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The Gaming TARDIS: The History of Professor Layton

This article will appear on KN tommorow, as I'm writing this in bed on the smart phone I boasted about in my last post as I have no computer accessn at the momment to write it in a Word document and paste it in. But here are some words about Professor Layton anyway.


Every generation, there is one genre of video game that simply dominates all others. In the NES era, simple exploration and platform games were king, with very few 'mature' titles on the market, a theme that remained amongst the MegaDrive/Super Nintendo platform heyday, as the likes of Sonic 2 and Super Mario World simply churned out. Today, however, the video game market is ruled by the first-person shooter: a genre so childishly adult that any scraps of maturity current titles have are blown away by an encore of blood and guts.


So it's refreshing to have a genuinely grown-up series doing well at the moment as well, as the Professor Layton series goes from strength to strength under the watchful eye of the world's greatest publisher, although it's not Nintendo who deserves the endless credit the Layton series rightfully earns. Level-5 have come from nothing to become a world-class developer, on a par with the likes of Valve, Intellegent Systems and the afformentioned first-party Japanese giant. It's an incredible story for a developer with such a short history to suddenly be producing titles of the quality of Layton, Dragon Quest IX and Ni No Kuni.


Formed in 2000, their first release was PS2 RPG Dark Cloud, often referred to as one of the system's best. The sucsess of this and the sequel, Dark Chronicle, resulted in the most coverted RPG prize in Japan: The Dragon Quest license. In 2005 they'd turn out a memorable entry into the franchise before begining work on an original idea of their own, a new take on the Touch! Generations range Nintendo was pushing on the DS. Originally just a collection of puzzles, based on a popular series of books in Japan, Level-5 grew fond of the idea of linking the brainteasers in some way. The suggestion of a coherant story running throughout the game was such a brilliant idea you had to wonder how nobody had thought of it beforehand.


As for the character of Layton, you've got everyone's favourite Scottish philosophist to thank if Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. While he didn't personally devise Layton and Luke, the inspiration for all the reoccuring characters is drawn from the classic detective stories. Sherlock becomes Hershell Layton, Dr Watson is (somewhat unfairly) a small, cockney boy and James Morriarty can now be percieved to be an over-the-top, camp villian of '60s Baman proportions.


The rather lovely European/Japanese hybrid of an art style was actually a happy accident, with the staff just agreeing that Layton looked best with the shading he did, and designing a suitable world. Meanwhile, the grand THAT THING. *INSERT TEXT HERE* score is unrivaled in terms of wonderful, rousing game themes that don't rely on choirs to get the hairs on the back of your neck standing up and goes hand-in-hand with the slightly more conservative approach taken with the in-game themes, as they conjure up music that manages to not be annoying no matter how often you here it as if by magic.


The real secret to the sucess of Professor Layton as a series is the charm that the above combination provides. Likeable characters (And Luke), a fantastically soft art style, witty scripts, clever plot twists and great music slot together like something from one of those 'Get the ball into the whole' puzzles that populate every single game. It'd probably been a hit if released with these elements alone, but what makes Layton appealing over another Call of Duty/'Call of Duty killer' is that there's nothing like it. Chances are, between CODs or Need For Speeds there are eight billion shooters and racers out there saturating the market. But how many other puzzle-solving English gentleman simulators are there? Not that many, we'll tell you that much...


*We wanted to say none, but then we'd have to overlook staff favourite, the excellent Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure on DS. It's nothing like Layton beyond the character and a 'puzzle element', but well worth checking out.