Layton’s latest adventure finally makes it to Europe with a slight title alteration and some content missing. The core Layton experience is still present but is it enough to keep the franchise strong or is it time Layton hung up his hat for a while?
The game begins with Layton and his new assistant, Emmy, travelling to the little town of Misthallery. The town is well known for its regular veil of fog but has, it seems, recently been suffering from mysterious attacks under the cover of darkness. People’s houses are being destroyed by an unseen spectre and Layton has received a letter requesting help from his old college friend who is now the Mayor of Misthallery.
The puzzles are just as good as ever, if a little familiar now.
Series fans might already be aware that this prequel is, in fact, the story of how Professor Layton came to meet his plucky sidekick.
It’s strange to see Luke in such a downbeat light but his early addition as a third member of the Layton puzzle solving squad soon sees his demeanour change slightly so he’s at least a little more talkative. After the first set of puzzles, any explanation of the story would veer into spoiler territory so I’ll leave the narrative there.
The core gameplay is identical to previous games in the series. Essentially, you never have to go more than a couple of minutes before one of the characters remembers a logic puzzle, mathematical riddle or has some impassable barrier that just requires a little bit of thought to surmount. Even the puzzles are very similar to previous outings with one or two old favourites making appearances in slightly differing forms and with differing art styles.
If you’re coming to a Layton game expecting anything else, you’re missing the point. The puzzles are the relief from the exposition of the story through cut scenes and character conversations, some of which are lengthy and can be tedious. The unfortunate issue is that the usually-text-based dialogue is often unnecessarily drawn out and cringe-worthy so I found myself wishing it would finish and give me another puzzle.
The most important part of any Layton game is the puzzling and in this regard, Spectre’s Call is well stocked. There are over 150 brain teasers included and a decent amount of variation in puzzle type means that the infuriating ones are well spaced out with the entertaining ones.
Those infuriating puzzles are also something of a trademark for Layton titles, whether it’s a particular style of logic puzzle that just doesn’t fall into place for you or a slightly more widespread issue, Layton has always had the ability to frustrate. This one seems to pull the cheap trick of subverting logic a little more often than previous games have, so that the learned responses you’re guided towards are suddenly pulled out from under you and you’re left baffled by an unreasonable rule change.
Navigating the town will be familiar to Layton veterans.
The next Layton will have the luxury of the 3DS’ increased resolution but for now, on the DS’ low resolution screen, these spot-the-difference tasks are difficult to say the least.
There is some added content in the form of mini games, accessible from the menu. These add some relief from the very familiar town-crawling that Spectre’s Call resorts to very early on. The mini games are all still fairly rooted in puzzling but they’re variable enough that you should be able to pass some time building railway tracks, diverting pet fish to collect coins and playing with puppetry.
What’s missing, though, is perhaps more of an issue. The Japanese and North American releases of this game, Professor Layton and the Last Specter, came with a light RPG mini game called London Life. Said to have around 100 hours of extra gameplay and appearances from all the Layton personalities from the entire series, it’s missing from the EU release completely.
This content removal is, officially at least, due to localisation issues but European Layton fans will likely feel hard done by. London Life sounds like it was exactly what this iteration of Layton was missing: something to make it unique. Without it, Professor Layton and the Spectre’s Call feels just too much like a rehash of previous games in the series.
- Charming art style.
- Fantastic logic puzzles.
- Plenty of brain teasers and mini games which are entertaining enough.
- Borrows a lot from previous games in the series.
- Text dialogue is very cheesy and repetitive.
- Hardware limitations starting to cause difficulties.
- Over reliance on trickery to confound.
- Missing a huge amount of content.
Professor Layton and the Spectre’s Call is still packed with puzzles that will appeal to big fans of the previous games. It’s all presented in a charming way that will be familiar to anyone who played a previous Layton title but in many ways, that’s the game’s biggest problem. There’s not enough to make it feel fresh and the removal of the content which would have otherwise been a huge bonus is grating.
It’s more of the same great puzzle-based entertainment but that’s not entirely a good thing. Playing through Spectre’s Call, it feels very much like we’ve seen everything here before. The next Layton will need to innovate more if the franchise is to thrive.