Release Date: October 17, 2011 (NA)
Alright, this is one is long overdue. By this point, most of you have already made that decision as to whether or not it is worth making the purchase. But I'm sure there is one, sole person out there that is still holding out for one reason or another - this review on the latest Professor Layton installment, The Last Specter, is for you.
A Gentlemen Leaves No Game UnplayedHere we are in the fourth part to the puzzle-solving, interactive adventure series known as Professor Layton. If any of that seems completely and utterly unfamiliar to you, then it would be best that you just stop here and go order the first one immediately. For one, you've missed out on a handheld classic for this long! And secondly, appreciating the full reward that this game has to offer will be very difficult if you are just now jumping in midway. So in summary, this is really intended for the veterans of the franchise. Does it hold up to the previous chapters in the tale of Layton and his trusted apprentice, Luke? Or is its formula becoming tired, giving us more of the same with its final appearance on the DS? Hopefully by the end you will be able to discern that for yourself.
It might be no surprise to all of you seasoned Layton players out there that this game offers virtually no change to its core gameplay. So why do we play it? The story and puzzles of course! I am sure many of you had the same speculation as I had as to how they would progress the story after the surprise in the last game's ending (I will not say anything beyond that as far as endings go). However, instead we begin with Layton and...a new sidekick? That's right, the boisterous Emmy - who happens to be the Professor's assistant - is here to team up with the master himself. They receive word from an old friend of Layton that they are in some sort of trouble, and the two decide to journey over and help out. As it turns out, a giant Specter is plaguing the village and Professor Layton is on the case to put an end to the crisis.
Having said that, the plea instigating their coming to the village was actually sent by none other than Luke. Yes, it's the same Luke we've sympathized with (or maybe despised) all these years! Except now he and Layton are meeting for the first time, making this game somewhat of an "origins" adventure.
The Story of LaytonEach iteration of the Professor Layton usually involves some captivating mystery that the player watches unfold as Layton and his sidekick piece together the clues. Usually some sort of twist occurs at the end, as everything we have come to believe comes crashing down in the story. I felt the first one did this extremely well. The second one made a solid attempt, but the third one seemed a bit contrived. How does this latest game compare?
Well, it puts in a solid effort. Learning about how the specter actually came to exist keeps the player engrossed enough. The payoff at the end is satisfactory, especially if you enjoy a touching conclusion. But once again (as with the third one), I found the twist and the entire climax to be somewhat predictable and far from shocking. However, an interesting character comes out of this story that leaves the player eager to see where they will take them with the next game.
So overall, the story wraps everything up decently, yet the twist falls flat. It is rewarding to watch the unfolding of a relationship between Luke and Layton after meeting. Seeing the past of these two characters we have come to known is something every fan of the series should experience. There are plenty of humorous moments throughout as well, which help with the pacing of the story as well.
But More Importantly, the Puzzles of LaytonTo what degree can puzzles save a rather lackluster ending to an otherwise solid story? It turns out, a lot. While there is not anything too groundbreaking (and to be honest, who would expect it), they definitely have a large variety of puzzles to solve. And if you have been enjoying them for the past three games, there is no reason this one would be an exception.
Oh, and yes, the sliding puzzles return in full force. Before you play, be sure to prepare yourself for a challenge that would drive you to trip an elderly person.
Getting Around TownOne of the banes to this series that has plagued its players for the past three games is the backtracking. Oh gawd, the backtracking. Nothing is more irritating than finishing up a room only to find your team needs to report back to a house across the river, under the bridge, through central plaza, and then a mile outside of town. Luckily, The Last Specter seeks to save us!
They finally implemented a traveling system that allows players to instantly get to specific locations on the map by boat. There's only five of them, but they're conveniently placed to cut down significantly on the frequency of cycling through screens just to get to your destination.
I only hope that soon we get a "Layton in Space" version of the game that features teleportation. That way we can teleport to any screen in the game.
The Mini-Games AboundEach progressing Layton seems to try to outdo the previous in terms of the mini-games it provides. This one is no exception, as The Last Specter boasts four mini-games. That's right, four. And one giant side distraction which I will get to later.
The first is a toy train set. It's very similar to the car mini-game we've seen before, except that now you have to deal with many cars instead of just the one. They took the concept of being efficient with your vehicle and threw in a few timing elements to the game. It is just as entertaining, if not more than the car mini-game.
The next is a fish. Yes...another animal mini-game. However, this one is not as frustrating as the bird mini-game (seriously, the reward should have been eating that thing). In fact, it seemed much more manageable to me since they practically highlight the tracks that the fish travels on. You watch as the fish bounces around the walls and obstacles to try to collect everything on the map. Of course, you are required to strategically place bubbles to boost and redirect it. I mean, the bubbles should should be enough to make this very enjoyable.
There's another storybook mini-game. Yeah, it's just as easy.
And lastly, something quite uncharacteristic of the Layton series is a mouse mini-game requiring the player to quickly tap mouses popping out from objects and running across the screen. It is definitely the first reflex-based game I have ever seen make an appearance. Either way, it just highlights the notion that the developers are slowly providing an experience for all types of players.
There is a Game in this GameThis time around, the developers tried something a little different. They threw in a mini-game separate from the main campaign. Except it's not really a mini-game at all. In fact, it's a whole different game entirely. It is Layton's Life.
The game is more or less a "life" simulation in which you customize (well, sort of, the options are pretty limited) a character to enter the town. You are immediately tasked with several things from the townspeople, and as you wander around you will notice familiar faces from the series. As you continue, you slowly build up your reputation within the town by performing these duties and eventually raise your status among the people. What begins as a little distraction from the main story will completely expand to a game of its own. Layton's Life really adds almost double the value of the game itself. I would even urge you to buy it solely based off this little simulation. As you unlock more items and connections throughout the town, you will begin to realize that this could have easily passed for a stand-alone title.
The VerdictFor anyone worried about this latest Layton game, I will say this - it delivers. It might even rank as the best in the series so far, considering the amount of bonus content packed into it. The amount of effort that has been put into preventing its formula from becoming stale is as noticeable as a gleaming crystal shining in the face of a rock wall.
It gives the player more of the same that they expected, and more. It even has a separate game that could have easily passed for a full-priced title. This is definitely a thumbs up buy!