As a puzzle nerd, I was really excited for the release of Professor Layton and the Last Specter, the fourth game in Nintendo’s series about a puzzle-solving English gentleman to arrive in the US. The game stays true to the formula that developer Level 5 followed for the previous games and adds a couple of new gameplay tweaks to round out the experience. The game doesn’t do anything especially original, but it’s still a worthy entry in the best series the puzzle genre has to offer, and it’s a must-have for fans of puzzle games.
The story takes place at the beginning of the series timeline, beginning with Layton as a young professor and puzzle enthusiast. The plot kicks off when he receives a mysterious letter from his old friend Clark, asking for his help to overcome a giant that is destroying the town of Misthallery. Layton and his new assistant, Emmy, head towards the town and, after arriving, they learn that a specter emerges at night from the fog and lays waste to the town. They also discover that Clark did not write the letter bringing them there, rather, it was penned by Clark’s son, Luke, who is able to predict where the specter will appear. Always the gentleman, Layton vows to solve the mystery and help his old friend, and joined by Emmy and Luke, he begins his investigation.
The main game is played entirely with the stylus, which the player uses to navigate around town, talk to the locals and solve puzzles. Professor Layton and the Last Specter boasts more puzzles than any other game in the series, and almost everyone you meet has one for you. Puzzle difficulty is measured in Picarats, with a higher value signifying a harder puzzle. Answering correctly on your first try nets the maximum number of Picarats, as wrong answers will decrease your reward. Hidden around the environment are hint coins, which you can use if you’re stuck on a puzzle. Each puzzle has 3 hints that can be purchased for one coin each, and one super hint that costs 2 coins and basically gives you the solution.
New in this game are non-Picarat puzzles at key points in the story, which force you to solve them before progressing but don’t penalize you in any way for wrong answers. The puzzles have a nice variety to them, and I didn’t feel like I was solving variations of the same thing several times, as I did occasionally with some of the earlier games. Overall, it seemed like the puzzle difficulty was lower than previous entries, and only a few took me more than one try. Also, the total number of Picarats you lose for multiple wrong answers has been decreased compared to the previous games. After a few wrong answers on a multiple choice puzzle, you can brute force the solution by trying all of the options in succession with no penalty.
Like other locations in the Layton universe, Misthallery is populated by an assortment of colorful characters, all drawn in the series’ trademark art style. Each person has their own unique look and personality, and in addition to puzzles, they will also provide you with information about other residents and mysteries in the town. Dialog is mostly text based, with occasional voiced cut scenes for main story points. The game is funnier than previous Layton adventures, with Emmy adding most of the humor. The cut scenes advance the plot nicely and don’t run too long, correcting a problem in the series. The music is classic Layton: just enough to get stuck in your head, but nothing that will distract you when you’re working on a puzzle.
In addition to the main game there are three mini games. One requires you to plan the route of a train through several stations, being mindful of obstacles and your limited fuel supply. The second has you strategically placing bubbles in a fish tank to direct your fish to collect all of the coins in the tank. The third presents a series of three plays, each with key verbs removed from the script. As the director, you must select the correct action for each instance to keep the play moving correctly. Solving puzzles and exploring the main game unlocks the elements for each of the mini games. For example, investigating a bush might uncover a new action word or course for your train to travel. The games are technically fine, but each of them is almost identical to a mini game that appeared in the last game, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future. That was disappointing, and it was really the only time that I felt like I was playing a retread.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter also includes London Life, an RPG that claims to have over 100 hours of content. The game is very reminiscent of a SNES-era RPG game, and stays true to those roots by requiring you to use the d-pad and buttons; no stylus at all. You can do things for people to earn wealth and happiness, decorate your room and even get a job. Spending time in the world allows you to see more of it. For example, earning money will give you the opportunity to buy nicer clothes, which will raise your fashion rating and give you access to the casino and other areas. It’s a fun distraction and there’s a lot of content here to explore.
Professor Layton is the king of puzzle games, and his latest adventure lives up to the series pedigree. The only real comparison is Telltale’s Puzzle Agent games, and this game was a reminder for me of how much better the Layton puzzles are. Little tweaks like a fast travel system and more interactive plot points are nice additions to an already solid foundation. Despite the slight decrease in difficulty and the recycled mini games, I still had a great time with this game and enjoyed seeing how Luke became the Professor’s apprentice. Series veterans who are itching for more puzzles and anyone new to the genre will have plenty here to enjoy.
Review copy provided by publisher.