a review of Professor Layton And The Curious Village
a videogame developed by level-5
and published by nintendo
for mobile phones and the nintendo DS
text by Brandon Parker
I recently played Sherlock Holmes vs. Arsène Lupin, and let me inform you how excited I got after I had started that game up: real excited. Right as you settle into the game proper, instead of your everyday, commonplace tutorial screen popping up to educate you on the controls for your intial playthrough or whathaveyou, this game’s tutorial just tells you to get a damned notepad and pencil. Being that this is a Sherlock Holmes game, you’ll be playing as Sherlock Holmes, of course, and they won’t be cutting corners to make it easy on your theoretically ignorant selves. Only the beginning of the game, though, lives up to that intial assurance, in my opinion. The rest is the usual adventure game ridiculousness. Oh, well, they tried. Good for them. The main thing is, there’s a part early on where you have to find a certain painting in an art gallery. You have to type in an answer to a question, the question being, “What is depicted in the painting?” After spending half an hour typing in as many ways as I could think of to say, “HMS Victory,” I quit the game to look up a walkthrough and found the answer. It was “boat.” So: Brandon Parker is smarter than Sherlock Holmes. This is a historic fact, now. You can even add it to Wikipedia and reference this review.
Now, I worry about the kids sometimes, and myself. Back in “the fair time,” as I call it, you used to have your King’s Quests or your Monkey Islands, but nowadays, if you want a game that doesn’t involve shooting small nations of foreign men over and over in dull grey and brown environments, you’re stuck with either licensed shit based off of Pixar movies or boring platformers with stupid animal mascots. And that’s another thing. Current kid movies have the same problem as current adventure games. Compare those beautiful, hand painted Disney movies of old to this lifeless, 3D animated computer shit. I think a link could be drawn between adventure games and Disney movies. I don’t feel like doing it at the moment, though. Forgive me – I am exaggerating, slightly. There are the Icos and Katamaris and whatnot, but do kids even know about those things? Do those games get commercials, or do kids even watch television anymore? For all I know, these days they come out of the womb with hand cupped to the side of their ear, room for a cellphone to be slid in there, and then it’s straight to 4chan boot camp. We might be lost already.
It’s not that I don’t think they can’t handle the violence, or anything. I’m sure most can, and those that can’t will just end up as republicans, or spree killers, or something. I know I used think, wouldn’t it be great if Inspector Gadget wasn’t a dumbass and had hands that could turn into machine guns, or something useful, at the least? You’re not fooling anybody, there. Kids know that that kind of crap is dumbed down for them. That’s not what I’m asking for, however. It doesn’t have to be dumbed down or made for kids in particular at all. It just doesn’t have to be nonstop violence. I guess that’s what I’m saying. Say there’s a kid who wants to play something other than Halo. He just doesn’t know it yet. I’m sure the peer pressure to play Halo and “pwn bitches” with his peers on Xbox Live is enormous, but let’s say this guy is going to strike out on his own. Good for him. Yet, after trying to make it on his own out the real world, Poor Little Ness finds he has so few options that he ends up taking the weak man’s road of used Spec-Ops games for PSX. And he was such a good, promising young lad. Now doesn’t that break your god-damned heart?
I’m only emphasizing the kids, here, since they don’t call them your formative years because you’re free to completey fuck them up however you want and change your mind later. I know I wouldn’t be the man I am today if I didn’t have all these fond memories of walking around all those green environments in old adventure games, back when trees were in games, constructing tools out of pocket lint. And personally, I’m also sick as hell of shooting people myself, anyway. By the time I play MGS4 I think the line will be dangerously blurred between player and character. I already feel like a tired, old veteran, sick of battle and death, now, so I won’t be playing so much as method acting.
I’d simply like to see something that has room for your imagination to get in there. The modern videogame is an alkali desert when it really needs to be something more, uh, fertile. Man didn’t abandon painting when he learned to sculpt. Let’s get some colors in there, some majestic green trees and clear blue skies. The imagination can’t grow in the desert. Anything creative or weird doesn’t have to be an abstract handheld game with a clever game play hook anymore. More Balloon Fight and Kiwi Kraze is what I want, I think. Remember Kiwi Kraze? You were a bird in New Zealand rescuing your bird buddies. I don’t know if anyone would even think to make something like that anymore. If they did, they’d use satellite imagery to recreate New Zealand exactly, or some bullshit. You can do all sorts of weird shit in games that’d be a lot harder to pull off in a movie or book. Let’s see some of that.
