Despite the finality implied by its title, Professor Layton and the Last Specter is actually a prequel that tells the story of how Layton and his sidekick Luke first met. It follows the exact same formula of the last three Layton games, where a variety of brain teasers and puzzles are scattered throughout a point-and-click adventure story. In the case of Professor Layton though, saying The Last Specter is "more of the same" could actually be taken as a compliment.
For many fans, all that needs to be said is that the Last Specter does indeed live up to the quality of its predecessors. Some might criticize it for not changing things up enough, but why mess with something that's still so enjoyable and works so well? We don't want Layton to change its basic structure, and we love that Last Specter hasn't wavered from what makes the series great, focusing on a wide array of satisfyingly tough, well-crafted puzzles (155 in the main story, to be exact) all wrapped together in a beautifully presented story.
That doesn't mean there isn't some room for improvement though. The quality of the puzzles themselves is still absolutely impeccable, but if you've played through the first three Layton games already, some of the trends in the types of puzzles (sliding block puzzles, Chinese checker puzzles, rope cutting puzzles and so on) start to feel a little samey. It won't be an issue if you're new to the series (and since this is a prequel, it's a fairly good place to start if you know you'll never play the first three), but it's something fans will notice. The Last Specter still offers a great range of puzzle types, but we would have liked to see more distinctively different types of puzzles compared to previous entries. On the plus side, the difficulty is still as high as ever, so even if you're a Layton veteran you'll still find a worthwhile challenge here.
Since its debut with Professor Layton and the Curious Village, the Layton series has set itself apart from other puzzle games on DS with its absolutely gorgeous presentation, including beautiful 2D art, lively soundtrack and near Ghibli-quality cutscenes. The Last Specter continues that tradition and even improves upon it a bit, with more dynamic character animations during 2D scenes. Do yourself a favor too and listen to the entire theme music on the title screen at least once before playing – it's really a treat, even if you're not usually into game music.
With the spectacle of it all, it's almost easy to forget that the actual content of story is great too. The Last Specter doesn't boast the over-the-top action of Unwound Future (no machine guns or flying cars this time around), but its story is just as compelling in its own subdued way. Dealing with themes like death, loss, serious illness and alienation from loved ones, Specter doesn't shy away from heavy subject matter even though the overall tone never feels too dark. Seeing Luke's origin story is cool too, although the other new sidekick, Emmy, is mostly a dud (although her martial arts skills are quite fun to watch in a few of the cutscenes).
Professor Layton has a history of including cool post-game bonuses, and London Life is definitely the biggest bonus we've seen yet in terms of the sheer volume of extra content. It's billed as an RPG that offers over 100 hours of gameplay, but it falls more on the life sim side of the RPG spectrum, since there's no combat to speak of. Instead, the goal (with the character you create at the beginning) is to amass as much wealth and material possessions as you can by taking odd jobs and completing requests from the townsfolk, thereby increasing your happiness and status level.
Although it's full of fan service and adorable pixel art, it's hard to say how appealing the actual gameplay of London Life will be for Layton fans, since it's in no way similar to the main series. For our part, we found exploring the tiny town and amassing our fortune oddly addictive, in that way where we almost feel hypnotized and then wonder later why we spent five hours grinding for a golden top hat. For whatever reason, London Life isn't included in the European release of Last Specter, so keep that in mind if you're purchasing it there.
Like the rest of the Layton series, it's hard to imagine anyone who likes to use his or her brain not enjoying Professor Layton and the Last Specter. If you liked any of the other games in the Professor Layton series – nay, if you've ever enjoyed one brain teaser in your whole life – The Last Specter will undoubtedly delight.
Oct 17, 2011