Molly Rants-A-Lot – Vidja Game Edition

Posted on Jan 23 2011

My my my, it seems that I have returned from the depths of academia and we are right back where we left off in what seemed to be the stone age. Never fear, my curious friends, because this babbler has returned ready to bombard your brain. However, I thought I would treat my loyal readers to something new. Welcome to the tenth installment of Molly Rants-a-lot: Vidja Game Edition!

That’s right, I play video games. Ok, I PLAYED video games back when the Game Boy Advance was the hot thing. My taste in games never ventured far from the Pokémon RPG’s. I haven’t picked up a game since Pokémon Emerald! (Don’t judge). But, thanks to a certain someone, this girl got her mitts on shabby little DS lite and a copy of the wonderful Professor Layton and the Curious Village.

I’ve been a mystery nut all my life, so this game was right up my alley. Logic puzzles, 135 to be exact, just sweetened the pot. The Curious Village is the first official release of the Layton franchise but is not the first chronologically, which is too bad. Right off the bat, I will say that despite the story telling, we learn more about one off characters and not about the duo we end up spending a good ten hours with. But here I go, getting ahead of myself.

The story brings the notable Professor Hershel Layton, a professor of Archeology in a modern-day London University and a master of the art of puzzle solving, and his eager, self-proclaimed apprentice, Luke Triton to a strange village by the name of St. Mystere. Called by the family of the late Baron Augustus Reinhold, he must solve the mystery of the family fortune and the elusive Golden Apple, the family treasure. As the mysteries seem to pile up, it does not take long for the puzzles to come flooding in. Almost immediately, you are forced headlong into fun.

As the plot hums along, you come across a cast of funky-looking country folk, all with puzzles to offer the great puzzle-solving stranger. WAIT, pause, hold that thought. I’m getting a tad weary of the word “puzzle”, but unfortunately, that is the meat of this game and I’m afraid we’re far from out of the woods. Thus far, I’ve used the word “puzzle” six times (now seven). I wonder how many more times I can cram that word into this review? Get those fingers and toes out, kids.

As I was saying, a good number of those brain busters drive the story forward, but not all of them. Puzzles can be hidden in candles, in the wall, an abandoned bottle. Those you don’t need to solve right off the bat, since, in most cases, you can proceed without having answered them, but neat little gifts are hidden here and there, giving you pieces to the mini puzzles not directly associated with the plot. You don’t need to solve the mini puzzles, but you might as well.

Other puzzles are unavoidable. Skipping those might result in the story coming to a grinding halt. You have to talk…. to everyone. And I mean everyone. The townsfolk give you clues to which direction you need to head and which person to seek out next. There’s no simple point-A-to-point-B in this game. You’ll find yourself running circles around that town just to find a damned cat. God, that cat.

As you come across puzzles you simply cannot solve, small bearers of sanity, the hint coins, come in quite handy. But one does not simply receive hint coins. Oh no, that would be too easy. No, you have to search high and low for those little buggers; about 200 in total. They’ll be hidden anywhere. A tip though: You’ll probably find them in obvious design features in the scenery. Check every window, bag, trashcan, crack in the street. Hell, you’ll even find yourself snuffling around in the shrubbery. Their number is finite, so use them wisely. You get three hints to a puzzle, but they each cost a coin. Those puzzles have a way of making you feel like a total derp, but there are hints that just rub salt in the wound. I DON’T CARE IF I LEARNED IT IN THE FIRST GRADE! JUST TELL ME THE ANSWER, YOU DA- ……*cough*

In the midst of playing this game, I felt as though I hit an intellectual low. I haven’t felt this stupid since Brain Age told me I was 88 years old. Who needs long division anyway…? There are a few self-redeeming puzzles in there, but let’s just say math isn’t a strong suit of mine. Luckily, most of these are logic based, which bumps my self-esteem a few notches. Besides making you feel like the whole of your kidhood education was a sham, the canned applause when you got one right made you feel like you deserved a gold star.

But instead of meaningless stickers, you got meaningless monetary consolation. With every puzzle you solve, you get a number of picarats. The number varies per puzzle and if you submit an incorrect answer, they’ll drop the number you get and let you have another whack at it. The picarats act as the unnecessary point system of the game. You don’t need them to continue through the plot or to finish the game. A video game just wouldn’t be complete without reaching for the top score, though solving all 135 puzzles should suffice just fine.

