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Professor Layton and the Last Specter - DS Review

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Professor Layton and the Last Specter

DS | Nintendo / Level-5 | 1 Player | Nintendo Wi-fi Connection DLC available | Out Now
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21st November 2011; By Patrick

The Professor Layton games are extremely popular for their appeal to all types of consumers, providing hours of pick-up-and-play puzzles mixed with an engaging story. Professor Layton and the Last Specter is the final Layton game for the Nintendo DS, and is the first game in the prequel trilogy of games, taking place about three years before Professor Layton and the Curious Village, and introducing the character Emmy, who is Layton's new assistant.

    After the game introduces Emmy, Layton receives a letter from his good friend Clark requesting his urgent help in the town of Misthallery, which is where the vast majority of the game takes place. The town of Misthallery is under threat of a mysterious Specter who destroys buildings and homes overnight. People are thankfully evacuated due to the predictions of a mysterious Oracle, and it is up to Layton to help solve all the mysteries in Misthallery.

    Clark's son, Luke, joins Layton during his adventure and the game also explains throughout why Luke decides to stay with Layton as his apprentice. As you continue, you are introduced to a varied cast of characters as usual, and will spend the vast majority of the game in Misthallery. At a set point during the story, Emmy spends a good portion of the game in London, and after that, you have the ability to travel to London at any time to get puzzles you may have missed there.

    The puzzles in this game are varied, with the only mechanical change to the system being some new features in the Hint Mode. The box itself boasts "More puzzles than ever before!", and this is very true. There is one thing that is strange with this however; with more puzzles, I would have expected the difficulty curve to be stretched out more. The opposite is true in fact, as the difficulty ramps up quicker than any previous game in the series; by Chapter 3 or 4, it does not take you by surprise to find puzzles worth 35 or 40 Picarats. I was excited by this at first, before realizing that the game ended on a very similar difficulty, with the second half's difficulty being mostly uniform.

As for the variety of puzzles, there are quite a few more than usual that require you to use different logic than one would expect, and quite a few
less than usual that involve shifting blocks around. While still present and annoying, their diminished presence made me far less cautious about tapping around the screen, eagerly searching for the next puzzle.

    As this is a prequel, many characters you may have met and loved from previous games (such as Flora, or the hilarious Pavel) are notably absent, but the new cast of characters is amazing. Emmy is, surprisingly, quite intelligent, agile, and ferocious, with the residents of Misthallery all being unique and amusing in their own right. One extremely notable character is Detective Inspector Grosky, along with his fanclub, who made me laugh at loud with every line.

    Speaking of the dialogue, the writing in this game is absolutely superb, with a terrific localization. There are a few instances of clever wordplay that are pulled off flawlessly, and the voice acting is extraordinarily representative of every single character that was given spoken dialogue. There are many animated cutscenes, and these are also some of the best in the entire series; not quite as many as in The Unwound Future, but longer overall.

    Misthallery is a huge place to go around, with many tricks and turns and underground entrances to secret locations, and Level-5 knew this, so they included a new mode of transportation - there is a Canal in place across Misthallery, with local boatman Bucky more than willing to transport you across the city very quickly. This is very helpful, but one thing that I would have liked would be the inclusion of the "HERE" icon on the map to be on the map where you choose your location, so as to end up close to your goal.

The story itself is well-crafted, and is easily the most plausible game in the entire series once you get to the end, with only one or two parts requiring you to suspend your disbelief. Many of the characters seem to feel human emotions, act in human ways, and come to normal, logical conclusions and then act based upon them. This means only one major part of the story, introduced towards the end, seems out of place by the time the credits roll.

    Another new feature, although very small and never mentioned, is that in the "Mysteries" menu, as you progress throughout the story, the Professor will add comments to the mystery that you can cycle through. This is a small feature, but an entertaining one nevertheless. One small complaint is that towards the middle of the game, as always, the story seems thinner, with small mysteries considered too small to include on the "Mysteries" page in the diary that take up a whole chapter in the game. I understand the point of this -- to stretch it out to 10 chapters -- but I would honestly rather that two of them had been combined or something rather than separated to pad out the story, which took me about 13 hours to complete.

    The game contains three "trunk" mini-games as per usual, and includes a fourth bonus one. While they're not the best, they will consistently amuse you. The first is a train mini-game where you have to lay out train tracks for a train to go on, stopping at every station while not crashing into anything or running out of fuel. The second is a fish tank, where you place bubbles for a fish to ricochet off of so that it can collect all the coins in a set amount of time. The third is a puppet show that you fill in the words for using words acquired from the story. This last one is especially amusing, as if you choose the wrong word, the story will continue and completely derail. The bonus mini-game is unlocked after a certain point in the story if you tap enough mice running around the city; effectively an arcade-style diversion of Whack-a-Mole.

    One new feature to the series is the "Collection", an inventory system in your menu that you hold acquired items in, and...that's it. Some of the items are weird, and the Professor will make a comment on it, but that is it. It is, as it says, a "Collection", so I cannot count my disappointment against it, but I would have hoped that it would be mentioned more than once in the story, at least.

The biggest inclusion that I've danced around until now, is the 100-hour(!) RPG, called "London Life". It's developed by Level-5 with art done by Brownie-Brown (developers of Mother 3!), and is in the vain of an Animal Crossing game, or other casual RPG's. Interestingly enough, the game, when released in Japan in 2009, called London Life a demo of the upcoming (now 3DS) Level-5 game
Fantasy Life, which makes me wonder if this is a hint of things to come.

    The game itself starts with you creating a character and using the Molentary Express to move in to the Professor Layton world. You get your first job from City Hall and then you're off to go live your life! You do not play as a Professor Layton character itself, per se, but you do live in their world, so you are constantly interacting with characters from the first three games, The Last Specter, and the movie that takes place between Last Specter and Mask of Miracles, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva.

    The gameplay itself is slightly overly-simplistic, and can be described as a 100-hour series of fetch quests, but that does not stop the game from being charming and enjoyable in small bursts. Seeing as in the North American version you can access the game right from the start, there is a button right on the Pause Menu for the main game to switch to London Life, so you can enjoy a quick burst of gameplay.

    The writing in London Life itself is quirky and fun, another result of a terrific localization and I am amazed that Nintendo of America bothered to transliterate the entire freebie RPG; almost as surprised as I am that a freebie 100 hour RPG that is actually decent was even conceived.

    Overall, this is the best Professor Layton game to grace the Nintendo DS. Everything about this game is a blast to play, and it should put a smile on your face. I was seriously worried that this game would be ignored and we'd skip it to go straight to Mask of Miracles (which was a 3DS launch title in Japan), but I'm extremely pleased it managed to get through localization, completely intact for the DS with no losses suffered.

29/30 - Excellent

Gameplay 9/10 - Layton formula still here, puzzles are a blast, difficulty curve is a bit uneven, story stretched slightly, still great fun
Presentation 10/10 - Graphics the same as always, some of the best animations in entire series, voice acting great, London Life art by Brownie Brown
Enjoyment 5/5 - Best Professor Layton game yet, mini-games are fun diversions, London Life is simple and fun, able to switch games on the fly
Extra Content 5/5 - Most puzzles yet, four mini-games, Collection for completionists, 100-hour quality RPG, London Life great in short bursts

Equivalent to a score of 97% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by Patrick

Professor Layton and the Last Specter
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