Professor Layton and the Last Specter: Life’s a puzzle

November 5, 2011

Since pretty much all of the Nintendo handheld attention for the last several months has been focused on the 3DS, those of us who have chosen to remain DS owners have felt somewhat ignored. Fortunately, a gentleman never abandons his fans unless he absolutely has to, and so Professor Layton has arrived once more to grace the puzzle-lovers among us with more brain burners.

He’s even got a new assistant… well, an old assistant, since Last Specter is a prequel to the first three Layton titles, set three years prior to Curious Village. Fans of young Luke Triton will be happy to know that he still plays a significant role in this game, despite being only maybe ten years old (and yet with a deeper voice than I remember from previous titles), but Gressenheller University archeology student Emmy Altavia is a more-than-welcome addition to the cast.

This year’s excuse to repeatedly encounter improbably puzzle-obsessed strangers is a mysterious letter that Layton receives from his old friend Clark Triton, Luke’s father. Layton and Emmy head out to the town of Misthallery to investigate, and there they encounter a legend about a mysterious specter that once protected the town but now appears to be randomly destroying it. The three will spend most of their time in town searching for answers (though Emmy makes a brief return trip to London for information), and finding more mysteries along the way before all is said and done, as per usual. They will also eventually uncover a new nemesis, Descole, who will undoubtedly be returning in future installments although will remain something of a mystery himself for now.

As far as Layton plots go, this one is probably more credible than the previous three, but it’s still pretty out-there. But the stories, and the wonderful animation that often accompanies them, aren’t why anyone buys a Layton game. The puzzles are the main attraction here, as always, and there are well over 160 of them this time. There are also three new mini-games. Sadly, the toy train one is pretty similar to the toy car one (although it does ramp up in difficulty), the pet fish reminds us too much of the pet hamster and the puppet show feels more like a vocabulary test than a mini-game while also not being all that different from the sticker book. But these are petty complaints at best.

There are some additions to this fourth outing with the gentleman professor, but most of them are minor. A collection of “events” shows scenes that happen outside of the main narrative and fleshes out the story and characters a bit, nice but hardly essential. We did like the way some non-indexed puzzles were sort of woven into the gameplay, like a test Luke gives to prove Layton’s worth before letting him into his room to talk. Finally, there are random mice that sometimes dash across the screen while exploring. Tapping one before it gets away earns you a Mouse Badge, and collecting enough opens a sort of shooting gallery/whack-a-mouse minigame towards the very end of the adventure.

And then there’s the other addition to this title, which is anything but minor. Professor Layton’s London Life is included as an entirely stand-alone RPG-ish game, sort of like an SNES-era Animal Crossing set in Layton‘s “Little London”. There are no puzzles to be found here (though Granny Riddleton has a residence for some reason), just various livelihoods (jobs, executed as mini-games) and quick fetch quests that will earn you Happiness and Wealth.

You can decorate your apartment and move into bigger ones, buy new clothes, food (eating restores lost Happiness), and furniture, and… well… not much else, really. While charming in its own way, London Life is no Animal Crossing, a game we’ve played and loved three different times now. Fortunately, London Life isn’t tied to the real-world clock, so you can accelerate through at your own pace. It’s a fine way to kill time here and there, but not really strong enough to stand on its own (which is probably why it doesn’t). Still, it is an amazing value if you’re into that kind of thing.

Last Specter is for the Layton fan, and provides a decent entry point for any new arrivals who haven’t yet experienced the other titles. If you didn’t like them, you won’t like this, and the reverse is obviously also true.

Pros: More Layton!, London Life is an interesting inclusion
Cons: Same old Layton

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.