When Nintendo first released Professor Layton and the Curious Village on the DS, I thought it was terrific, but would never have expected that years later, it would have turned into a hit series that is now on its fourth US installment.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter is actually a prequel, going all the way back to when the professor was just starting out and had a totally different assistant. In fact, during this game, he actually meets Luke Triton for the first time. But how does this game stand up against the others?
The highest compliment you can pay Professor Layton and the Last Specter is that it's a worthy addition to the series. Assistant Emmy is a surprisingly good addition to the cast, and you don't even mind that Luke isn't in as prominent a role as apprentice. The story follows the usual theme of the professor getting roped into some unusual mystery that always ends with some grand unveiling of the villain and his completely bonkers scheme (which usually involves some kind of borderline sci-fi/steampunk mechanical monster). And The Last Specter is no different. The story is cute and entertaining, but I can't imagine anything topping the ending to The Unwound Future, which is one of the few games to ever make me shed a tear.
The graphics and sounds are all the same as in the other games in the series (although I felt like Luke's voice was off in this one -- too deep), and the basic gameplay of wandering around towns and solving puzzles is exactly the same, so the real question is whether or not the puzzles are any good. There are 170 of them, but this time it occasionally felt like they went for quantity over quality. Some of the riddles were surprisingly easy, and at times I almost hesitated to enter my answer because I thought there must be some kind of a trick. They couldn't really be that easy. They were. Of course, there are always going to be some stumpers, and I myself had particular trouble whenever there was a math-based one that made me do algebra.
There are also new mini-games that you can collect along the way. The Toy Train one has you setting up tracks to guide a train through stations, making sure not to run out of fuel or run into obstacles. The Fish mini-game requires you to guide a fish that bounces around a tank so it collects all the coins by placing air bubbles in strategic locations to get it to alter its course. The Puppet Theater game is the weakest one, where you just watch a little puppet play and fill in the blanks in the script with the appropriate words (earned by solving puzzles and talking to townspeople throughout the game). It's not hard to know which word to use; The trick is actually having the word in your inventory. The train and fish games started off okay, but I quickly grew frustrated with them and decided to focus on the main game. Those mini-games are accessed through your trunk, where you also keep your story log and other collectibles you discover along the way. But in the town of Misthallery, there is a policeman who will eventually let you play a game called Mouse Alley where you have to tap as many mice as possible as they scamper through a scene. Some are worth more points than others, while one color in particular will actually lower your score. This one was pure arcade reflex fun.
But the biggest mini-game of all is the inclusion of London Life, which is accessible through the main menu as a completely separate game. It is said that it contains 100 hours of gameplay, and although I've only been playing for a short while, I would actually kind of believe it. You play an adorable little pixel character who moves into an adorable little pixelated Little London. You can buy clothes and furniture to customize your appearance and that of your apartment, using money earned by doing jobs like picking up trash or driving cabs or buses. You also get a newspaper every day that tells you the local gossip that become fetch quests that you can do for your neighbors. Oh, and don't be surprised if you happen to run into a certain top-hatted professor in Scotland Yard... It's very simple, but unexpectedly addictive.
Overall, The Last Specter is a good Professor Layton game, and if you're already a fan of the series, you've probably already played this. If you're not a fan, you could easily start here, since this is chronologically the first adventure for the team. And with all the puzzles (plus regularly-released DLC puzzles available over WiFi), mini-games and London Life, there's a ton of content so you're really getting your money's worth this time.
A copy of Professor Layton and the Last Specter was purchased for the purpose of this review (and because the series is awesome). The entire story mode was played through to completion, and London Life was at least gotten underway, since who wants to play for 100 hours before posting a review?