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PLATFORM: Nintendo DS
ESRB RATING: E
DEVELOPER: Level 5
PUBLISHER: Level 5, Nintendo


THE PITCH

Professor Layton and his assistant Luke are somewhat of a Sherlock Holmes and Watson duo, if Watson were a prepubescent boy who liked hanging out with strange older men with a thing for top hats.

They’re heading to the titular village to see a lady about a problem. She’s heard that Layton is great at solving puzzles, and she’s got a doozy. When the wealthiest man in the village passed away, he willed his inheritance to the person who could find the “Golden Apple”. People have tried looking for it everywhere, to no avail. Enter the Layton.

The dynamic duo get there and soon start solving puzzles left and right, and end up uncovering a great secret that the town has kept quiet for many years…
 
THE PLAY

Fuck your Brain Age. Want your drug-addled mind to get kickstarted back into shape? This is what you need to get.

If you’ve read anything about this game before you know how weird it is. Yes, it’s a puzzle game with a story, but you’re really just trying to solve puzzles nonstop. Even the map to get to the damn village at the beginning of the game is a puzzle.


If you can’t solve this one, stay far, far away from this game. Go play some Madden or something.


Everyone you speak to wants to show you a puzzle that’s driving them nuts, or tries to stump you with one. Every object you click on reminds the professor of a puzzle, be it a liquor bottle, a candle, a crusted pair of panties, whatever. It does get silly, but you know what? Who cares, when the puzzles are so good.

There’s a ton of variety between them, too. There’s math problems, logic problems, cards and box puzzles galore designed to make your head hurt. Every one is unique and there are plenty of stumpers here. With so much variety you’ll definitely find something that can give you pause. For example, I flew through some supposedly hard Chess puzzles (placing queens on a board so they aren’t in each others path) and then got horribly stuck on a stupid 8-piece sliding block puzzle. Those things are the bane of my existence… I just can’t get my head around them.

Whatever your weakness is, this game will find it. This is not a game you’ll want to run to Gamefaqs for, either, it’s fun trying to get these things beaten, especially in the first try (you get more points for it, as well.) There are a limited number of Hint Coins you can find around town by clicking on things, but if you’re at all smart you’ll end up with a big surplus of them (I ended up with 100+ left over). Each puzzle allows you three hints, so you’ve always got an out. The first one generally nudges you in the right direction, with the third and final hint basically saying “Here, do this first, you moron.” and shoving you out the door.

It’s great how they don’t just give it to you, though… you have to work for it. Also, if you pass one up or skip one, you can always go back to it later, as they accumulate in one of the houses in town.

Along with helping figure out problems, there’s a bunch of stuff to collect. Solving various puzzles and tapping on certain items allows you to find pieces of a painting, furniture for your room, and even parts to build your own robotic dog, who sniffs out hints for you and is damn helpful. This all ties into some bonus material that you’ll find at the end of the game.

Even though the puzzles are fantastic, you’d be surprised how compelling the main storyline gets. It has enough twists and turns to make you actually interested in what’s going on in this strange place, and ends up being a damn fine little mystery tale. Incredibly polished and fun, this is the kind of game the DS was designed for.
 
THE PRESENTATION

It’s so strange how European this Japanese game feels. It feels very French, in fact. It’s got the bizarre humor of the Japanese but the snooty attitude (and animation stylings) of our favorite European nation. The music ties into that as well, usually with a vaguely haunting melody with an accordion playing somewhere in the background. Memorable and thoughtful music, the perfect background sounds to not interfere with your poor brain as it nears meltdown.

There’s also a surprising amount of animation- top notch stuff, too. It instantly reminds you of the character design and 2D/3D hybrid animation of such films as The Triplets of Bellville. The voices are… a little annoying. The British voice acting gets a bit poncy for my tastes, it does the job well, in any case. And when’s the last time you had movies and voices on your DS, anway? Fantastic job of cramming this all in here.


Grandma was always tough to deal with when she was off her meds.


The character design, dialogue, and beautiful locations all add to the look and feel of the game. Great stuff here.

THE REPLAY
 
The main game has 120 puzzles that should take you a good 10-15 hours. After that, depending on how much stuff you find in the game (there’s a ton of collectibles you’re going after) you’ll unlock some more ultra-tough puzzles in a section called Layton’s Challenges. There’s also a bonus section with expanded information on all the characters in the game, movies, music, art- the woiks.

I don’t see you going back to this one anytime soon, since the puzzles will be fresh in your mind, but there’s more than enough substance here to satisfy anyone.

There’s also a weekly downloadable puzzle you can grab via Wifi. The first two that are up currently there are just as good as anything in the game. Sure, it’s only one a week, but if they can keep this up this baby can keep going on forever.

THE VERDICT

Fantastic game in every respect for the more discriminating gamer. If you want to throw aside your ADD lifestyle for a few days and curl up with this game, you’ll have a ton of fun. Just expect to work for it.

9.1 out of 10

PS: There’s a sequel out right now in Japan and a third on the way, and we need them over here. The ending movie hints that the sequel is on its way over, as does a Bonus Section that’ll only open when a password in the second game is revealed. Pick this game up if you’re looking for something new so we get these! Check out the demo on its official site to see if it’s something you’d dig. Note that the puzzle included is one of the less exciting ones, and not a great representation of the rest of the game. Still tricky, though…