Over the years, the Layton games have carved out a niche for themselves as the best puzzle games you can get. Though there were lots of pretenders who tried to do the same (I’m looking at you, May’s Mystery), the Layton series always did it best. Professor Layton and his companions did this by bringing you the best puzzles around while also taking you on a journey with a great story. The series is known for its genuinely tricky head-scratchers, fun graphics and animations, top-notch voice acting, and the great story that is Herschel Layton’s life. Seriously, the guy is like a PG Indiana Jones – what’s not to love?
The story of this installment takes place after the events of Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask. It kicks off with Layton travelling to the icy town of Froenberg with his assistant, Emmy, and his faithful apprentice, Luke. They are going there to assist Professor Sycamore, an expert in the study of the ancient Azran civilization, with his latest discovery. When they finally meet him, his find is revealed: a girl trapped in prehistoric ice. By solving a puzzle, they manage to get her free. Her name is Aurora, and she is the emissary of the Azran people.
As events unfold, our intrepid team (including Emmy, Luke, Professor Sycamore, Aurora, and Professor Layton) learns that there are five Azran “eggs” (which are actually keys) scattered around the world that they must find if they wish to unlock the secrets and power of the Azran Legacy that has been left for their world. They find the coordinates and set out on their globe-trotting adventure on the airship Bostonius, Professor Sycamore’s preferred means of transport. This is a race against the clock, since the evil organization Targent is also extremely interested in these Azran eggs and will stop at nothing to get them in order to harness the power of the Azran Legacy.
Finding the Azran eggs will take you all across the world of Professor Layton. You’ll visit the jungle village of Phong Gi, the island of San Grio, the dusty red desert of Torrido, the windy highland village of Hoogland, and the ancient walled city of Mossinia, as well as a few other places. Don’t forget to discover London! Each area is unique and has themed puzzles. You’ll find mysteries and puzzles that are related to the place you’re in – like figuring out how to cross an icy river in Kodh, a cold town you’ll visit along your journey. There are a bunch of places to explore no matter where you are. You can always go back to each place even if you’ve solved the main mystery there since you can freely travel between areas via the airship Bostonius. You’re encouraged to, actually, since you’ll get newspaper clippings telling you about new things that have been added since you’ve been gone. The more you do, the more becomes available for you to do, which is actually a great system – you never feel like you’re just along for the ride. The only thing that feels a bit hoaxy is the fact that for some reason this world seems to deal in puzzles. People will give you information, but for a price – you have to solve their puzzle! Targent operatives sometimes try to waylay you with –you guessed it – a puzzle! It’s weird, but it IS a puzzle game, so oh well.
The story is interesting for the most part, if a little predictable. At least, that’s how it is up until about an hour or two from the end. Once you reach this point, you’re not going to be able to put down your 3DS. Seriously, I was up until 3:30am just so I could find out how everything ended. The whole story is filled with mystery and intrigue, and finding out what the Azran Legacy is will keep you invested in what’s happening. After the events of this game conclude, you drive (literally) into the events of Professor Layton and the Curious Village, which is actually a great way to tie the stories together. The narrative makes this installment in the series a must-play for fans of the game, though new players may want to stay away until they’ve caught up on the previous ones – there are some spoilers for the rest of the games.
The game controls like a classic Layton game. Fans and newcomers alike will have no problems picking this up and playing it. It’s simple and streamlined, so even children can play this. There’s a bit of stuff that kids might have trouble doing (for example, puzzles that require multiplication), but there are always hint coins that they can find everywhere to help them figure it out.
I have two gripes with this game. First, how many times are you going to show that hint coin notification??!? I KNOW I found one, I’ve been finding them all game! Seriously, stop telling me. The second one is that I found the main storyline puzzles to be a bit… easy. Lots had more matching, less logic than usual, or at least I thought so. The harder side puzzles tended to make up for it though – I’m still flummoxed by “Reggie’s Slidy Ride”, and I have no idea why. Even if you are stuck, though, you can use one of your many hint coins to get some help. This is an area where Layton really shines – the hints guide you through the thought process necessary to solve the puzzle instead of just telling you the answer. Even if you get it wrong, it’ll give you a hint of how you should be thinking about it, which ends up making you a better puzzle solver than you used to be.
The sound and visuals are standard for a Layton game, which is to say that they are great. The animation is terrific, the cutscenes are engaging, and the voice-acting is the same high-quality stuff we’re used to. The 3D doesn’t add all that much to the game, just a bit of depth, so feel free to turn it on/off according to your preference. The only thing that might bother you is the music when you’re stuck on a puzzle. It’s fine at every other point in the game (it’s actually quite nice!), but if you’ve been staring at the same puzzle for the last 20 minutes, the music starts to sound mocking and you’ll be tempted to throw your 3DS across the room just to get it to shut up… or turn the volume off (although throwing it would probably be more satisfying).
There are a few mini-games you can play between main-story puzzles if you’d like. They’re fun, and a nice distraction. You can plant some gardens, help a squirrel collect acorns, and even help people find the perfect outfit. There’s never a lack of things to do in this game, and I can’t see anyone getting bored of it quickly. There are also collectibles that you’ll find throughout your travels, so there’s plenty for completionists to do, too. There’s tons to do, and the story is stellar, which makes this game worth every penny in my books.
Overall, this game is definitely worth picking up. The story ties into all the other games flawlessly, and was the best note they could have ended Layton’s story on. The gameplay and visuals are up to Layton’s high standards, and the puzzles and mini-games will keep you intrigued until you’ve solved them all. There’s lots to do and lots to see, and it’s a game I can definitely see myself replaying. Fans of the Layton games: you NEED this in your life. New players beware, though – you should really start elsewhere in the series, as this one really does tie everything together.
This review is based on a retail copy of Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy for the Nintendo 3DS provided to 3GEM by the publisher.