Like the crib notes version of Hamlet, Simon Graham and the Extraordinary Timepiece, Book I does its best to duplicate Nintendo’s masterful Professor Layton puzzle games, hitting the major points but writing some bits in shorthand for simplicity’s sake. It pulls it off admirably, too – replicating virtually everything except Layton’s unique, quaint-but-off-kilter personality.
Clever, Layton-like logic puzzles are the big draw here, ranging from mathy word problems to dragging the pieces of a rope-and-pulley system into place. Taken as a whole, they’re slightly less difficult than Layton’s puzzles and there’s no penalty for getting the wrong answer (other than having to go again). But that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it just makes the game more accessible.
Speaking of accessible, only one puzzle felt like a “trick” whose solution hinged upon a particular interpretation of the question’s exact wording – a simple example of this kind of dupe (but which isn’t borrowed from either game) would be “Mike can do between four and five hundred jumping jacks in an hour, so what’s the fewest he can he do in half an hour?” and the answer is not “200”, but rather “two”. Those usually seem cheap (at least to some players) when they show up in Layton, so it was nice to know that each puzzle here could be taken at more or less face value. On the other hand, the few challenges that required the user to guess a specific word, almost like a crossword puzzle, felt out of place. Hopefully, they won’t return in Book II.
What should return in Book II is the plot from Book I, which is only (at best) halfway finished when you reach the end of the game. Main character Simon is still struggling to locate both his missing grandmother and the pieces of an apparently very special pocketwatch before a murderous man in black finds him. The plot, conveyed via drab still panels as opposed to cut scenes or chance encounters on a map screen, is a bit more somber and tense than Layton’s (and you can’t speed through the text without missing things – argh). But it has a nice, fairy tale feel to it, almost like a Harry Potter story told entirely via Tim Burton sketches.
If you’re a fan of the Layton games, you’ll feel right at home with Simon. If you haven’t played Layton and this entire review has therefore been baffling to read, here’s the one thing you should take away: Try this game. It’s a screamingly affordable way to see if the story-based puzzle genre is right for you. We’re betting it will be.
Nov 4, 2010