Monday, 14 February 2011

The Curious Lure of PROFESSOR LAYTON

I think I've been overlooking games on the WIRE for far too long. It has taken some time to digest what is on offer and swimming upstream against media questioning the merits of the medium has stymied my progress.

And so I start with the puzzle-based series of games centering on the adventures of Professor Layton and trusty apprentice, Luke. As this last Christmas approached, the seventh for my son and with an unwieldy collection of action figures, bricks, vehicles, and boardgames, we decided to get him a Nintendo DS XL along with a pair of Professor Layton games.

This was spurred somewhat by the following from Charlie Brooker's blog at The Guardian:

"Don't be fooled by the children's book presentation: this is essentially an interactive detective story, although the story is just an excuse to present you with a series of increasingly challenging puzzles, some of which could cause even the most sophisticated brain to overheat. If I had children, I'd force them to play this on the basis that it would almost certainly turn them into geniuses."
Now, it's two months later and the entire household often spend spare moments working through the games. Across age and gender, these games have drawn us into its charming pan-European vision of England with its Japanese sensibilities.

It's greater than the sum of its parts which all work toward enhacing the other. The puzzles, animations, music, voice acting and quirky storyline is at once familiar and comforting while likewise presented in such a incongruous ways as to make something new. For example, accordian music which we tend to associate with France serves as the base of much of the soundtrack. It's a bit like giving Tolstoy a soundtrack of steel drums. Odd, but it works in this context.

The puzzles themselves remind me of puzzles that various teachers throughout my schooling would bringe in a couple times of year to challenge and delight, but each Professor Layton has 100+ enigmas. Each is delightful with a good balance of challenge(and occasional frustration) while offering an endorphine-releasing payoff that spurs the player on to the next puzzle.

Recently, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva was released which is an animated film based on the series. Not as compelling as the games themselves, it does serve to buttress the series without detracting from its achievements. My son in particular was charmed by it.

Most of all, it is something that takes the medium and makes the most of its abilities and has a broad appeal, particularly among those who find little to no appeal in the usual fare offered by video games while likewise drawing in veteran gamers more accustomed to shooting zombies.

Professor Layton (Wiki)
Professor Layton (Official Website)

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