When one thinks of great games on the Nintendo DS, it is hard not to think about any one of the Professor Layton games. Level-5's brilliantly charming and whimsical puzzle-solving adventure series is all but synonymous with the handheld.
I recently had the chance to give Professor Layton and the Last Specter -- the fourth in the series -- a go at perhaps one of the most unique preview events I have ever attended. Tucked into a booth at the British pub The House of Shields, I was paired up with a team of fellow gaming journalists to tackle a small handful of puzzles -- against the pressure of a clock -- in an attempt to win a very coveted golden hat trophy. We were confident, maybe a little cocky -- after all, our team was named the F*ucking Spectres with a "re" -- but were weren't going to let Nintendo make us feel like idiots. We may have been wrong.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter (Nintendo DS)
Released: October 17, 2011
As we stared at the first puzzle, scratching our heads, we began to hear other teams in the pub celebrating as they came to its conclusion. The clock was ticking, and we all wondered if Nintendo really did invite us just to make us all feel a little stupid. When the one-minute warning went out, an epiphany hit one of my teammates and jubilation commenced.
I've always associated the Layton series with being a more single-player endeavor -- though I do enjoy peering over my girlfriend's shoulder while she's playing in an attempt to outwit her -- but fast and frantically working in a team environment brought a whole new level of enjoyment from this game I had not expected.
Thinking back on it, the puzzle was quite simple -- probably the reason it was the first choice -- but it got us all thinking on the same wave length. Seven coins were laid out before us, five showing heads and two showing tails. The challenge was to have an even amount of coins show both heads and tails under the restrictions of only moving and flipping over one coin. If you know the answer already, you're a smarter person than me or any of my teammates, but I won't unravel its simple intricacy here.
With the first challenge down, our team was soon on a roll. We took down the next six consecutive puzzles with only a couple of close calls. Professor Layton and the Last Specter still incorporates the assist functions of previous iterations, such as notetaking in the memo and buying hints when in a predicament. For the sake of this contest, we were banned from using the hint option, but to be honest, I don't think it would have helped by the time we hit the hard puzzles.
The first of the hard puzzles had us trying to figure out the code to open a locked door. An equation of shapes, representing numbers, held the key to our dilemma. It may have been some of the fine English alcohol we had consumed prior to the puzzle solving, but something told us we were in over our heads here. If you weren't aware, most journalists are only journalists because they are horrible at math.
We went on to fail the next two puzzles, one dealing with pattern recognition and the other some simpler shape manipulation. We probably should have figured out the last one, but defeat had reared its ugly little head and our brains were out of gas.
Part of the mystery and fascination I have always found with the series has been the clever ways the puzzles integrate with genuinely intriguing narrative. While I can't attest from my hands-on time with the latest that the professor's origin story is as captivating as his later adventures, I do feel confident from the limited puzzles I played that the charming brain-twisting trials seem to be up to par.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter promises the most puzzles to grace the series, and if that's not enough, there is also a bonus 100-hour RPG -- complete with Earthbound-esque visuals -- called London Life to keep the most diligent of gamers thoroughly occupied. This may be the fourth and final foray for the Nintendo DS, but for those who've missed out on this spectacular series -- or those 3DS owners still yearning for some quality content -- The Last Specter looks to be the perfect place to become proper with the professor.