Level-5’s Professor Layton is a marketing man’s dream. It combines puzzle solving with whizzo, 1940s-style adventure stories. It's perfect to while away a few hours or stolen moments, dashing off a quick puzzle or whole chapter. There’s no need for quick reactions or swinging around a controller – all you need is logic to push the story forward.
The series has become something of a surprise cash cow for Nintendo. The original release of The Curious Village
in 2008 was rather low-key, at least until the company realised that they had a game on their hands that they could push to the grown-up market through the promotion of bundles that included the game with DS Lite systems.
A little history. I played the first game
and thought it was… well, it was OK. A lot of the puzzles were based on classics, things that I had come across when I was designing for an Alternate Reality Game called Perplex City
a few years ago. I raced through a lot of it, got stumped on a few truly odd sections and eventually grew a bit bored.
If you’ve listened to Joypod (presented by SPOnG!)
you’ll have probably heard the problems I had with it. The story did little to grip me. The way that puzzles were introduced into the game was bloody terrible (“You need to cross that river? Hey, that reminds me of a puzzle I knew as a child…!”). The whole thing felt so twee, so annoying – I wasn’t having any fun with it, so I gave in and moved on.
I totally ignored the follow up, Pandora’s Box
– I didn’t think there’d be anything in there for me. So, when the latest one arrived for me to review, I felt conflicting emotions: a combination of “Oh God, I Have To Review A Layton Game” and “I’ve Probably Had Enough Of A Break To Do It Objectively…”
If you haven't tried out the other two, this is how the Layton
series works: Professor Layton, a Sherlock Holmesian fellow, somehow stumbles upon a mystery. Aided by his ‘young friend’ Luke (where are that kid’s parents?), the pair work together to solve said mystery through the medium of puzzles.
Looking back at that sentence, the game format makes little sense. The best way to experience it is (of course) to get your hands on it. The Layton
games are presented in a faux-RPG style with characters mostly talking to each other in text. The most choice you’ll have to make is moving around your local area by tapping on arrows on the touch screen. No fighting. No levelling up. Just puzzles.
The story in Lost Future
is the usual, slightly mental gubbins, albeit with a bit of a darker twist. The Professor and Luke are invited to the unveiling of a scientific breakthrough – the world’s first time machine. There’s an accident and the Prime Minister of England disappears, as does the machine’s inventor. However, our heroes are convinced (through a series of letters apparently from the future) that they can solve the mystery.
Adult, not Saucy
Cue a visit to a London ten years hence, and things take a turn for the sinister and, dare I say it? adult. Not in a saucy way, more so dealing with themes not often seen in your average DS title: Death, lost love, growing up, dealing with responsibility… all of these are touched upon in Lost Future
Level-5 has seemingly hit the sweet spot in this game – they know that the vast majority of those who will pick up this game aren’t children, therefore its been written for a more mature audience. Where the first game felt kiddy, this one is well pitched for the grown-ups.
Of course, the series will live or die on the quality of the puzzles contained within it. Thankfully, these have been generally well done – there’s certainly a few WTF moments, but I feel those are down to translation issues: a few of the 160+ challenges just aren’t clearly written.