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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Review: Professor Layton and the Last Specter

Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Nintendo

The Professor Layton series has been very successful, and with good reason. The Layton games usually wrap an unusual and intelligent narrative around a series of mind-bending puzzles. They're fun games, and easy to get into.

Professor Layton and the Last Specter is the fourth game in the series and the last to be released for the DS while also being a prequel to the previous trilogy. If you've played a previous game in the series, will you like this one? If you haven't played the Layton games, is this a good one to start with?

In Last Specter, Professor Layton receives a letter from his friend Clark, the mayor of the small town of Misthallery, saying that a strange specter is destroying their town. Layton and his new assistant Emmy venture to the town of Misthallery, where they meet Luke Triton, the boy who becomes Layton's apprentice.

Professor Layton games are a combination of point-and-click adventure games and those "101 Puzzle" books you may have seen when you were a kid. The formula is this: Talk to person, answer a puzzle. Touch an object, answer a puzzle. Move the narrative forward, answer a puzzle. That's been the formula since the first game, and the Layton universe's bizarre obsession with puzzles hasn't abated in Last Specter. If you don't like the formula, tough. If you're looking for any major curveballs or changes to the formula, there aren't any changes here.

After four games, you would expect the formula to start looking a little long in the tooth, but it's still OK. You're not playing a Professor Layton game for platforming, after all. I still believe that the Layton series works excellently as a gateway game for people who are otherwise disinclined toward narrative games.

My problem isn't with the puzzles, although a few of them could be a little clearer to understand. My problem, instead, lies with the narrative. I'm not going to give too much away, but Last Specter aims for a really emotional ending, much like the other entries in the series. It comes so close to packing a punch, except for the fact that the characters that are involved in the ending are cursory characters for most of the story, and one character isn't even introduced until the last hour of the game.

Plus, there is definitely a villain problem in Last Specter. The villain of Last Specter is a completely out-of-left-field character who, once again, isn't revealed until the last half-hour of the game. That makes it difficult to care about any of the proceedings, and an otherwise interesting story falls flat at the end.

The inclusion of the RPG London Life is neat, though. It's fun and deep, although if it were sold as a standalone project I suspect it wouldn't be quite so well-liked. In some ways, it feels like "Sidequest Quest," as you're mostly doing favors for people and just noodling around in the Professor Layton universe, but I've had a good amount of fun with it.

Last Specter is a decent game. It's funny and smart and all the other things you would expect from a Professor Layton game. Still, I'm glad this is the last outing for the DS. Maybe moving to the 3DS will help refresh the series a bit.

Final Grade: B-