Full disclosure: This game is my first Professor Layton experience. Even though Last Specter is the fourth in the puzzle-brimming DS series, I can say with full confidence that you’ll have no problem jumping right in if you’re a first-timer like me. Professor Layton and his cohorts whisk us from our drab lives of overdraft fees into a magical land of riddle-filled gumshoeing. This latest installment is crammed with more logic games and visual-spatial puzzles than the Stanford-Binet, ensuring you and other budding detectives days and days of replay value.
In this prequel to the other three games, English archaeologist/academic/detective Professor Hershel Layton is sent to the quaint hamlet of Misthallery with his new assistant, Emmy, to investigate the alleged haunting of a destructive specter. Also joining him is premonition-prone Luke, the Misthallery mayor’s son and the young boy who goes on to become Layton’s permanent assistant in the other games. The characters are likable, and the plot blends lighthearted drama with spooky intrigue (even the box art largely features orange and black, just in time for its mid-October release). You’ll also be treated to nice-looking anime cutscenes, as well as well-acted voice work.
If you’re like me and new to the Professor Layton experience, here’s how it works: Use the DS stylus to tap around the screen, clicking on objects to reveal clues or hidden objects, and to talk to people. When you’re not exploring or in dialogue, most of the gameplay involves the series’s renowned puzzles, which take a wide variety of forms, from logic riddles to number games, or pictures with hidden images to pinpoint. There might be a Tetris-style task that involves moving blocks to fit a certain configuration, or to move obstacles out of an object’s path. There’s remarkable breadth to the puzzles, in terms of content, visual presentation, and challenge. Speaking of which, many of them are tough. If you’re struggling with a particularly onerous brainteaser, you can use Hint Coins (gold tokens hidden in the overworld) to unlock, well, hints. All puzzles are catalogued, so you can replay them whenever you wish, and you’re rated based on how many hints you succumb to using.
In addition to the already lengthy story mode, Last Specter is replete with mini- and side-games—and even features London Life, an entire RPG sim that could’ve been marketed and sold in its own right. In the story mode, you’ll eventually unlock a train-themed puzzle game (construct a series of railroads to keep the choo-choo a-chuggin’) and a Pong-esque game that ricochets fish around the screen to gather coins. Each mini-game has several levels and certainly rounds out the gameplay that Last Specter offers.
Meanwhile, completely independent from the main game, London Life borrows NES-style, pixel-y graphics in a “town life” simulation that smacks of the addictive Animal Crossing. You design your own avatar, moving it into Little London, Professor Layton’s hometown. Your character picks up odd jobs, running errands for the countless locals to increase your happiness meter. Customization continues with many décor options for your apartment, as well as outfits for your character.
Quirky, beautifully illustrated, and with tons of gameplay options, substantial puzzles, and an overall polished package, Last Specter is a must-have for DS owners or puzzle lovers. Throw in hidden puzzles, item-collecting objectives, and a host of sub-games—as well as one very solid second gaming experience in London Life—and you’re looking at a few weeks or so to clear from your schedule. If all of the Professor Layton games are this good, then the good Professor has himself a new pupil.