Created by Japanese developers Level-5 and released over a six-year period (2007-2013) for the Nintendo DS and 3DS, the Professor Layton series is one of the most enjoyable and devilishly challenging experiences in gaming. Aside from the huge cast of charming characters and gorgeous settings presented in a striking visual style, these point-and-click adventures include literally hundreds of puzzles that will test even the most seasoned puzzle aficionado. As entertaining as the core premise is, however, I feel the numerous minigames featured in the series deserve praise themselves; providing as they do a pleasant and at times equally stimulating distraction from the main story. Therefore today I’ve decided to list my favourite five minigames from the Professor Layton canon.
- The Inn – Professor Layton and the Curious Village 2007
Undoubtedly the simplest of the games on this list, The Inn is nonetheless a pleasurable little puzzle in its own right. Appearing in the first title of the series, the player is tasked with designing two rooms for the titular Professor Layton and his self-styled apprentice Luke Triton, using furniture and items collected during the course of the story to ornament their lodgings. However, to complete the challenge, each room has to meet the exacting standards of the inhabitants, their happiness measured at the bottom of the screen by a pair of gauges. With enough persistence, the solution to the problem will become clear shortly after obtaining the last of the requisite items, though you’ll be left wondering why the Professor and his squire are harder to please than Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.
- Blooms and Shrooms – Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy 2013
The next entry on this list is arguably the most difficult minigame in the entire series. Each of the ten increasingly large, grid-based levels requires the player to make specifically positioned trees bloom. To do this the player must create an unbroken chain of flowers from the starting square, passing energy on via the area of effect of each pattern of blooms, until every target tree has been triggered, whilst avoiding the numerous toxic mushrooms which result in an instant fail if activated. A tricky game generally, what makes Blooms and Shrooms distinctive is the optional challenge of attempting a perfect run; a feature that provides a Steven Segal level of toughness for completionists.
- Picture Book – Professor Layton and the Lost Future 2008
If The Inn is the most basic minigame to feature in Professor Layton, the Picture Book is almost certainly the easiest, deserving of a place on this list because of its unquestionable charm. Taking the form of three incomplete stories, you’re challenged with filling in the gaps using specific words and phrases unlocked during progression through the main narrative. Though nothing more taxing than basic trial and error is required to complete each book, it’s the freedom to experiment that makes the game memorable. Indeed, intentionally inserting incorrect phrases into a particular passage can result in genuinely amusing scenes as the characters respond to your choices; a perfect example of a light-hearted distraction from the central story.
- The Shop – Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask 2011
The Shop is a challenging minigame that charges the player with the task of selling every item in stock, achieved by arranging the objects in such a way that the customer is compelled to purchase every available product in a frenzy of conspicuous consumption. To do this, you must create an unbroken sequence of items within the given shelf space, linking the irregularly shaped products based on their colour or other shared qualities. Trickier than this brief description may suggest, this excellent minigame manages to find a perfect balance between difficulty and fun, whilst simultaneously helping to familiarise players with the thought processes necessary to complete many of the game’s puzzles.
- Toy Train – Professor Layton and the Spectres Call 2009
Based on a design utilised in previous Professor Layton titles, the Toy Train stands out from the rest due to a fantastic blend of elements. Delightfully animated, trying and exceedingly enjoyable, this particular game is also slightly more sophisticated than most of the other minigames in the series. The simple premise entails plotting a course from a specific starting point to a predetermined location, ensuring the train visits every station on the grid based map during the journey, whilst avoiding traffic, mountains and sundry other obstacles. Complicating matters is a limited supply of fuel which, though it can be restocked in transit, often forces you to design ever more intricate routes to collect.
Regardless of which of Professor Layton’s many excellent minigames you prefer, the series as a whole demonstrates how to successfully create engaging side-distractions that augment the game in which they appear, without feeling forced or superfluous.