At heart, Professor Layton And The Curious Village is just a collection of classic puzzles and brainteasers: rearrange matchsticks, get the wolves and sheep across the river, and so forth. The game wraps its 120-plus puzzles in a whimsical story about a detective and his sidekick who explore the village of St. Mystere in search of a hidden treasure. But the story is just garnish: You get to watch a mystery unfold, but you have no real opportunities to make a difference.
What makes Professor Layton shine is its genuine love for puzzles. Where a lesser developer might have dumped these into a bargain Super Puzzle Fun Time package with barely a menu to tie them together, Professor Layton chooses its puzzles carefully, escalates through several of the same type, and peppers the solutions with history and trivia. If you ask for hints, the game gives you just enough guidance without handing over the solution: You always have to brain your way through.
Beyond the game: Educational games have long taken a bad rap, largely thanks to "edutainment" titles that mix tedious drills with mindless gameplay. Professor Layton proves the argument made by the Education Arcade, among others, that games teach best when they do what games normally do: exercise skills like problem-solving and abstract reasoning, while allowing players plenty of room to screw up and try again.
Worth playing for: Every time you solve a puzzle, it's moved to your "Puzzle Index" for easy replay—which is handy if you want to share a puzzle or stump your roommate.
Frustration sets in when: Many of the puzzles have players use the DS touchscreen to manipulate objects or sketch out solutions. The interface is mostly flawless, but an "Erase" mode would have come in handy on some of the messier puzzles.
Final judgment: A top-notch package that'll make you love puzzles as much as the game's designers.