We were expecting Wii Fit to sell well and Mario Kart Wii but not many people expected Professor Layton And The Curious Village to sell out. Yet that's exactly what happened weeks after it was released. People are loving professor's brainteasers and with good reason: it was one of the finest handheld games released last year. Actually, if you've read our Top 25 feature you'll know it's the finest. Few games deserve their success quite like Layton so to celebrate, we spoke to Level 5 and creator Akira Tago to find out just how they did it.
It's known as the 'eureka' moment - the specific feeling of purest joy that consumes you after cracking a particularly tricky conundrum, problem or puzzle.
Thousands of years after the Greek scholar Archimedes leapt from his bath in the original eureka moment, Nintendo has built an entire game around this very same feeling of euphoria. And it works. It really works.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village has become a landmark title for Nintendo, bringing together the brain teasers from Dr. Kawashima's mega-selling titles and fusing them with a compelling plot, charming graphics and a sense of fun.
The title is based upon a series of Head Gymnastics books, which test the mental agility of its readers with a series of trick questions, logic puzzles and number crunching conundrums. Author Professor Akira Tago explains how the game was first conceived:
"It was actually Level 5 who originally approached me. President Hino (of developer Level 5) himself came to my office in Akasaka, saying that he had been a fan of my Head Gymnastics books since childhood and told me that he wanted to make them into a game.
"I was touched, so I rushed out to Hakata to visit the Level 5 office. I was really surprised at what I found. It had a completely different feel from a regular office, and all the young software creators there were working away enthusiastically. It really warmed my heart to think that I had run into such wonderful partners."
"As the development of the game progressed, President Hino's desire for new puzzles became stronger and stronger. In the end we were asked to produce an entirely new set of puzzles for the third game, which is out soon in Japan. But we in the puzzle creating staff also take pride in wanting to work hard and carry this through."
Akihiro Hino, president and CEO at Level 5, takes up the story. "When we tried to use the puzzles straight out of the Head Gymnastics book on the DS, we found that some of them weren't suited to it very well, so we selected puzzles to fit the game and also had Mr Tago create some new puzzles for it."
Where Layton truly excels is in stringing the puzzles together to create a fully-blown adventure. But this wasn't the original concept, Hino-san reveals. "We were originally going to make the book Head Gymnastics into a game, but this was right at that time when the brain training-type software on the DS was really popular and lots of games of that genre were coming out.
"We thought about how we could make this game a bit different from all those others and decided to make it not just the game version of a book but to give it an actual narrative. By presenting puzzles within the course of the story, you can experience not only the fun
in solving the puzzles but also the fun in progressing with the story, making the game doubly interesting."
A key part of that process was creating Professor Layton's visual style and lead characters. "The two characters of Professor Layton and Luke were created imagining a master detective, like Sherlock Holmes, and his assistant," adds Hino-san. "I thought it would be interesting to have a combination of an English gentleman as the master detective and a young boy as the assistant. Also, as the story is set in England, I created the world by imagining beautiful European animation with a backdrop of a romanticised, historical Europe." Professor Tago is, quite rightly, proud of how it all turned out. And modest to boot. "I am really thankful for all the hard work that "I am really thankful for all the hard work that President Hino and all the software creators at Level 5 have put in. I am truly pleased that people all over the world are attempting Professor Layton's puzzles. I really couldn't be more grateful to everybody."
Fear not, for this is not the end of Layton's story. Two new adventures, dubbed Pandora's Box and The Last Time Travel have been developed and, as the first Layton adventure continues to wow critics and gamers alike, Nintendo would be mad not to release them in the UK. You can rest assured that there are plenty more of those eureka moments to come.