|Dev: Level-5 and Brownie Brown|
|Release: October 17, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Alcohol Reference, Mild Suggestive Themes, Mild Violence, Simulated Gambling|
by Becky Cunningham
There's no doubt that the Professor Layton games deserve a place in the annals of video game history. Not only has the good Professor almost singlehandedly revived the puzzle-adventure genre in these post-Myst days, but this is the only successful video game series in history to star a main character named Hershel. Professor Layton and the Last Specter marks both a beginning and an ending for the series. It's a prequel that tells the story of Layton's first great mystery, and is also the final DS game before the series moves on to the 3DS.
Ever wonder what a thirty-something puzzle-solving archeology professor is doing traveling with a grade school kid in short pants? The Last Specter tells the story of how Layton met his apprentice Luke in Luke's hometown of Misthallery. Layton has been summoned to assist the town, which is in the grips of a major crisis. Misthallery is home to a folktale about a guardian specter that was once summoned by a young girl with a magic flute in order to protect the town. Now, however, a gigantic specter appears on misty nights, but has been attacking the town instead of protecting it. Upon receiving a letter from his old friend Clark, Luke's father and the mayor of Misthallery, Layton and his assistant Emmy Altava take it upon themselves to learn the true nature of the specter. They are soon joined by Luke, who mysteriously has the ability to predict where the specter will strike next, and has been warning the townspeople to evacuate the areas ahead of time.
Despite playing host to the usual assortment of comically odd characters, The Last Specter's story is frequently serious and is surprisingly touching. Luke is shown as a sensitive young man who is very concerned about the people around him and perplexed at how the local adults seem to have responded to danger by turning on each other. Emmy Altava is a nice addition to the cast, playing the part of the enthusiastic assistant with a mean right hook. She stars in the game's action scenes and protects the Professor and Luke when necessary, along with being smart as a whip, if a bit impatient. Together, the three make up a nice Wizard of Oz team of brains, heart, and courage.
The mystery portion of the story is a bit weak this time. The game's main secrets are either fairly easy or literally impossible to figure out before they're revealed, as the player is given either broad hints beforehand or is surprised by a revelation that could not have been predicted. For a story in which Layton frequently asserts the need for rational thinking, there's also an odd number of mystical elements behind the mysteries. Those oddities aside, the story has nice emotional impact and serves as a good backdrop for the game's main attraction: the logic puzzles.
The Last Spectre boasts the largest number of puzzles (150+) of any Layton game to date, and fortunately there's a huge variety of them to be found. Most are presented to Layton by various townsfolk or found on obstacles that must be overcome to advance the story, but some are hidden in the game's scenery or given by the main characters to each other. As in other Layton games, each puzzle is worth a certain number of "picarats," the game's puzzle currency. Puzzles can be backed out of at any time with no penalty, but submit an incorrect answer and the number of picarats received for eventually solving it goes down. Any player who hopes to access all the post-game bonus material is well-served by saving before submitting any puzzle answer and reloading the game if the answer is wrong. This system gives the player incentive not to simply brute-force the puzzles, but as many of the puzzles in this game have a small number of multiple-choice answers, it's still possible to do so via load-and-save abuse.
The overall puzzle selection in the game is quite good. Very few puzzle ideas are used more than twice, ensuring that players who simply hate a certain kind of puzzle won't encounter it too often. The puzzles that are required to advance the game aren't overly difficult to solve, and, in fact, veteran logic puzzle fans may find the main game to be too easy. The good side of this is that the solutions usually feel fair. Solving the puzzles often requires some creative thought, but there aren't too many "gotcha" puzzles that cause frustration until the player has unlocked all the hints. Speaking of hints, there's a generous number of hint coins scattered throughout the world, and most players won't even begin to exhaust the supply. (Again, if a player is worried about doing so, load-and-save abuse allows for hints to be unlocked and read with impunity.)
As usual, the puzzle interface in The Last Specter is excellent. The stylus is used to input all puzzle solutions, and performs such diverse functions as moving and rotating objects, drawing lines, pressing buttons, and writing numbers that the game recognizes with ease. Beyond the occasional difficulty getting the game to recognize object movement versus rotation, inputting information is very painless. All puzzles allow the player to press a "memo" button, which puts up a transparent screen that allows the player to write information on top of the puzzle. This is extremely useful and is a major reason why most of the puzzles lack the frustration factor.