Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thirty Nine - Professor Layton and the Last Specter

My October has been more about comics than gaming, but hopefully I'll still reach my goal of 50 games completed before the calendar year ends. I puzzled my way one step closer yesterday evening by crossing off Professor Layton and the Last Specter.

I'm a big fan of the Layton games. They're full of things I love: basic framework is that of an oldschool adventure game; game is developed by Level-5; it has expressive, cartoony visuals; strong plot, characters, and humor have made the series a fan favorite; and its core gameplay mechanics are solving logic, visual, and math puzzles. This is a good series and it deserves its devoted fanbase. So how about Last Specter, the fourth game in the series and its final entry on the Nintendo DS?

Well, this Layton game doesn't try to drastically alter the series' successful formula, but it does shake things up in terms of storyline and characters. Last Specter has the gentlemanly Professor Layton meet his trusty apprentice Luke for the first time, and gives us some background information on Luke and his family; it also introduces Emmy, Layton's University-appointed assistant who is sure to become a regular character in this second trilogy of Layton games (the next two are on the 3DS), which all take place before the events of Professor Layton and the Curious Village. There are also a few other new characters who I imagine will be recurring in the new trilogy. Inspector Grosky stands out in particular as a hilarious new addition who I wished had a bit more screen time.

These new characters and new timeline are fine, but how about gameplay. Well, it's pretty much the same. You wander throughout the game's metropolis, encountering puzzle enthusiast denizens, reminders of puzzles, and logic contraptions required to open doors and move pulleys. This game is chock full of puzzles, with a few more than Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, the previous most-puzzled game in the series. The puzzles themselves are nothing new, with lots of math, games, gears, keys, clocks, mazes, and (my nemesis) sliders to solve. The puzzles don't seem particularly better or worse than older games in the series, and I'm quite happy to have another 170+ of them to work out.

One thing present every Layton game is a healthy number of sidequests, and The Last Specter doesn't skimp on them. Typically you'll solve puzzles for sidequest items, which are usually either pieces to a large jigsaw-esque puzzle or new "tracks" for a specific type of puzzle game. Last Specter's three sidequest types are train tracks (laying tracks to navigate trains through a map without hitting any obstacles), aquariums (placing bubbles so fish can collect every coin by zooming around in straight lines unless they bounce off a bubble or wall), and play scripts (collecting words that fit into the script of a play). These are fun diversions, especially the trains, but ultimately aren't as good as the core game. The best part is completing all of them to unlock post-game puzzles. No shame in that, though; these sidequests are pretty much par for the course.

So, Layton 4 seems pretty good at first. Is it as good as other games in the series? Well, no. There are a lot of unresolved storyline questions in the game (who the hell is Descole? Why can't Layton remember Emmy? Why couldn't Arianna realize that her servant was her little brother in disguise?) and the storyline's resolution didn't do it for me at all. I'm not gonna lie - I teared up a bit at the conclusion of Diabolical Box and Unwound Future (Layton 2 and Layton 3), but this one didn't go there for me. Sure, the writers brought all kinds of shit straight out of left field to create the plot's major endgame twists and surprises and even killed off the cute mascot character to wring some tears out of players' faces, but none of it seemed to fit very elegantly. Maybe it was because the game's plot developed more quickly than others' did (even though there were more puzzles by volume), maybe I'm just old and jaded, I dunno.

This is not a bad game, but it's pretty much the same as the first three Layton games and I like those better. Sadly, this will probably be the last Professor Layton game I play for some time, as the next few in the series are all for the Nintendo 3DS and I'm not going to buy one of those for a long while. Ah well, it was fun while it lasted.

Games Beaten: 2011 Edition

1. Mario vs. Donkey Kong
2. Primal Rage
3. Torchlight Hat Trick
4. Ghost Trick
5. Flower
6. Batman: Arkham Asylum
7. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
8. Sly 2: Band of Thieves
9. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
10. Tales of Eternia
11. Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
12. Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII
13. 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors
14. Dragon Quest VI: Realms of Revelation
15. Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime
16. Dragon Age: Origins
17. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky
18. inFamous Evil Finish
20. inFamous 2 Good Finish
21. Big Bang Mini
22. Final Fight: Double Impact
23. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning
24. Cthulhu Saves the World
25. Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword
26. Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening
27. Disgaea Infinite
28. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse
29. Jeanne d'Arc
30. Dragon Age II
31. Jade Empire
32. Cthulhu's Angels
33. DeathSpank: Orphans of Justice
34. Disgaea 4: A Promise Unforgotten
35. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance
36. Trine
37. Prince of Persia '08
38. Final Fantasy IV: Anniversary Edition
39. Professor Layton and the Last Specter


Next is going to either be Final Fantasy IV: The After Years or inFamous 2: Festival of Blood. And after that is a host of PS3 and PSP stuff to get done. I think I'm on track to finish 50 games before the year ends, but it might come down to The Wire. "When you walk in the garden, you better watch your back."

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