks pretty interesting.

death919
death919

HAHA wow this game looks so wacky and crazy, I wanna play this now!

teampooch
teampooch

It looks incredibly promising! : ) I only wish it was held sideways, like Brain Age or Hotel Dusk. It's so much more comfortable like that! At least Team Ninja took notice.

guppieface
guppieface

sounds only OK,puzzles really arent that fun though. minigames can be fun, but puzzles are usually the crappy part of most games that you dread doing.

silverquik86
silverquik86

Hopefully this holds up to the Phoenix Wright fun and mystery

gtuga
gtuga

I've never been a fan of puzzling games, but if this one has the potential they say, I might buy it.

DFTricks
DFTricks

I love puzzle and puted in a fantasy theme, it sounds lovely. Even more the fact of having Nintendo adding puzzle weekly is more then interesting.

zoe256
zoe256

Wow, I think I might buy this game, I love logic/puzzle ones!

vgxtremist
vgxtremist

Wow, new puzzles every week? Sounds like quite the value!

jjr10
jjr10

Sounds very cool.

Tom
Tom

Despite all the graphical prowess of the current generation of consoles, quirky games like this make the DS my favorite system.

Wonkyman
Wonkyman

Let's hope it's successful enough to warrant the entire trilogy to be brought over.