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Professor Layton and the Curious Village is the first of a series of point and click edu-tainment games. Within the adventure game context are placed a number of classic and novel puzzles that must be solved. Although the title is more like a proper game, it overlaps significantly with other DS educational titles such as the Brain Training series.
Edu-gaming titles combine the fun of play with the self improvement of education. As recent research and educational approach in schools shows, these two bedfellows work very well together. Titles usually consist of a series of mini-tasks around a particular subject. Some games in this genre simply use the topic as a theme for its games, whilst others are more obviously education or coaching based.
They all track various stats from the player's performance each day. This enables the game to provide feedback and advice about their progress or lack thereof.
Professor Layton sets its self improvement puzzles within an adventure game context. Unlike other educational titles, it manages to convincingly wrap up its puzzles in a proper game. So much so that many see this as an adventure game with a few puzzles rather than an edu-tainment title at all. This is testament to the high production values of the game as a whole.
As with other edu-tainment titles, the puzzles themselves (of which there are 120) make good use of the DS's touch screen. Many of these are drawn from famous brain teasers. Other draw more on a video game challenge such as the sliding puzzles. Then there are those that draw on logic and mathematics. Although some can be solved using quadratic equations and the like, a good dose of clear thinking will usually suffice.
But more than this range and depth of challenge, it is the surrounding game and narrative that makes this series so unique.
Many gamers will play Professor Layton because of its point and click adventure game aesthetic. As the credits roll and the first set of interleaved interactions and pre rendered manga cartoons get going it is clear this game has had a substantial investment in it look and feel. Although they are often solving problems quite similar to those found in school and college classes, players here always come away enthused about the experience.
The light well written narrative and the consistency between the cartoon and interactive sections enables players to treat the game as a whole. Quite possibly this game has the best narrative of any educational title. Modern narrative led educationalists should approve.
The puzzles themselves can be solved in as little as a minute and as much as an hour. I found my brain often needed time to think them through before I could answer. This made the game stay with me through the day, even when I wasn't playing it.
Between puzzles is usually some five to ten minutes of point and click adventure gaming. With 120 puzzles in total, most players should find at least 20 hours play here.
Very young players, or those that are not proficient readers will not be able to attempt the majority of the puzzles in the game. That said, all it takes is a friendly adult to read the question and they should be able to effect an answer.
Intermediate players will appreciate the games well paced difficulty and the enjoyably rendered editions of familiar puzzles. As they progress further into the game there is increasing narrative led motivation to complete each task. Although this can frustrate at times, the overall feeling is one of a well balanced game.
Expert gamers may find the visuals a little cartoony and that they have their hand held a little too often at the start. But once they get into the meat of the game (of which there is a considerable mass) most players will find a challenging and enjoyable experience.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
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