Take one glance at the European-style art direction for Professor Layton and the Curious Village and you’ll probably figure out it’s not like a lot of other Nintendo DS games. This works in the game’s favor.

Take one glance at the European-style art direction for Professor Layton and the Curious Village and you’ll probably figure out it’s not like a lot of other Nintendo DS games.

This works in the game’s favor.

Level-5, a Japanese developer that spends most of its time making games like Dragon Quest VIII and Rogue Galaxy, has created an interesting little game that’s a bit off the beaten path of the current market of most adventure stories.

Professor Layton is in fact, in many ways, a throwback to a genre that’s been all but dead for the past 15-odd years: the point-and-click adventure game.

The genre–which uses a cursor to inspect and investigate environments in order to find new items, talk with non-playable characters and solve puzzles–has been dormant since the mid-’90s. Revived to some extent on Nintendo’s handheld, recent games like Hotel Dusk and the Touch Detective series have taken on a new touch-sensitive look at this exploration-heavy genre.

Professor Layton continues this tradition. But its hook is that while drawing upon the design sensibilities of point-and-click classics like Myst or Leisure Suit Larry, it also capitalizes on the current craze of “brain training” games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy. This mix of brain-busting goodness and old-school game play works well and even provides a brain-challenging experience … if you’re into that sort of thing.

But make no mistakes: Professor Layton‘s game play is engaging in a different way.

In the absence of run-and-gun action, leveling up or platforming, Professor Layton is decidedly more methodical, deliberate and slower than most adventure games.

The game features titular Englishman Professor Layton, a well-known puzzle investigator attempting to solve a whodunit in St. Mystere, a small French (or what I would safely assume is French) village.

The townsfolk of St. Mystere seem a little off, and not everything is what it seems. Mysteeeeerious! Oh, and everyone and their grandmother challenge one another with brain-teasing puzzles. If this all sounds slightly absurd, it is. But Professor Layton has a charming presentation, and as a videogame, absurdity is expected.

With its simple, European-style illustrations, Professor Layton looks more like a game version of The Triplets of Belleville than a lesser-known adventure title from a company that spends most of its time developing RPGs.

St. Mystere is delicately brushed in a palette of soothing beige (which the game actually makes fun of at one point). The graphics are complemented by gentle accordion-filled tracks that really make you feel like you’re in a sleepy town in a French countryside. These quaint, understated touches work well in creating Professor Layton‘s overall atmosphere.

In the game play category, Professor Layton boils down to a long series of conversations and exploration, which provide the character and story development, and puzzles, which make up the meat of the gaming experience.

When you’re not traipsing about the village, talking to townsfolk or examining items, every moment of Professor Layton is spent solving puzzles that have to do with everything from math to logic to optical illusions. And while this game may seem like it’s for kids, some of these puzzles will have you staring blankly at your DS for a long time, trying to figure out the answer.

Hidden around the village are “Hint coins” that can be spent on a hint for the puzzles, which helps some. There’s some incentive for getting things right on the first try, as reward money is reduced with further tries. On the flipside, it would have been nice to see some bonus given to players for solving hard puzzles without using hint coins.

Generally, the art direction is nice to look at, but the graphics occasionally have some minor issues. The puzzles themselves are a bit of a contrast to the rest of the game, usually done up in simplistic graphics. The animated cutscenes are a nice touch, but video compression and resolution problems keep them from being great. The voice work is good, too, and there’s a surprising amount of it.

Overall, whether you like the game’s unique blend of puzzle solving and exploration is going to depend on your gaming preferences.

If examining the hell out of every nook and cranny in St. Mystere doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, there really isn’t anything here that’s going to change your mind. But for fans of point-and-click games or just gamers looking for something that tries to challenge your brain a little differently, there’s a lot to like with Professor Layton.