Writing this review reminds me of a puzzle!
When I was a child, among the various videogame-related publications that would show up in my mailbox every month, I had a subscription to Games magazine. It had nothing to do with this hobby we love to love so much—instead, it tested your mental abilities with a wide variety of logic puzzles.
The shameful truth is that while I enjoyed seeing each new issue arrive, and cherished my time spent browsing through their pages, I probably didn’t bother to complete 75% of each issue’s challenges. It wasn’t that I couldn’t solve the riddles I was presented; it was that I was often just too impatient for them. It’s a problem I’ve often allowed myself to fall into over the course of my life: Being too obsessed with knowing how things end without appreciating the journey in getting there.
This is one of the reasons I have a soft spot for the Professor Layton series: It integrates those types of brain teasers that fascinated me as a child into a medium—videogames—that is more skilled at keeping my interest and keeping me away from an answer key.
As the fourth game in the Professor Layton series, Professor Layton and the Last Specter does little to stray from the formula that has served the franchise well so far. However, we are thrown a twist right away storyline-wise: Last Specter is actually a prequel to the previous three chapters. As a part of this, we see Professor Hershel Layton teamed up not with his young protégé Luke, but instead the spunky camera-toting college lass Emmy Altava, who has been assigned to work with Layton by the Dean of Gressenheller University. The game opens as the Professor receives a strangely-worded letter from an old friend asking for help; so, with his new assistant in tow, he heads off for the town of Misthallery.
As the duo arrive, the mysteries already begin to pile up. The mayor of Misthallery (and friend to Professor Layton) Clark Triton did not, in fact, send the request for help. However, the threat mention in its pages is very much real. According to the town’s legend, an ancient specter once existed who—when called by the playing of a magical flute—would appear from the mist and protect Misthallery’s inhabitants. It seems that specter has returned, but this time to destroy the peaceful town instead of defend it.
The key to solving the enigma of the specter’s appearance and its unpleasant attitude lies with The Oracle, a secretive person who has the power to predict when and where the specter will show up. It just so happens that the Oracle is none other than the mayor’s son Luke Triton. Thus, we’re shown how the two originally met, and how the friendship that would be a focal point for the Professor Layton series began to take shape.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter—as I mentioned—is classic Professor Layton. Roam around the current location of choice, interact with a cast of crazy characters, try to figure out the truth behind what’s going down, and do that all while being served up a bountiful helping of puzzles. The integration of those puzzles into the story is still often times completely ridiculous in concept—asking a person where the market is will get you the response of, “Ahh, the market… that reminds me of this puzzle about mathematics!”—but really, that’s part of the charm of these games. I’d love to believe that somewhere out there there really is such a place, a place filled with men and women, boys and girls, even cats and dogs, who do nothing but await the day that they can thrust upon a random stranger this amazing brainteaser they’ve been saving for that very moment.
If you’re a Professor Layton fan, then this review really isn’t for you—you’re going to buy the game anyhow. What about those of you who are curious about the series but aren’t sure where to begin, or those that have a previous Professor Layton title but now wonder which chapter to get next?
There’s two factors that make Last Specter my top choice for a situation like that. The first is the fact that the game is, indeed, the official beginning of the Professor Layton saga. Sure, okay—in these games, the story really isn’t a make-it-or-break-it element. Still, it makes Last Specter a good point to jump into the series for those who haven’t been around for the entire ride.
The other element is the extras included with Last Specter. The main portion of the game offers a variety of bonus mini-games—from model train set puzzles to the requisite “hidden items collection”—but it’s London Life where things get really interesting. A completely new feature for the series, London Life is a bonus RPG (of sorts) lovingly created by Japanese development group Brownie Brown—as in the folks who made, among other things, the legendary Mother 3. London Life has a similar look and feel to Mother 3, and the detailed, stylistic sprite world presented here is just as gorgeous and bursting with personality. You start off by creating your own character, and then—basically—you enjoy the life that you live in that world. Take up a variety of jobs, buy your character new outfits, decorate your apartment, maybe pick up a hobby or two, and get to know better the wide variety of personalities you’ll meet in this 16-bit slice of Layton’s fictional London.
The game itself won’t be for everybody; while the chance to explore the world presented and interact with various characters from the Layton mythos will be enjoyable for some, others will no doubt find its relaxed pacing and fetch-quest foundations to be utterly boring. London Life reminds me a lot of games like Animal Crossing—so, your opinion of experiences such as that may give you a clue to how much (or little) you’ll get here.
Thus, Professor Layton and the Last Specter—as a natural starting point for the series, and the chapter with the most packed-in value of all the Professor Layton releases so far—stands as my recommendation for the one game to have from this franchise if you’re only going to have one game. If you’re late to Layton, then no problem—start here, and see what you think. If you’re a lapsed fan, then there’s no better point to jump back in. If you’re a die-hard follower of the Professor, then I suppose I’ll simply leave you confident that this is another chapter chocked full of what you love from him and his adventures.
For me, even beyond all of that, Professor Layton and the Last Specter was another chance for my current self to make up for my younger self and his regrettable lack of unbreakable will when it came to the challenges found in those damned Games magazines. Maybe I’ll never have true redemption, but I can still try.
SUMMARY: Professor Layton and the Last Specter is another enjoyable chapter of the puzzle-solving series, and a perfect entry (or re-entry) point to the franchise due to its storyline slant and bonus features.
- THE GOOD: Another quality chapter of a great franchise, packed with some nice extras.
- THE BAD: Some of the puzzles feel like repeats of what you’ve seen before.
- THE UGLY: The moment after you break down and unlock a super hint, only to realize how stupidly easy the solution was.