Professor Layton and the Last SpecterESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer: Level 5
The first chapter of the Layton saga
Puzzle based game play
All new mini-games
Wi-Fi enabled - weekly downloadable puzzles
Includes Professor Layton’s London Life RPG game
I’m been a big fan of the Professor Layton games as they easily get the highest amount of playtime of any game on my DS. The latest Professor Layton game, The Last Spectre, is a prequel of sorts. As a bonus it also comes with a packed in RPG set in the Layton universe called London Life. How does this fourth installment of the series fare? Does it bring anything new to the Layton game play formula?
Professor Layton games have a distinct art style. I really don’t know what to call it. Cartoony perhaps? Regardless of how you describe it, it is unique and the game looks nice. Since the game is more of a point and click style where you move from static location to static location there really isn’t much in the terms of animation or anything like that. Yes, there are cut scenes and they look just fine. Over the course of the four games in the series the video used in the cut scenes has gotten higher in quality.
The game environments/locations themselves are very well detailed. The action takes place on the lower DS screen while the upper screen is used as a map that can be referenced to show you were to go when going from area to area. During the puzzle portions of the game, the upper screen is used to show the instructions given with the puzzle. Overall the game isn’t that bad looking, but we are seeing the rise of mobile gaming platforms such as Apple and Android, and of course the 3DS is in the market too, so the DS is starting to show signs of age with its smaller screen size and lower resolution.
Layton games have traditionally had strong soundtracks and The Last Specter is no different with its own unique score. As charming as the music is, you might start finding it a little grating when trying to solve the really tough puzzles. As is typical with Layton games, the bulk of the dialogue is read. There is voice acting during the cut scenes and some of the more pivotal conversations in the game. The voice acting is generally very well done. The rest is a mix of standard effects that aren’t all that interesting.
For anyone that hasn’t played any of the excellent Professor Layton games on the Nintendo DS I highly suggest you do, especially if you are any sort of fan of puzzle games. Layton games play as a sort of point and click adventure game. There are hundreds of logic-based puzzles that are weaved into the story line and a presented to the player as you play through the game. Points, called Picarats in the game, are awarded for each puzzle. The more Picarats the puzzle is worth the harder the puzzle is supposed to be. Achieving certain levels of Picarats in the game opens up different segments of bonus content. These are generally puzzle-based mini games and things like that.
Many of the puzzles are tough and they will stump you. If you guess wrong and have to reattempt a puzzle it is worth less Picarats. A puzzle that’s worth 30 Picarats may only be worth 20 if you get it wrong and decide to try it a second time. Get it wrong again and the value goes down once more. Repeated attempts after that keep the Picarats value the same. So if you want to maximize your Picarats, there’s a hint system you can use.
There are four hints for every puzzle. Each hint costs a hint coin so it is in your best interest to tap every area screen you travel through to find all the hint coins you can. There are generally two or three hint coins on each screen. Hints get generally more and more helpful and the final hint for a puzzle costs two coins and pretty much gives you the solution.
Being four games into the series you can see that several of the puzzle ideas are being recycled from past games. You can only dress the “cross the river” puzzle up so many ways. I’d like to see more originality in what the puzzles have to offer. This won’t be an issue for those new to the series, but if you’re a fan like myself you’ll definitely notice the similarities to past games.
The Last Specter is set before the events of the previous three Layton games and tells the story of how Professor Layton and Luke met and how Luke becomes his apprentice. The story is consistent with previous games in how it is presented and is set in similar-to-real-world locations with a fantasy twist to things. Gameplay in the main story mode is done using only the stylus. As you explore the world in a point and click manner, you interact with people and items on screen by tapping with your stylus. You can talk to people this way, discover hidden puzzles, move from area to area, and find hidden hint coins.
The overall gameplay is exactly the same as past games; however, The Last Specter includes a packed-in RPG called London Life. London Life is a simple RPG set in the Layton universe. You create a character, explore London, and interact with various characters from the Layton universe. Don’t expect any hardcore RPG elements here though as London Life doesn’t really amount to much more than running errands, getting a job, and earning money in an effort to earn wealth and happiness. You spend the money you earn on new clothes and items for your home which in turn increases certain character statistics. As you level up and complete various errands more and more areas of London become available for you to explore. I’m not an RPG guy but I found this kind of fun. The simple gameplay is welcome for someone like me. Touting over 100 hours of play time I found it a nice diversion from the main games.
I always find Layton games to have extremely good legs. They typically take me upwards of 15 hours to get through all the puzzles. The Last Specter is no different and when you pack in an extra game like London Life the value you are getting with this one is fantastic. The new mini-games found in your truck are some of the most entertaining ones that I have played in the series. They offer another nice diversion from the main gameplay and are challenging to say the least. As with other games in the series, weekly puzzles are available for download via the wi-fi connection and you can also unlock bonus content from a code from the last game. All this content is under $30.00 too, and that is a great dollar value given the playtime you’ll clock in.
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