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Game Review

Have you ever daydreamed of visiting a picturesque French village filled with quirky locals? Wandering the cobblestone streets enjoying a loaf of bread, a chunk of cheese and, say, a bunch of brainteasers? If so, then the riddle-devising crew at Level 5 has packed the perfect adventure into a handheld game just for you.

The Nintendo DS title Professor Layton and the Curious Village ushers you into a quaint little watercolor hamlet called St. Mystere, complete with European-style animation and children's picture-book charm. There you join the world-renowned archeologist and puzzle enthusiast Professor Layton as he investigates the last will and testament of Baron Reinhold. It seems that before the wealthy baron passed, he hid his great fortune somewhere in the town and his family members are quite eager to find it. So the silk top hat-clad prof and his young apprentice, Luke, set to work.

Oink Once for No, Twice for Yes!
But the two detectives won't just be turning over rocks and searching through dusty attics for random clues, they'll be talking to townsfolk and be faced with over 130 puzzles, riddles, brainteasers and minigames that will eventually lead them to the truth.

Gamers move from area to area in the village by tapping the screen with the DS stylus and then tapping townspeople to chat. Strangely, everybody in this little burg has a riddle or puzzle to share before they'll offer their assistance. (The fun part is finding out why.) Along the way, tapping random nooks and crannies can be fruitful, too, as they reveal secret areas, hidden puzzles and hint coins. These coins won't buy that bread and cheese I mentioned, but they do help out with clues when a riddle gets to be a little too brain-twisting.

Puzzles involve everything from moving matchsticks to seeing your way through optical illusions to mastering intricate math problems. For instance, here's one you may have encountered before: You have eight small pigs and a scale. One of the group is lighter than the rest. If you can only use the scale twice, can you determine which oinker has been eating less than his pals?

Parlez-Vous Français?
If you're a glutton for that kind of riddle then you're gonna be in hog-heaven with this game. But even younger gamers, who might run to Mom or Dad for a few pointers, will find the challenges more entertaining than frustrating. Especially in light of the cute story adventure that goes along with them.

Now, for the sake of those younger gamers, I should also note that there is a villain who tries to get his hands on the mysterious treasure, too. His uses the word "blast" when he's frustrated, attacks a building with his balloon-mobile and at one point appears to have murdered one of the Baron's relatives.

Without revealing too much of the story's ultimate puzzley answer, I can assure you, though, that no person is actually killed and the bad guy is much more zany Snidely Whiplash than scary boogeyman. In fact, in a positive finish, we find out that family is far more valuable than gold—a truth that was foremost on the old baron's riddle-filled mind.

So I say, "Oui, oui." Professor Layton and the Curious Village is family-friendly fare that's both fun and educational. It's everything the puzzle fan might hope for in a video game trip to France—with no language study required.

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Bob Hoose

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