Professor Layton and the Last Specter Review

Professor Layton and the Last Specter (Available only on Nintendo DS)
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Level 5
Release Date: October 17, 2011

Parent Talk: Professor Layton and the Last Specter is a colorful, family-friendly brain-teaser. It’s excellent for everyone. There’s no content to object to, and the wonderful characters bring the charm of a Studio Ghibli or Pixar film.

Plays Like: Other series that combine puzzle and visual novel/adventure elements. You frequently solve logic puzzles tied to a mystery-filled story.

Review Basis: Completed the game and solved 151 puzzles.

Note: The Last Specter is the fourth Professor Layton, but chronologically the first. You don’t need to play each one to understand the narratives, but there is a plot that unifies the games.

Professor Layton is arguably one of the most consistent franchises. Most others tend to misstep at some point (usually due to an ill-fated spin-off or cash-in), but the good professor has remained charming after four games. Each is fun, family-friendly, and perhaps most important, engaging.

The Great:

A wonderful adventure. The Last Specter begins the series’ canon, chronicling how the professor met his apprentice Luke. The village of Misthallery is an excellent setting that’s home to a number of memorable characters. Professor Layton is special because of how it combines the logical and fantastical. At the core of every release is a supernatural mystery—a mysterious village, a box that kills whoever opens it, a time machine, a destructive specter. The stories are about deconstructing these superstitions with logic, and the results are whimsy and fun. Some sequences are presented by excellent animated cutscenes, complete with voice acting. The series ranks high for storytelling on the DS.

The Good:

+ Plenty of puzzles. There are 155 to solve throughout the game, not counting the extra mini-games or weekly downloads. They range in difficulty and complexity. Some ask you to solve math problems, while others are logic or word-based. You’re never forced to seek out puzzles though; some must be finished to advanced the story, but the remainder serve as a treasure hunt of sorts. Exploring the village and talking to citizens yield access to more puzzles.

+ Colorful. Layton’s world is like a beautifully-animated children’s film. The memorable character designs and detailed, picturesque village scenes look fantastic. The cutscenes are unfortunately short, but of high quality. The series doesn’t quite match up to Ghost Trick, but it’s still pleasant to the eyes.

+ Music. The style brings to mind all the whimsy of an animated fantasy, contributing well to the game’s charm. The tracks are similar to other Layton games, but are as enchanting as ever. The songs aren’t particularly catchy, but set the right tone for the quest.

+ Mini-games and bonus content. Solving Misthallery’s mysteries would be sufficient, but Level-5 offers plenty of extra material. You can play several mini-games, including puppet theater (word choice), fish tank (guide fish around a course), and train set (lay down tracks to reach the goal). They’re a fun distraction and a distinct change of pace. In order to advance in each mini-game, you must find certain items or talk to a specific character, which makes exploring the world important. Throw in post-game content and downloadable puzzles, and you have quite a package.

+ London Life. Level-5 included an entire separate game, London Life. This simulation side dish plays similarly to other life-sims like Animal Crossing or The Sims. You control a custom character in the Layton universe, working jobs, collecting furniture and customizing yourself and your home. The sprite-based look brings to mind old, 16-bit SNES classics, particularly Nintendo’s own Earthbound. Nintendo and Level-5 boast that this mini-game can deliver 100 hours of enjoyment—it delivers.

The Bad:

– Same old, same old. Last Specter isn’t different from other PL games in any way. Despite a refine presentation and more developed characters, gameplay is largely the same. Fans would argue that change isn’t necessary. After all, advancing a story, solving mysteries and clever puzzles hardly tires out. However, if you’ve had your fill of gentlemanly puzzle-solving, look elsewhere.

The Ugly:

The artwork and character design is exquisite, but the frequent use of static images and general lack of animation is obvious.

The Lowdown:

The main criticism anyone can extrapolate is the feeling of déjà vu…but why change something compelling and classic? The Last Specter is another solid entry in a consistent franchise. The series isn’t great just for its stimulating brain-teasers, but also its memorable characters, great art work and wonderful stories. If you’re a fan, complete your collection and buy Last Specter. For newcomers, this is a great place to start.

Score: 9/10

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