Video Game Review: Great Series Continues With ‘Professor Layton and the Last Specter’

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CHICAGO – Honestly, one of the few reasons left to own a Nintendo DS (or 3DS) outside of the well-known franchises like “Zelda” and “Mario” is the consistently addictive and creative franchise known as “Professor Layton.” A blend of anime, fantasy, mystery, and, above all else, puzzle-solving, these games are about as enjoyable as a handheld title can get for a puzzle fan. The latest, “Professor Layton and the Last Specter” dips just a bit in quality in terms of puzzle structure and storytelling, but that’s only because of the high standard set by this franchise before and the areas in which it improves — setting, value — make up for it. It’s WELL worth the purchase price, especially if you’ve been sucked into the Layton world before.

The game has been available for sometime overseas (all “Layton” games are) and, therefore, has been highly anticipated. For the most part, the game lives up to the hype. Serving as a prequel to the other three games — you get to see how Professor Layton and Luke became the puzzle-solving time you know and love — “The Last Specter” is the most artistically accomplished game in the series with some cut scenes and art direction that truly stands far above anything else in the series. I’ve long liked the aesthetic choices of the “Layton” team but I’ve never thought a game looked more cinematic and visually engaging than this one.

Professor Layton and the Last Specter
Professor Layton and the Last Specter
Photo credit: Nintendo

If you’re unfamiliar, the basic “Layton” set up is simple — a mystery story is woven around dozens of point-and-click puzzles. Not only do you have to pay attention to the action of the overall story but, to progress, you’ll have to solve a wide variety of puzzles — some riddles, some mazes, some number problems, etc. It’s a ridiculously strong foundation for a game, especially for those of addicted to puzzle-solving.

Professor Layton and the Last Specter
Professor Layton and the Last Specter
Photo credit: Nintendo

Setting is key to a “Layton” game in that it’s the residents of wherever you are along with its unique locations that will provide the puzzles to be solved. This story takes place in Misthallery, a fantastic location in that it has way more atmosphere and character than any “Layton” game before. The town has that feel of a fog-covered burg that you just know houses some dark secrets in the forest or after the sun falls. It’s a great place to set a “Layton” game.

The Professor ends up there after receiving a letter asking for help dealing with a destructive, nightly force known as the specter. This lumbering, shadowy beast destroys homes as it cruises through town at night. It is quickly revealed that Luke wrote the letter and may have some insight into the Specter’s purpose and origin. As you explore Misthallery, you also get deeper into the secrets behind its past and dangerous present. The story is well-paced overall even if a few dialogue sequences go on remarkably long. Being a fan of the puzzles more than any other element, I was sometimes a bit frustrated at the “local flavor” given by some residents who didn’t have a puzzle in return.

How are the puzzles? Some are brilliant. Some are seriously pathetic. I don’t remember any puzzles as simple as — SPOILER ALERT — the fact that a quickly-written 13 looks like a B or that fruit rolls downhill. But they are exceptions. For the most part, I was surprised how many of the puzzles felt as fresh as the first time I played Layton. It gives one hope that this series could go on for years to come.

Professor Layton and the Last Specter
Professor Layton and the Last Specter
Photo credit: Nintendo

The puzzles are well-supported by a series of collectible brain teasers like a series of railroad track games (place the tracks so the train can get to all of its stops and the end in a certain number of moves) and an amazing amount of hidden elements throughout the game. Fans will be used to clicking on everything in the environment for hint coins (currency that can be used when you’re truly stuck on a puzzle) but they’re far from alone in the town of Misthallery.

One of the things that struck me the most about “The Last Specter” is something that has been true for the entire series, but never more so here — you’d be hard-pressed to find a better value on the Nintendo DS or any other console. The puzzles alone will take you hours to complete, the mystery is engaging, their are tons of mini-games, and, oh yeah, there’s a 100-hour RPG included as well. Yes, you read that right. There’s an entire RPG world of Professor Layton included alongside the adventure of “The Last Specter.” What more could you possibly ask for in terms of value for your hard-earned gaming dollar?

Franchises that have reached their fourth installment often start to fade, showing signs of creative fatigue or simply falling victim to repetition that comes with time. Nothing could be further from the case with “Professor Layton and The Last Specter.” It’s one of the best Nintendo games — Wii, DS, or 3DS — of 2011.

“Professor Layton and The Last Specter” was released for the Nintendo DS and 3DS on October 17th, 2011. It was developed by Level 5 and released by Nintendo. It is rated E (Everyone). content director Brian Tallerico

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