The game mechanics are pretty simple. You wander around town, talk to people and get in trouble with the police. I smell a car chase in the Laytonmobile! The mysteries of St. Mystere begin to surface and it is up to you, the English gentleman in the top hat, to solve them though poking around every nook and cranny of the layout with your DS stylus. You’ll spend a lot of your time wandering around in circles before you make much progress with the initial plot at hand, but that’s a good way to stretch out your game-play time.

And, as if you hadn’t had your fill of puzzles yet, as you venture through the chapters of the game, the poor little puzzles you missed as you go rampaging into peoples’ homes find themselves in the care of the crazy looking granny by the clock tower. There is no escaping the puzzles. They’re like a bad itch.

Straying from the game-play for a tad, I’d like to take a look at the actual story telling of the game. In a style similar to that of a classic mystery novel, you don’t learn much of the duo you come to know and love. Instead, you stay neatly within the realm of relevancy to the mystery (Which is disappointing in a way. Why puzzles? Why a little boy? Why the top hat?? All trivial questions to be sure.)

The plot is set up like a classical whodunit mystery story, shoving clues and plot holes in your face. If you’re clever enough, like a certain somebody I know, you can have the entire story figured out well before the final clue is turned over. The nice little trick the writers play on you, however, causes you to second guess your assumptions all along the way.

Near the end of the story, you finally come face to face with your, I mean Layton’s, archenemy. Well, that sure came out of nowhere. You’ll know his name soon enough, but I won’t tell you. Set to be an “anti-Holmes” (Master of disguise, clever, evil as all get out and as sane as that guy in the rubber room at the clinic), he is easily thwarted by your superior puzzle solving skills and MacGyver-like abilites. You needn’t worry about him too much.

Another notabily endearing quality of the game is the scattered bits of animated scenes, littered about the plot. Aside from the usual still shots, as you solve mysteries and come across new ones, high quality animations take you through the story in a very Holmesian manner. All performed by voice actors, you feel as though you’re watching a mystery anime and forget you’re playing a game. These scenes don’t last long, but in total, I imagine you could get a short stand-alone episode from them. If only they had played with that mechanic more. But this is now a reality with a new Layton movie slated to hit America in 2011 (hopefully).

Staying true to my usual review set-up, I need to comment on the sound track. It’s minimal, meaning the same few songs are used ad nausium through out the plot. The puzzle music you’ll undoubtedly know by heart by the time you solve the last one. Despite the sparse track list, the music quality, much like the animation, is top notch, never over baring or distracting. The music almost lulls you after a while. The iconic Layton music is a staple throughout the many games so you better suck it up and like it, which shouldn’t be much of a problem, I foresee.

Hoping the sheer number of puzzles to solve won’t turn your gut, this game is a good brain stimulator during long vacations. You could probably polish off this game in a long day or a couple broken up days tops. If watching the credits scroll is a bit disappointing, you’ll be happy to hear that the fun just doesn’t end (face it, you’ll never finish this game). You’ll soon have access to weekly puzzles and, of course, you’ll have to finish those stray puzzles you left behind at Granny Riddleton’s house. And, what do you get when you polish off that last puzzle? A cookie? A hug? No. You get a congratulations and a game you aren’t about to restart for a few months.

No matter, there are many other Layton adventures to be had. If your brain has turned to mush by the time you finish, go train some pokeemanz. Give that brain a rest, because you deserve it. With that said, let’s sum this up:

Pros: The mini-puzzles turned out to be my favorite part of the game. Who would have though tracking down painting scraps would be fun. Character designs are fun, colorful but not overwhelming. The puzzles are simple and self-esteem boosting. The animations are smooth in high definition, anime quality. Finally, the story was linear, leaving the best twists for the very end. All around, very satisfying.

Cons: The puzzles and hints had a way of making the player feel a tad dim. Be careful with some of the wording of the riddles. Make sure that when they’re referring to a “square” they might actually mean a cube. The tasks have you running in circles a lot, so make sure you have that DS charged. Some of the hint coins aren’t in obvious places, so you might find yourself tapping every centimeter of the touch screen.

In the end: Great game with an easy to understand interface. If you’re a puzzle nut with a taste for good mysteries (or vise versa), Layton has a trip for you. I give it an A for Absolutely smashing.

Well, would you look at that, we’ve come to the end of this review. I really did miss your smiling faces. OH! So, did you keep a tally? I sure hope so, because I really don’t want to type THAT word again. Don’t make me say it! But, let’s see if you can pick ‘em ALL out.

And, in the spirit of puzzle solving, how about I leave you with one, courtesy of Layton, himself. Tell me, Luke, what is the LAST letter of the alphabet?

See you next month and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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