Professor Layton takes one last bow on the DS in the fourth entry to the Layton series.

The 4th entry in the Latyon series, 'Professor Layton and the Last Specter' is an adventure puzzle game, which has expanded into a franchise including movies, manga, and novels. While The Last Spectre doesn't do much to shake up the successful Layton formula, it seems most fans are still pleased with the series. Players are tasked with solving the appearance of a giant spectre in the town of Misthallery, with many individual puzzles to be solved along the way. You will move through the town area by area, tapping on people or objects to discover puzzles, hint coins, and plot progression. There are 170 puzzles in the main game, several mini-games that are basically more puzzles, and weekly downloadable puzzles.

Layton's puzzles range from simple trial and error, object shifting, color matching, and riddles to algebra, trigonometry, and 3D cubes. Hopefully you have a math textbook handy and a notepad to work out equations. Part of the challenge in Layton is trying to think out how a problem diagram, graph, or 3D cube would solve without being able to directly manipulate them. Perhaps this will change in future Layton games. Yes there is an in game notepad function but I found my calculator and word processor more useful in most cases. The mini-games are a nice diversion that adds even more content to the game, although they are mostly a matter of trial and error.

While there is a wide variety of puzzles, with 170 of them there are bound to be a few that have similar concepts. If you've played previous Layton games or are a puzzle nut, you'll probably recognize most of the puzzle types from the start. The Last Spectre successfully shuffles the puzzle deck and keeps things fresh enough for the difficulty level of puzzles it presents, without resorting to a puzzle that looks like quantum physics equations or lists of complex rules.

Each puzzle is worth a certain amount of points which are used to unlock some of the later, more challenging puzzles. Wrong answers reduce the amount of points you earn. Determined puzzle solvers who want to solve everything the game has to offer will need to score well on each puzzle instead of trying to guess. Hint coins can be spent to get increasingly detailed explanations of each puzzle. Since hint coins are easy to find and plentiful, most puzzles shouldn't pose too much of a problem. Most puzzles are well done although a few of them that rely on squinting at the DS's screen to make out tiny details can be frustrating. Most puzzles can be
skipped, although you will need to have solved at least 80 to reach the final part of the game, and you will need a high score to unlock the most difficult optional puzzles.

The plot, characters, and setting are fairly well done and it keeps to its English puzzle solving and detective theme very well. The ending is typical over the top anime/JRPG fare, though, which I found inappropriate. I suppose Level-5 can't stray too far from their roots. Most of the characters you will run into are eccentric and interesting. Emmy is also a bit of a stereotypical anime character, but you can't hold it against the developers
too much since Layton is the star of the show. You're forced to go through all dialogue, with no options to skip, which can get tiring in some cases. I can see this being irritating to puzzle fanatics who are uninterested in the
plot and just want to plow through more puzzles. In any case, the animated cutscenes, plot, and characters all elevate the game beyond a simple puzzle solving spree.

While the plot is enjoyable (if a bit predictable), I found it too automated. It would have been nice to be given more of an investigative challenge rather than following arrows and solving mostly unrelated puzzles while watching the plot unfold. Any time you're asked to participate in the plot, it's a multiple choice ABC answer, one or two of which are fairly obvious joke answers, worth a chuckle but not to be taken seriously.

The weakest part of The Last Spectre is its music and sound. You get the same 1 minute music loop for every puzzle which ends up getting annoying after you've heard it repeated so many times. It's not even an enjoyable
piece, just a simple music box going on and on. My fingers instinctively reach for the volume switch whenever a puzzle shows up, which shouldn't be happening. There should at least be an option to turn it off. Most of the music during the game is an irritating accordion number, calling for further muting of the game. There's little to recommend about the sound. You get a few repeated sound effects throughout the entire game and they aren't
particularly memorable. The voice acting is fairly well done, though, so it's not all bad.

North American (NA) gamers also get London Life, a separate RPG-like game that plays a bit like Harvest Moon. You create an avatar and solve quests around town, building up your happiness, wealth, and personal collection. There isn't much puzzle solving in London Life, so I'm not sure what sort of audience it's trying to appeal to. Almost all of London Life involves running around and talking to people, and needing the right items or stats to complete given quests. RPG gamers won't touch a Layton game just to get at an oversized RPG style mini-game, and puzzle gamers will likely be uninterested in the repetitive and decidedly un-puzzle like game play. There's not even much of an important plot to work through, you're mostly doing peoples busy work and such. I found it about as unenjoyable as any generic RPG I've played, but I won't be penalizing the score for an extra mini-game that wasn't even included in the European (EU) release.

Professor Layton and the Last Specter continues the successful Layton franchise with another solid entry full of puzzles and mysteries to be solved.

  • Tons of puzzles and puzzle-like minigames to be solved
  • Above average plot, characters, and setting
  • Well done animated cutscenes
  • Good variety of puzzles, minigames, and plot progression
  • Ending drifts off into anime/JRPG territory
  • Unskippable dialogue
  • London Life misses the mark for puzzle gamers
  • Music and sound are poor
Quote: "Professor Layton and the Last Specter continues the successful Layton franchise with another solid entry full of puzzles and mysteries to be solved."
Reviewed by Matthew Emirzian | 12.05.11


Professor Layton
and the
Last Specter

Released (US)
November '11