Lately, the days have been getting shorter and the air grows cooler with each passing week. People are starting to wear warmer clothes as they shuffle through the red, yellow and orange piles of dried leaves that are spread across the ground like an autumn blanket. It is that time of the year again, when the latest title in the Professor Layton series sits snugly in the cartridge slot of my DS; somehow, the air doesn’t feel so cold as I unravel the mystery in the intrepid professor’s latest adventure in the strange town of Misthallery.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter is essentially a prequel to the hat trick of titles that a good number of us have grown to love. The introduction shows Professor Layton meeting his assistant (Emmy) for the first time and their subsequent trip to Misthallery at the behest of an old colleague looking for aid. In the usual style of the series, the letter itself is the first puzzle in a host of other brain ticklers, and sets the pace for your slumbering mind.
Misthallery is a charming little town.
The formula of the game is the same as the others: a story unfolds, taking you through the solution of a very interesting mystery. The plot is forwarded through the use of puzzles of varying difficulty, making it a much more rewarding experience than simply watching the adventure from the sidelines. Puzzles that are not instrumental to the adventure can be skipped and played later (thanks to a purple cat that appears all over the place), so impatient folks can get to the bottom of the case in a slightly quicker fashion.
Interaction with the main game is done entirely through the use of the touchscreen; whether it is moving about, or sliding puzzle pieces, your stylus will be your friend. It is a tried-and-true method that has served us well in Layton games previous, so there are no surprises here. In fact, you can expect a good deal of familiar elements in this game: Layton’s Case, a staple of the series, contains recaps of the story, a log of current mysteries, mini-games and a puzzle index (to name a few). It is one of those rare instances in video-games where the formula behind the construction and game-play is the same – making the impact of each story all the more powerful. Why change what works?
Professor Layton is a very smart gentleman.
Part of the winning formula behind the game are the visuals and sound design. Graphically, the game is not going to be competing against the likes of Battlefield 3 or the Uncharted titles; it doesn’t need to – the charming, hand-drawn look and tinkly music are definitely not cutting edge by any means. However, the aesthetics act as a consistent platform from which to launch compelling stories!
The Last Specter also contains a number of mini-games that become accessible as the story progresses. There is a railroad mini-game in which you have to do an optimization of laying tracks to hit all of the stations and make it to your destination without crashing or running out of fuel. A fish mini-game has you placing bubbles to help steer a fish in the right direction; collect all of the coins before the timer runs out by using the bubbles and the environment! Last, but not least, there is a theater mini-game in which you watch a play and fill in the actions when prompted, leading to a successful run, or a failed attempt (actions are unlocked as you play through the game and solve riddles).
Some of these puzzles will surely kick a gentleman’s ascot.
There are the usual bonuses (unlocked as you accumulate points): new puzzles, weekly downloadable puzzles, concept art and the like. The extras are consistent with the offerings from the rest of the series, and you should be happy with the game long after you finish it (finishing it means you really should go through the puzzle index and solve the ones you missed).
Also included with the game (as a separate section) is Professor Layton’s London Life. Basically, it is a little RPG in which you create a character and carve out a life for yourself in “little London”. You basically try to make money by getting a job; the money you make can go towards improving your quality of living. You can also raise your happiness by helping people out. It’s a nice little addition and promises over a hundred hours of game-play – I don’t doubt that it could if you are captivated enough by this mega-mini-game. In any case, it is unlocked from the get-go, so you can try it out and visit it periodically (you might even run into some familiar characters).
Professor Layton and the Last Specter is consistent with the other titles in the series; that is to say, it is awesome. If you are a puzzle nut or like a good story (or both), this game is for you. This franchise is one of the most highly recommended pieces of software that I own. The Last Specter is available now for the Nintendo DS and its other hand-held descendants.