Professor Layton and The Last Specter (DS) Review
A true gentleman leaves no game unreviewed.
The Professor Layton series was born on the Nintendo DS, it seems fitting that this latest instalment will be one of last great games on the system that brought the original to life. Although this is the last Layton title on the DS, it takes you back in time to before Layton met Luke, making it the first game chronologically in the series.
In Last Specter the gentlemanly professor will meet for the first time many of the characters who have become mainstays in the series; it’s an origin story after all. After receiving a letter from a “good friend” Layton and his assistant Emmy head off to investigate some terrible happenings in the town of Misthallery. It seems a giant specter controlled by a magical flute has been making a mess of the city and it’s up to Layton, Emmy and eventually Luke to solve some puzzles and eventually stop it. Just like with Lost Future, there are several twists and unexpected events that happen through the game, revealing any more of the story wouldn’t be any fun for you, unless you’re sadistic.
The bulk of the gameplay and the puzzles in The Last Specter aren’t too different from any of the previous Layton games. However, in this instance this isn’t a bad thing. Of course all the puzzles are new and different, but that’s what makes a Professor Layton game. As with previous Layton titles some of the puzzles must be solved in order to progress through the story, however Level-5 have been more generous with the hint coins this time around so you should never really be stuck. And of course, as with previous titles there are many hidden puzzles that are not needed for story progression. Whilst some of the puzzles are difficult they won’t need anything more than a good head scratch to solve. New to the franchise are more maths based, logic puzzles. For example, one puzzle has you dealing with the properties and angles of a triangle. At certain turning points, usually after a cut scene, thrown at you are several multiple-choice questions. In order to progress you must answer each correctly, the answers to which are based on the story and Layton’s deductions. However, unlike with the other puzzles there is no reward of picarats for correctly answering, that being said, there is no penalty for incorrect guesses, you may just guess again. In a style that you should be used to by now, many of the puzzles don’t fit directly into the story. However, I found it charming and quirky to see how Level-5 was able to squeeze these extra puzzles in to the game. At times it can feel as if it breaks the flow of the story but it is not a major issue. Due to the large size of the town, a transportation system is introduced which has you chauffeured about through the canals of Misthallary. However, I found this to be introduced a tad late into the game and as such it did not get much use. One minor change is the ability to customize the location of the icons on the HUD, not a big deal but still nice to see.
Appearing for the first time on the dual screens is Emmy Altava, after having appeared in the Layton movie and featuring in the upcoming Mask of the Miracle, Layton’s assistant is not only featured but also playable at one point. Granny Riddleton has failed to make the cut in this game, instead in her place is a magical purple cat named Keats that will pop up in different areas around the town of Misthallery. His duty is to store and allow you to access any of the game’s numerous optional puzzles. At only one point during the game did Keats have any puzzles to offer me, this may be due to my experience (blindly tapping on the screen) with the series but it may differ for those who are new. Alongside these characters are several returning NPCs as well as the many differing citizens of Misthallery. The citizens all bring their own unique personality to the game making you want to talk to them and making it a more enjoyable experience overall, several which are more memorable.
As with previous titles there is literally a “trunk-load” of extra features to be found beyond the main story line. Once again, Layton’s trunk is chock-full of minigames. This time around there are three; storybook, toy train, and fish minigames are all packed neatly into the Professor’s trunk. They must be unlocked by progressing through the main storyline, each minigame slowly unlocks by completing the optional puzzles.
One of the biggest additions to the game isn’t even a part of the actual Last Spectre game. The bonus RPG London Life is selectable from the start and is a very meaty addition to the overall game package. Nintendo says there is about 100 hours of bonus content here. We’re lucky enough in Australia to be getting the bonus; Europe is missing out on this one. So what’s it all about? This RPG allows you to play as your own character in the world of Little London on a quest to boost your overall happiness rating. It’s a bit like if the Sims and Animal Crossing met and had a child. There are many NPC’s to interact with and many “daily” quests, the days progress as you want them to. It’s developed by the masters at Brownie Brown who have also made this other RPG you may have heard of called Earthbound. The art style is instantly recognisable from the minute you turn on London Life.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter’s art style doesn’t stray too far from the established style from previous titles, which like the gameplay itself isn’t a bad thing, the Layton games look great both in game and in cut-scenes. Level-5 always put together well-crafted cut scenes and it’s still amazing to see this kind of detail on the Nintendo DS. It’s going to be a little bit of a disappointment to lose the great 2D art style in the next Layton title but luckily the amazing cut scenes stay. The games soundtrack and voice acting remains top notch as always. The entire games audio is a joy to listen to, the English accents in the game are authentic, or at least appear authentic, and help keep the experience excellent and immersive.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter continues the tradition of great gameplay, puzzles, style and gentlemanly behaviour. The game is great as it is now and could continue this way for at least a couple more titles. However, we can’t wait to see what Level-5 do with the series next. It is possible for the franchise to fall into tedium, and just go through the motions, something no one would want to see. Last Specter is another reason why the DS is still ever relevant in today and Last Specter should not be ignored.