Back in the Fair Time, a company called Electronic Arts (you might’ve heard of them) didn’t look at those games from Sierra and Lucas Arts and see all the happy childhoods, the greenary, the cherished memories born from those games. No, to people like them, they could and can only see “markets” that need “penetrating.” Every bit as horrible as it sounds. These are the kinds of people that invent their own doublespeak business language to say things without really saying anything. The kind of people that up and buy the NFL when too many people start to buy their competition’s NFL game. Well, back when they were wanting to make adventure games, being incapable of ever creating a Full Throttle or a Gabriel Knight themselves, they merely waved their money around and brought in Sherlock Holmes, who, at the time, was the greatest detective (I’m now the best). They were decent enough adventure games, but poor Sherlock Holmes games. They were also damn ugly and lacking in the use of the color green, though I guess it’s the same for London.
Anyway, someone finally made a good Sherlock Holmes game, and it’s not even a real Sherlock Holmes game. It’s about some dude named Layton. A couple of guys making up their own shit made a better Sherlock Holmes game than EA did, with the actual Sherlock Holmes. Is there something other than spending money that they can handle doing properly? Yeah, we’re not supposed to hate them anymore, being that they apologized for the murders of Origin, Bullfrog, and all – a standup thing to do, I’ll admit, but I won’t fall for that. I know how these people operate. They’re not like you and me. They don’t have a conscience. They’re machines, programmed to simply want more money. They’ll only show a response to anyone other than themselves if their income is threatened. They look at their invented graphs and formulas and follow them to the letter. When something new and original that doesn’t fit in these formulas does well, it’s a “big suprise” that “exceeds all expectations,” and so they imitate the hell out of it, thinking that’s all there is to it. You know at the end of FernGully: The Last Rainforest, when that machine is possessed by a demon and is going through the forest cutting everything down? EA is that demon possessed machine, and they’re cutting down that forest to make room for a new alkali desert, where, as you know, imagination is unable to grow.
Usually what makes an adventure game a shit one is that the puzzles are just plain fucking nonsense. And, often, I think that happens because the game is just too damn long. The designers aren’t smart enough come up with enough clever puzzles to fit in the entire game for every situation, so they get desperate, and when they get desperate this leads to madness, which leads to the bizarro moonside logic. All of us here know of the Gabriel Knight Moustache Massacre of ’99. This is something now told to small children as a warning. I even think it’s in the latest edition of Bullfinch’s Mythology, under “Tragedies.” I was there at ground zero. I remember it clearly: I finally had a computer all my own for the first time, and, to celebrate, the two latest entries in my favorite game series’ at time – the games being GK3 and Ultima IX. I tell you, it did something to me, something whose effect still lingers to this day. I’d also like to point out that Ultima IX was diddled with by Electronic Arts, known by their true name, “Hexxus“. Hexxus was voiced by Tim Curry, who also voiced Gabriel Knight in his third game, and is known for sounding like a child molester. I personally believe that when the universe is trying to tell you something, you should listen.
So maybe it’s just too hard to come up with enough sensible puzzles to cover an entire game. The Big Sleep didn’t make complete sense to Raymond Chandler, and he wrote the damn thing. And remember the Holmes story where the guy injected monkey blood or something and started climbing trees? What in the fuck was that all about? And what a literal pushover Moriarty was. Holmes was too smart for Doyle’s own good, in my opinion. So you wonder what hope there is for there ever being a great detective game that makes sense. But then you remember something like Full Throttle, a game so good that I actually forget it’s an adventure game, and then you think, maybe everyone else is just lazy. Well, you think too much. Just take it easy. What they’ve done here for Professor Layton is side-step that problem by just getting together a bunch of good puzzles that don’t really have much to do with jack shit. It’s just a series of puzzles that usually come from some guy coming up and saying, “Have you heard of this one?” But they can get away with it because they’re all good ones. It’s really a puzzle game disguised as an adventure game, and therefore actually ends up being a better Sherlock Holmes simulator game than what any adventure game could ever be. Also, it’s a real nice looking game. It doesn’t look like anything else out there. A cartoon, but more The Little Prince than some anime horseshit. So that’s pretty good.
I guess Japan has only one videogame magazine, and it’s called Famitsu. If any others exist, I have no knowledge of them. If you’re a hip American, perhaps you know all about this magazine, already. But in an issue, there was an article about Professor Layton, and the title of the article was, “Level 5’s new game’s genre is unknown? New style game to train your brain,” except it said that in Japanese, rather than English. Yeah, it seems that in Japan they see an adventure game and, to them, it is some kind of crazy Brain Training knock-off. Ha, ha, those lovable, crazy Japanese. The closest thing those primitive deviants have for comparison is cartoon sex games and Phoenix Wright, so this is a bold new step for them. I hope it takes off.
Anyway, according to the opening cutscene, Layton and I are under some sort of non-disclosure agreement by the curious village, so I can’t exactly talk in specifics about the events of The Case. Sorry. I’ll just say you missed out. A great time was had by all.