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Professor layton and the Curious Village is either a work of marketing genius or the biggest fluke of last year. The advertising slipped it into the public conciousness as the natural successor to Brain Training, and combined with nationwide stock shortages, what could have just slipped under the radar as a quaint puzzle game became the gold dust of DS games this Christmas.

Professor Layton and his young apprentice arrive in the bizare town of St Mystere, where the locals have an insane fascination with puzzles, to help sort out a dispute over the legacy of the recently deceased lord Reinhold. Of course, things aren’t as simple as they first appear, and the duo must explore the village in search of clues to the mysteries that haunt the streets, solving puzzles as they go. This is something to be happy about, an adventure game this successful ( with a sequel on the way and a third out in japan right now) is nothing but good for the genre, and should hopefully make the release of Broken Sword on the DS and Wii a bit more lucrative.

Despite drawing in the Brain Training crowd, Professor Layton is very much a different beast, with lateral thinking puzzles taking centre stage. None of them are as simple, or sometimes even as difficult, as they first seem, and I’ve told my DS to “fuck off” several times since I started playing. That said, despite small penalties for a wrong answer it’s a very easy going game, letting you enjoy it at your own pace. There’s no pressure to explore every part of the village for puzzles in each chapter, and any that you miss will be moved to a special house in the village. With more than a 130 puzzles there’s a fair bit to do during your investigation, and there’s an absolutely wonderful download service that releases a new puzzle each week.

And from devious, but gentle, to a black hearted monster of a videogame. Recommended to me with the words “don’t worry if you die a lot on the first level” I arrogantly dismissed such warnings, and, after running through a dozen of the avaliable tutorial levels, dived into the opening level. Unknown to me, the game had been lying in wait on the periphery, swinging a sack of bricks, and at that moment let it fly. I died quite horribly, unprepared for the violent missile storm I encountered, and thinking that perhaps this was just a troublesome, unbalanced level, proceeded to the next one, where a godzilla sized robot and his six little mates beat me to a pulp.

Bangai-o Spirits is, essentially, WarioWare for the shoot ’em up genre, and it has no pity for you. Some people will be put off by the difficulty curve, but they are weak. This game is all about the seemingly impossible levels and the rush of doing a little better, and finally conquering it (and saving your replay, which is an awesome addition). Each one is a small, self-contained problem, and they are brutally hard, but all of the 100+ levels are avaliable right from the start, allowing frustrating levels to be bypassed. Even if you exhaust the everything the game has there’s high scores and times to be beaten, or even new levels to be created using the level editor.

Like some kind of greatest hits collection, there’s a diverse array of weapons to equip before each mission, from homing missiles to baseball bats, and your selection can be instrumental in your success. As well as “normal attacks” there are the EX attacks, that- in a sign of the game’s madness- run off a power bar that needs to be recharged by collecting fruit from dead enemies, and unleash a massive barrage of up to 100 missiles. They also take into account the number of enemy missiles on screen at the time and multiplies the power and size of each of your missiles while reducing the number, and are wonderously overpowered attacks. Until you encounter enemies that have their own EX attacks, that it. These bastards are more than happy to reflect your attacks back at you, and suddenly you’re playing ping pong with hundreds of over-sized missiles, and Bangai-o’s utter disregard for the framerate becomes apparent. Slideshows are a regular occurance and spectacularly large EX combos will happily lock up the screen for a few seconds- although, this can even work to your advantage for dodging attacks. It’s masochistically difficult, entirely mental, and I love it.


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