Four games in and Professor Layton is now one the most familiar faces on the videogame landscape. He has solved some of gaming's greatest conundrums, never breaking a sweat or losing his mild-mannered charm while doing so - and, as such, is a warm favourite in the Nintendo family.
The format of the series is similarly well established: take 150-odd brain-teasers and slot them into a whimsical detective story. Make that story itself a grand puzzle, the kind of mystery tackled in so many Sherlock Holmes novels, and ask players to solve it by completing the smaller, more discrete puzzles.
While the template of the Layton games is familiar, it is no
less compelling today than when it debuted with 2008's Professor Layton And The Curious Village. That's because the mindbenders themselves are completely fresh each time. And, of course, each story is handled like a new entry to a long-running detective series.
Professor Layton And The Spectre's Call reveals the origin story of the relationship between Luke and the professor, as they are brought together to solve a mystery threatening Luke's town. We see the Professor find his true calling and settle fully into the role of Holmes-esque private detective.
The Spectre's Call shares a fair bit in common with the first game in the series, in that it's set within a town in the countryside; Misthallery, picturesque and filled with the kind of loveable oddballs for which the series has become known.
At the start of the game Layton receives a letter from an old schoolfriend (Luke's father), now the mayor of the town, explaining that Misthallery is in the clutches of a great mystery, one that's threatening the lives and livelihoods of its residents.
As ever, there is an air of the supernatural surrounding the whole thing. Upon their arrival, Layton and his new assistant, the tomboyish puzzle-fan Emmy, hear of how the town has long been under the protection of a mythical spectre,
A guardian who, legend has it, aids the people of Misthallery in their moments of need. But the spectre, according to the town's residents, has gone rogue, and is now threatening those it once protected, showing up every few nights in a shroud of fog to destroy houses, seemingly at random.
Of course, Layton never lets a pressing case get in the way of some impromptu puzzling, and the light-hearted use of these gentler mysteries prevents the game from becoming too heavy or intense. The whimsical music, all French accordions and beaten-up pianos, contributes to this sense of genteel Sunday afternoon detective work, more Hercule Poirot than Philip Marlowe, and the game is all the better for it.
Where The Money's At
Puzzles take the form of brainteasers, riddles, block puzzles, mathematical conundrums and spatial challenges. Each is wrapped in a cute micro-narrative to ensure it never feels like you are doing your maths homework, and the range of puzzle types dizzies the mind.
For players who are struggling with a particularly tough puzzle, three basic hints and a special super hint can be purchased to push you in the right direction.
As with the most recent Professor Layton titles, the core game is supplemented by some additional collectibles and minigames to engage in when you're tired of the relentless puzzling. Certain areas in scenes hide rare and interesting items that are revealed after repeatedly tapping on an object. These don't have any bearing on the main adventure, but are worth finding to complete the collection.