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Review

Professor Layton and the Spectre's Call Review (DS)

Better Layton never.

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.
It turns out that Mayor Clark Triton didn’t send the letter but his son, Luke, is strangely withdrawn and depressed. Not to mention obsessed with puzzles, naturally. He also seems to have the ability to predict when and where the spectre is next to strike and has been secretly warning residents to evacuate.

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.
Spectre’s Call also suffers slightly from the hardware limitations of the DS. One of the very early puzzles is a kind of four way spot the difference in which you’re tasked with deciding which photograph was not taken by the same group of tourists. Four tiny images are on screen at once and you’re required to squint at each one looking for the one detail that would give it away.

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.

Pros:

  • Charming art style.
  • Fantastic logic puzzles.
  • Plenty of brain teasers and mini games which are entertaining enough.

Cons:

  • 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.

Score: 6/10

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16 Comments
  1. tonycawley
    Pint! Pint!
    Since: Feb 2009

    I only played the first one with my Mrs and as much as we enjoyed it we didn’t bother with any of the sequels as we knew they’d just be exactly the same as the first. I don’t suppose there’s much they can do about that though.

    Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 09:15.
  2. Dan Lee
    Common like the rest of us.
    Since: Jun 2010

    Probably still going to get it. Love the franchise :o)

    Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 09:16.
    • colossalblue
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      The puzzles are still brilliant… just very familiar.

      Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 10:14.
  3. SpikeyMikey23
    Member
    Since: Jul 2009

    Another game I’m going to buy but will never play……grrrr

    Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 09:27.
  4. nofi
    One for all.
    Since: Forever

    Disappointed it’s missing the RPG, really poor show Ninty.

    Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 09:31.
    • Forrest_01
      Member
      Since: Jun 2009

      I know, could have at least put in a grenade launcher instead! :P

      Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 09:49.
    • myps3broke
      Member
      Since: Aug 2011

      I have to disagree there. Most of the people, as far as I could tell, who bought the older Prof. Layton games were people like my Mum and her friends, who simply enjoyed the puzzles. Sure my Mum enjoyed the storyline of the first one, but the RPG elements, to her, were just inconvenient and to me seemed to just act as a lazy attempt at stretching the game out.
      In terms of Ninty appealing to their target audience, and making it a more accessible franchise (which is the aim of DS), they’ve made a top decision.

      Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 10:33.
      • colossalblue
        Team TSA: Editor
        Since: Forever

        If that was the case, they wouldn’t have bothered localising it from Japan to the US.
        Cutting London Life is most likely a cost saving exercise which they’ve obviously evaluated and decided that they can get away with. They’re probably right that EU buyers won’t be massively put off but cutting content from a game in one region that was previously available in other regions is never something that I’d be happy about.

        Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 10:46.
      • Joe Dart
        Member
        Since: Sep 2011

        The only way they could ever justify a removal of such a large amount of content would be if they offered the game at a discount. Are they doing this with Spectre’s Call? No, no they are not.

        There’s really no reason not to import this from America. Hopefully Nintendo of Europe will learn some lesson from this if enough people do this, but I sure am doubtful that they will…

        Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 11:59.
  5. FalconRedux
    Member
    Since: May 2011

    Is the 3DS region locked? I’ve bought American DS games before and played them on my DS Lite. Is there any reason English speakers couldn’t import the superior American version?

    Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 10:24.
    • FalconRedux
      Member
      Since: May 2011

      I decided to not be lazy and afaik there’s no reason you can’t play the American version. (http://www.destructoid.com/3ds-and-ds-regions-ok-usa–195116.phtml). If anyone reading this knows more please comment.
      It may not be cheap to import but for the extra content I’d say in this case it is definitely worth it.

      Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 10:29.
      • Tails12
        Member
        Since: Nov 2011

        I did import this game and can safely say it works fine on my UK bought 3DS. I thought the price (which wasn’t actually that bad) was worth it for London Life and I had it a few weeks early.

        Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 11:19.
    • colossalblue
      Team TSA: Editor
      Since: Forever

      It’s a DS game and the DS is not region locked so yes, it’s possible to play the import. Not sure how much of a price bump you’d face importing though (or even where you could import from, securely).

      Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 10:43.
      • FalconRedux
        Member
        Since: May 2011

        Thanks mate, nice review by the way ;-)

        Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 12:50.
  6. DirtyHabit
    Member
    Since: Forever

    ‘Better Layton never’ Baddum tssh! :D

    Very good….. :)

    Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 10:59.
  7. Foxhound_Solid
    Is a smart cookie.
    Since: Dec 2009

    Want to play one of these. Great review.

    Comment posted on 24/11/2011 at 21:14.

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