On the 15th of February 2007, Professor Layton and the Curious Village was first released for the Nintendo DS in Japan, with releases in North America, Australia and Europe following a year later.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village was developed by Level-5, a Japanese studio whose previous works had included both entries in the Dark Clouds series, Rogue Galaxy and the critically acclaimed Dragon Quest VIII. The game was conceived, and later produced, by Level-5 President and CEO, Akihiro Hino, and was initially unveiled as the first instalment of a planned trilogy.
The game follows the eponymous Professor Hershel Layton and his young apprentice, Luke Triton, as they visit the village of St. Mystere, after receiving a letter from Lady Dahlia, wife of the recently deceased Baron Augustus Reinhold. At the reading of the late Baron’s will, it is revealed that only those able to solve ‘the mystery of the Golden Apple’ will gain access to his vast fortune. Initially summoned to assist in cracking this unusual puzzle, the pair soon find themselves caught up in a tale of murder, conspiracy and robots. The game is primarily controlled using the Nintendo DS’s lower touch screen and stylus. Players can investigate items, talk to characters and navigate the environment. At regular points throughout, the player is given or can discover, puzzles to solve, ranging from logic puzzles, maths problems and brain teasers.
The origins of Professor Layton can be traced back to producer Hino’s original idea of creating a puzzle game based upon the series of puzzle books he fondly remembered from his childhood. The book series, titled Atama no Taisou (‘Head Gymnastics’ in English), was created by Chiba University professor and psychologist, Akira Tago, with the first volume releasing in 1966. Hino’s initial aim was to simply create a straight adaptation of these books. In a 2014 interview with Eurogamer, Hino shared, “We thought we could turn these books into a pleasant, casual game by just adding a few game-like elements.” In 2006, Level-5 began collaborating directly with Professor Tago in adapting the riddles and puzzles from his books for use in a video game prototype.
However, after discovering that the studio was unable to use the ‘Atama no Taisou’ name, the game began to take a slightly different form. The team introduced story elements and steadily started to craft a plot that could tie Tago’s puzzles together. Although now no longer a straight adaption of his books, Tago supervised the game’s development and worked with Level-5 to ensure the game maintained a good balance of puzzle types. Of the game’s 120 puzzles, 90 would be directly adapted from the original books with a further 30 specifically created, in collaboration with Tago, for the unique DS hardware.
As the game’s puzzle-solving narrative took shape, it became obvious to the development team that the main character should be some form of detective. Rather than a sole central character, however, Hino suggested having an accomplice, someone with whom the central character could converse and bounce ideas off. Partly inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s creations, Sherlock Holmes and Watson, Hino asked the studio artists to draw an English gentleman with a young sidekick. Upon seeing the initial design for the potential protagonists, Hino provisionally named them ‘Professor Layton and Luke’; names which simply stuck throughout development.
Upon release, Professor Layton and the Curious Village received praise for, what many critics remarked as, a successful combination of adventure and puzzle-solving elements, as well as its charming presentation. Although the variety and spectrum of puzzles included was commended, some found the game to have little replay value upon their completion. By the end of 2007, the game had sold over 700,000 copies in Japan. It would go on to be a top-selling title in both North America and the United Kingdom.
After the first planned trilogy of games (The Curious Village, The Diabolical Box/Pandora’s Box and The Unwound Future/Lost Future), the series would receive a prequel trilogy beginning with the release of Professor Layton and the Last Specter/Spectre’s Call following in 2009. The franchise would also see the release of numerous spin-off titles, including Layton Brothers: Mystery Room released on iOS and Android, as well as a crossover with Capcom’s Ace Attorney series. The series success has even led to a feature film (Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva), TV series, Manga and novels.
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