Now, I am fully aware in expressing the following viewpoint I may be tarring myself as a lazy unimaginative pillock. But…
Professor Layton is pants. There I said it. It’s probably one of the worst games I have ever played. I actually couldn’t bring myself to finish it and therefore am unable to class this piece as a review. My save game states I have played a little over five and a half hours, but it felt so much longer.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village is the first title in the franchise that consists of two trilogies, and an upcoming tie in with Phoenix Wright. It was the overarching plot that attracted me to Layton initially, after seeing the incredible cinematics for upcoming Professor Layton Vs Phoenix Wright I found myself in the wilds of ebay. While there, I was able to hunt down some fool willing to let their mint condition copy of Curious Village go for just £3.50. Bargain.
It would seem the people I bought the game from had no clear attachment to it, as upon booting up there were three different save files, all attributed to different names with no more than 40 minutes racked up between them.
When I saw this alarm bells in my head rang out a tiny bit. I just shrugged these minor worries away though. Those save files probably belonged to some noob-like kids who didn’t fully appreciate the intricacies of Professor Layton. Surely I, a seasoned gamer of 21 years, would be able to understand the small nuances that makes Professor Layton great.
Unfortunately, when it comes to Professor Layton I really am a noob. The introduction gripped me, I loved the cinematics and while the very first puzzles Layton posed to Luke felt clunky and staged, it’s obvious the intro is just easing players in with a forgivable tutorial section.
When I arrived at St. Mystere for the first time I enjoyed the puzzle to figure out how to lower the drawbridge, this was a puzzle based within the context of the in game action so it made sense. I was also excited to enter St. Mystere and explore. Especially after the short animated cut scene that displayed a tantalizingly quirky Japanese interpretation of a rural French town.
Upon entering the town it became very quickly apparent that most of St Mystere’s citizens are only concerned with solving puzzles. To the extent that every single conversation usually result’s in Professor Layton being challenged with riddle. At one point not even the recent sight of a corpse belonging to a relative was enough to stop a resident quizzing the good Professor about penning in some pigs. This obsession with puzzles, whilst crucial to the gameplay mechanic of the game, makes all of the supporting characters incredibly two dimensional.
See something of interest moving in the background? Tap on it, and you’ll probably be asked to complete a puzzle. Think you can just ignore the puzzles and storm ahead in a bid solve the interesting mysteries that include disappearing townsfolk and murder? Well tough, members of the public will block your way to crucial areas if they feel like you haven’t solved enough puzzle’s, because despite the grisly murders no one seems to want Granny Riddleton’s Shack to become inundated with unsolved puzzles. Maybe they think she’s too old to be working and don’t want to over burden her for fear of causing a heart attack. Although that would seem strange seeing as they don’t seem to care about anyone else disappearing or dying.
This is incredibly infuriating and does nothing to build up the story of the game. It also does nothing to create a credible foundation for Professor Layton’s character as a super sleuth. Imagine how ridiculous Columbo would have looked if every time he wanted to interrogate a suspect he had to answer a ridiculous question involving a piece of string and some coins. Each little mini puzzle is a distraction which makes the overall game experience feel like one of those cheap puzzle books you buy for your gran when she has an extended stay in hospital. You know, the ones that no one under the age of forty buys because everyone else knows how to play videogames.
I wouldn’t mind so much if the puzzles themselves actually reflected or enhanced what was happening on screen but most of the time they are so far removed from the context I feel like I’m 8 years old again, trying to play a really unfunny version of Monkey Island but my Mum keeps interrupting me with my Maths homework.
Videogames can offer really rich, engrossing narrative experiences. The best example of recent years would be the cinematic thrill rides provided by the Uncharted series, OK so the puzzles aren’t the most difficult thing in the world, but the way in which the levels are designed to make players feel like they are constantly progressing is incredibly engrossing.
Not into action titles and want something a bit more cerebral? Fine, what about Telltale Games incredible Walking Dead series. These point ‘n click adventure titles mix a dark brooding atmosphere with a story that adapts to player’s choices.
Zombies a bit too adult? Fancy something a bit more anime styled? Well Level 5, the developers of Professor Layton managed to get the mix right at least once before with the seminal RPG Ni no Kuni Wrath of the White Witch.
In my opinion Professor Layton is a terrible game because the story is broken up needlessly by trivial puzzles that are boring to solve and add nothing to the overall narrative, atmosphere or general experience of the game. As a result I have no idea how Curious Village went on to cultivate such a huge following let alone act as the foundation for such a massive franchise.
If you think Tom is wrong and have a viewpoint that can help him appreciate Curious Village a bit more then please tell us in the comments section below or send us a tweet @itsnotjustgraphics