Does Hershel Layton and company stand a ghost of a chance?
Professor Layton has been a pretty busy English gentleman. He's wrapped up cases featuring a curious village, a diabolical box, and an unwound future. Probably next year he'll be partnering up with Phoenix Wright and solving the mystery of the Mask of Miracle. But for now we're witnessing the beginning of Layton's illustrious career with Professor Layton and the Last Specter. Will this game haunt the minds of players who try it out?
Last Specter begins a new trilogy in the Layton franchise. It's before Layton and Luke ever met, and it explains how the two crossed paths among other things. The story starts when Layton gets a letter from an old college buddy, Clark Triton. His typed out message informs the top hat professor of a specter that is causing problems and destroying buildings in the town of Misthallery. With new assistant, Emmy, in tow, Professor Layton rides the Laytonmobile to the rural city to investigate. There they come across a forlorn young boy named Luke who seemingly has the ability to predict when and where the specter will attack next. The questions and mysteries surrounding the specter will keep players guessing right up till the very end. As mysteries are solved, new ones pop up. What players wind up with is a touching ending that won't fail to move them. Well animated cutscenes tell part of the tale while character portraits sometimes with or without spoken dialogue tell the other part. One is definitely in for a treat with Last Specter's story.
Those new to the Layton series will easily be able to come into the mind of the professor with the easy to pick up and learn controls. The game is controlled entirely via the bottom touch screen. Layton and crew move from screen to screen by tapping on the shoe icon on the bottom right of the touch screen. Screens have objects and townspeople that can be investigated further by tapping on them. Some objects contain hint coins which we'll broach about in a minute, while others have rare artifacts, and seeing how Layton was an archaeologist, it makes perfect sense. To progress in The Last Specter, players tap people and objects to gather information about the investigation. Of course, most townspeople won't give away knowledge for free. No, it won't cost money to pry juicy info from them-- Layton and friends will have to solve puzzles.
There's over 150 puzzles to be completed in Last Specter. These range from simple to complex logic puzzles to mathematical queries to mazes to other brain-busters. One puzzle has Emmy tabulating how many bones a Tyrannosaurus Rex possesses. There's a trick to this as many puzzles in the game have. One just doesn't count each bone. Perhaps the answer is staring the player right in the face? Another puzzle involves the process of elimination while another is all about block shuffling. Meanwhile, at least two puzzles contain a Chinese checkerboard that is set up in as specific way that two marbles cannot be moved. The goal here is to clear the board save for one marble. With a series that has gone as many entries as the Professor Layton franchise, there's bound to be similar puzzles. This is true with Last Specter. Players who have gone through Curious Village, Diabolical Box, or Unwound Future will be familiar with the mechanics of some of the puzzles. Regardless, most do their job staying fresh.
As stated earlier, players can pick up hint coins through tapping certain sections of Misthallery. These coins can be used during puzzles to receive hints. There's four hints in all: three regular and one super hint which costs two coins as opposed to regular hints which only cost one apiece. The vanilla-flavored hints don't reveal too much, but the super hint practically divulges the answer to the puzzle. Be warned, however, that there is only a finite number of hint coins available, so use coins wisely. Additionally, each puzzle awards players with picarats. The more picarats a puzzle is worth, the more difficult the puzzle is. Picarats decrease with every wrong answer of a puzzle, so be careful and make sure the answer given is the correct one. At the end of the game, the player's picarat total will unlock a whole slew of bonus content from a sound test to a set of ultra-hard puzzles.
As with every other Layton game, the story is broken up between chapters. In Last Specter's case it is divided up between ten chapters and an epilogue. If a puzzle is missed somehow during the story, players can visit Granny Riddleton's shack or talk to her cat to scope out these skipped puzzles. A full list of puzzles missed is shown at the beginning of each chapter given there were any skipped.
Apart from the story puzzles there's plenty of side content for players to sink their individual or collective teeth into. For instance, early in the game Luke receives a toy train set from one of the villagers. This toy train mini-game works by giving Luke a set amount of fuel to work with. Fuel is burned by having the train move across a square (the playing field is grid-based). Luke's task is to visit every train station (station's can only be visited either horizontally or vertically and it depends on the station which is which) and reach the goal before his train's or trains' fuel runs out. This is all the while on later challenges (there are ten in all) avoiding cars, collecting fuel, moving around trees, houses, and mountains, and not colliding with other trains.
Another mini-game has Luke placing down bubbles which make the fish (whose goal it is to collect every coin within a time limit) bounce a different direction. Gold bubbles temporarily increases the speed of said fish. The last mini-game has Luke filling in the blanks of a story with a select amount of words. The premise here is to create a story that makes as much sense as possible. Finishing each mini-game completely unlocks a special set of puzzles for each individual mini-game.
For those who take the time to complete the approximately ten hour story and thirteen hours it takes to solve every puzzle (your time may vary), they may be wondering what else is left to do in-game. Well, not only are there daily downloadable puzzles to attempt, but there's an entirely different game apart from The Last Specter entitled London Life. This game has players creating their own avatar, going around Little London doing odd jobs for NPCs familiar to those who have participated in past Layton games, making money to purchase new clothes and furniture for their otherwise barren home, and accumulating as much wealth or happiness as possible. This game is completely separate from Last Specter, and it offers countless hours of entertainment for those who appreciate an Animal Crossing-like experience. Some might say that London Life alone is worth the price of admission.
The presentation of Last Specter is completely charming from the oddly shaped characters to the well done cutscenes to the excellent soundtrack that borrows themes from previous Layton games to the stellar voice work. For so many characters in the game that Layton and company meet, it's totally impressive that there's so few voice actors total. Some characters sport an English accent while others come with a Cockney dialect. It makes the entire experience seem all the more authentic and worthwhile. The localization staff certainly knocked this one out of the park when it comes to the presentation of the game.
While some puzzles may be treading familiar ground to the Layton faithful, a fair number offer new content. Professor Layton and the Last Specter is a rousing start to the prequel trilogy of games. I'm excited and enthused to see Mask of Miracle localized either by Nintendo of America or Level 5 themselves. The cast and story is full of memorable characters and moments, the score is sensational, and the amount of bonus material given to the player in the form of mini-games, downloadable puzzles, and London Life extends the life of this title by immeasurable amounts. This is one excellent swan song for the Nintendo DS, a portable device that will be known as one of the best libraries in handheld history.
[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]
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