The Last Specter follows Layton and his young apprentice Luke through their first adventure, three years before the first trilogy of Layton titles. The familiar pair, along with Layton's spunky assistant Emmy (new to the series), must investigate a series of attacks on the small British town of Misthallery, carried out by an enigmatic specter. Along the way, they meet a bizarre and comical cast of puzzle-slinging townsfolk and a villain with a vendetta against the good Professor, all while trying to solve the mystery and save the day. Serving as a fresh start to the "prequel" trilogy of Layton games, The Last Specter is the perfect opportunity for players new to the series to jump right in, while still developing characters that veteran fans know and love.
A typical point-and-clickfest, The Last Specter is well-suited to the touchscreen capabilities of the DS. A lot of time will be spent tapping environments to hunt for secret puzzles and collecting items to use in bonus puzzle mini-games, or to gain insight into Layton's opinion on British architecture (he's quite fond of it). Thankfully, confusion is restricted to the puzzle portions of the game, letting the player struggle with the brain-benders instead of the controls. The only drawback is that it's a tad difficult to tap environments to search for items—especially in areas with a lot of clutter. The puzzles themselves are easy to work with. You can jot down notes on a separate screen while solving difficult puzzles, drag items around on screen, and input numbers and letters for solutions just by writing them.
Being a story-driven puzzle game, players will read plenty of dialogue, but it's all extremely well-written and conversations are always entertaining. The man in the park delivers monologues about his undying love for nature, while the restaurant's chef has plenty of food puns to dish out. Voice acting is used during key points, but most times you'll be stuck reading lines of text. As the start of a new trilogy, The Last Specter has a fine story, but focuses more on establishing the new mainstay characters. This culminates in a somewhat lukewarm ending, so players looking for deeper plot lines would be better off playing Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box or Professor Layton and the Unwound Future.
Of course, puzzles are as common as colds in the world of Professor Layton, making up a majority of your in-game exploits. While other adventures games have you hunt for keys, in Layton's world puzzles are the only challenge. There are 170 puzzles total, plus a handful of bonus puzzles that can be downloaded through Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Many puzzles are well hidden in the background of areas, and different sets of puzzles can only be completed after finishing the main game or other secret objectives. After our first playthrough, we still had 50 puzzles left to find, with gameplay time standing at a little over 14 hours. Unfortunately, once you've finished every puzzle... that's about it. Unlockables come from solving every puzzle flawlessly, but the rewards are slim: music and cutscenes you've already seen in game. A player can expect to spend anywhere from 15-20 hours on 100% completion, depending on how sharp his/her wits are.
The most unexpected delight from The Last Specter is the incredibly strong art design. It's an art style that is uniquely to the Layton series, conveying so much detail in so few lines. Misthallery is full of interesting vistas, from farmers' markets to abandoned mansions on faraway mountaintops. Each new screen you visit is lovingly drawn and has its own unique personality, making the world feel fully realized and unified. Cutscenes are sprinkled throughout the narrative, letting you see a good deal of action unfold on screen with full voice acting and top-notch sound design. The music is as unique as the art, with violins and accordions orchestrating Layton's adventures. The greatest triumph of the soundtrack is that it leaves the heavier sounds for cutscenes and general exploring, then switching to lighter, soothing music while solving puzzles, keeping distractions to a minimum at crucial brain training moments.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter is definitely worth your time and money, if you're up for the mental challenge. And true English gentlemen never let a good puzzle get the best of them.
Meet the tester
James is a staff writer at Reviewed, working to the sounds of classic video game soundtracks. His proudest moment was capturing exclusive footage of Mr. 50 Cent at the 2013 International CES.
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