Because apparently, being a gentleman is the perfect antidote against the harms caused by repetitive formulas

User Rating: 8.5 | Layton Kyouju to Majin no Fue DS
It has become somewhat of an yearly ritual for American players to, at the end of their year, sink their teeth into yet another Professor Layton game. It all started three years ago when The Curious Village quietly sneaked up on many gamers and instantly became on the Nintendo DS' strongest outings. Ever since then the anticipation building up to the final quarter of the year – the period of time Nintendo has chosen for the top hat professor to hit stores – has always been strong. In 2011, it is hard to imagine that a Professor Layton game could surprise people the way the original did, after all chances are if you are inclined to spend a few bucks on this game you have already played the other three titles of the series. The Last Specter, though, will likely serve as the entry point of the franchise for many people who will fall in love with this series from this very year onward, since from a timeline perspective it precedes all other games, and what gamers will find here is not too different from what they would find on Curious Village Diabolical Box or Unwound Future; a thrilling combination of puzzles, mystery, well-rounded characters and glorious Laytonesque fun.

The game begins with the telling of an old legend of a specter that, when summoned by a flute, would appear in the midst of a deep mist in order to protect a remote village from danger. We are then taken back to London where Professor Layton, and his recently hired young energetic assistant, Emmy, receive a letter from the mayor of said village – who happens to be a old acquaintance of the professor – asking desperately for help. It goes without saying that both of them are quick to set out on this journey that will – as usual – reveal more things behind an apparently harmless letter than anybody else could expect. The game has a very strong plot that boosts players through the puzzle-solving and serves as the main motivation to keep playing for hours without being able to put the game down, such is the magic of Professor Layton games. Even though it is not as full of bizarre twists as the mysteries of the other three games, it is still one of the best constructed game stories you could find out in the market. There is no shortage of surprises.

While new players will be amused with a huge set of brand new faces, experienced gamers that have already done everything that there is to do in the series will get enjoyment out of getting to see well-known characters a few years in the past. They do not look physically different, but the joy doesn't come from seeing them in a younger form, but to witnessing how some relationships were born and realizing how a few things have changed with the passing of time. The Last Specter goes beyond serving consistent dialogue, it builds an extra layer of realism to the partnerships found in the series, whether it is with big outstanding happenings or little - barely unnoticeable – details. The game still mixes wonderful cartoonish cutscenes, static scenes with text dialogue and a some voice acting here and there to transmit its message, and in spite of some instances where certain lines get a little bit overplayed by the actors, the means to telling the story remain as solid as ever.

At this point in time, it may be superfluous to explain in detail how the game works, but in summary, players use touch controls to move around the village, touch characters or parts of the scenario to interact with them and solve puzzles to keep the adventure rolling. This time, the game comes packed with 170 different brainteasers and if you have acquired experience with them over the past three Layton games, the majority of riddles will not present enormous difficulties because your brain will have adjusted to the tiny tricks some of these puzzles feature, even if all of them are – obviously – new. Still, there is a great deal of challenge to be found if you are a real gentleman and plan on leaving no puzzle unsolved. And as it happened in previous entires, this new installment brings three mini-games that when cleared unlock the toughest puzzles in the cartridge: a toy train mini-game, where players must layout a track from start to finish following a set of rules and avoiding obstacles; a fish mini-game, where you need to carefully place bubbles around the aquarium so the fish will bump into them, change directions and collect all coins within a set time limit; and an extremely shallow and boring theater mini-game where all that it takes to succeed is being able to choose the right word to complete the sentence said by the character.

The cherry on top of this delicious cake is a so-called extra that can last for three times as long as the Professor Layton game and its eighteen-to-twenty hours of gameplay, and its name is London Life. Players are transported to the town of Little London, a humble place with many different buildings to enter and interesting people meet. Arriving as a poor helpless guy in a world with visuals that are extremely similar those of Mother 3 and characters extracted directly from the four Layton games, you must run errands around town to improve your happiness, wealth and other statuses, which in turn will allow your character to get brand new clothes, buy bigger places to live in and decorate his/her home with increasingly fancy furniture. It is the sort of goalless game on which one can spend dozens of hours, even if every once in a while it is likely you will stop and think why you are doing the same things over and over again just to have a better virtual life. It is addictive, and the fact that the Layton characters are just hanging around just waiting to drop some funny lines of quirky humor on you makes everything much more amazing.

Professor Layton and the Last Specter is easy to recommend. While the surprise factor may have diminished since the first game, the series keeps going surprisingly strong because the folks at Level 5 are always outdoing themselves in the story and puzzle department by coming up with some rather creative tricks and turns that will delight newcomers and long-time aficionados. If you are a Layton fan, there is no reason to pass on this one; if you are a young fellow looking to achieve gentleman status, hop in and enjoy the ride, because if the past has been generous to the series, its present is great and its future is looking bright.