Class is in Session

I've been looking for a new game for the Nintendo DS for a while and finally decided to give Professor Layton and the Curious Village a try. Ignore the pukey-sweet title of the game, this is one that everyone with a DS ought to try. Actually, despite the name sounding like a Disney after-school special, the game is most certainly not for young kids. And that's what makes it great. You see, Professor Layton and the Curious Village is essentially a collection of hundreds of brain-teaser puzzles, many of which wouldn't be out of place on an IQ test or, perhaps, the SAT. And some of them are downright hard. Damn hard, in fact. It's not everyday I keep a pen and paper handy when I'm playing a game just so I can do some rough calculations on the side.

The game is a point-and-tap style adventure game with charming Rockwell-esque graphics that occasionally come to life in the form of full-motion cartoons. You control Professor Layton and, together with his child protege, you search a village -- yes, a curious one -- for clues concerning a number of mysteries that arise. You move from one static background to another and tap the stylus on the screen in search of puzzles, clues, and Hint Coins. Hint Coins can be exchanged to unlock clues for the individual puzzles (each puzzle has 3 hints that can be unlocked to help you solve it). In addition to solving the mysteries, there are side-quests such as assembling a robot of sorts with a number of gizmos that are found; arranging furniture in an inn to suit the tastes of both Layton and the boy; and also a jigsaw puzzle that can only be completed once you find all of the pieces.

While the game presents a number of mysteries for the prof-turned-detective to solve, it's really just an excuse for finding more puzzles. Make no mistake about it, the story and detective aspects of the game are all but on rails: the gameplay is all about solving the brain teasers. Each puzzle is worth a particular number of points called Picarats and every incorrect try reduces the number of points available. Naturally, you want to solve the puzzle in as few tries as possible to get the maximum number of Picarats, which can then be used to unlock various bonuses.

So what do the puzzles look like? Here are a couple examples:

Imagine a digital clock like the one shown below. How many times will the clock display three or more of the same number in a row over the course of one day? In case you were wondering, the clock in this puzzle displays time on a 12-hour scale, not on military time.

The lower screen shows a standard digital wall clock and you write in your answer using the stylus.

How about another one:

Here we have an eight-quart pitcher filled with juice, an empty five-quart pitcher, and an empty three-quart pitcher. The pitchers are unmarked, and your task is to divide the eight quarts of juice so that both the five-quart pitcher and the eight-quart pitcher are each holding exactly four quarts.

To solve this one you simply tap-and-drag one pitcher to another to pour as much of its contents as will fit into the next pitcher. You have to go back and forth to sort out the volumes until you have only 1 quart in one pitcher, then can ultimately split the 8 quarts into two equal portions. It's tricky, but not that hard. Other puzzles get a lot harder and are often visual in nature. The mathematical ones, for me at least, tend to be a bit easier.

Anyway, if you have a Nintendo DS and want a game that can hold your attention a bit longer than the various Brain Age and Big Brain Academy games, then this is for you. It's a game with a really charming style and one that will certainly make you think. A lot.

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