This is a hard time for fans of be-hatted geniuses, as both Professor Layton and Breaking Bad's Walter White hang up their respective head-warmers. The two share a surprising amount in common. Both are boffins forced into action by a cruel world, dragging in a young apprentice to help peddle moreish wares: Walter his meth, Hershel his logic exercises. That after five seasons and some 800 puzzles Layton's product retains its potency speaks of Level-5's cook quality.
Rounding out Layton's story was always going to be tricky. As a trilogy of prequels we know how the story ends - Layton and Luke go on to explore Curious Villages and Lost Futures - so what room is left for shocking revelations? Penned in by the pre-existing yarn Level-5 opted for fan service, exploring Layton's roots, and a grander mystery that has snowballed over two games and a tie-in film. Having dug up all those Azran artefacts, isn't it time to find out what they did?
The resulting quest is Layton on a blockbuster scale. Commandeering an airship, belonging to the newest member of Layton's gang, Professor Sycamore (possibly moonlighting from Pokemon X and Y), gives the gang a globe to trot, whisking the action between nine destinations, some of them as big as entire locations from previous games. Finally, our hero begins to resemble that other fictional archaeologist, Indiana Jones, as he slips into ancient tombs, braving booby traps to awaken mystical technologies.
Plot still follows puzzle follows plot, but it's given a longer leash. Linear chapters melt away for a central portion that allows you to pick a route through five self-contained mysteries. Land Sycamore's aircraft and you're free to explore jungles, deserts and grasslands. Once the local story is solved you can return to find bonus puzzles or hidden collectibles, as hinted at in news stories in Layton's morning paper.
More rewarding is how Level-5 builds on Miracle Mask's playable dungeon segment by weaving puzzles organically into the plot. So an on-foot pursuit becomes a river traffic quandary, while villainous henchmen have the Prof timing steps to dodge swinging hooks inside a villain's lair. Okay, so this is 'blistering' action served in polite, mum-friendly portions, but it makes more sense than holding Layton at gunpoint until he works out who ate what pudding.
Layton even goes all-out Michael Bay in an early shooting section. Using odd-one-out logic to target squad leaders among waves of unmanned drones is daft, but you have to admire Level-5's chutzpah. More successful are the Azran puzzles themselves. There's something inherently satisfying in activating ancient mechanisms by cracking riddles, with one town-wide hunt for messages hidden in architecture feeling like a tongue-in-cheek take on Dan Brown's similar symbolist guff.
Of course, all this is padded out - to the tune of 165 puzzles - by the usual Layton fare: the tile-shifting jobbies, the maths, the trick questions and the 'if Steve ate carrots on Tuesday, what's the name of Dave's hamster' type of deduction. As with Miracle Mask, we found the puzzles easier than the earlier games', though our brains are honed over five years of this stuff. How 'Puzzle Master' Akira Tago hasn't turned into a gibbering wreck is the real mystery.
Back To School
Most of our complaints are re-runs from the last game. Puzzles still fail to make clever use of the host hardware, employing 3D for little more than quaint illustrations. And the interface is still fussy, hiding instructions in a drop-down menu when you need them at all times. If there really is no room to evolve the formula beyond its original design - as this arguably doesn't - then perhaps it is time for Layton to step aside.
Or maybe reliability is his key to success? Before the cart enters the slot you know you'll find hint coins in chimneys, three mini-games to fill out the Prof's trunk and spud-faced oddballs on every corner. Like a Sunday night ITV drama, anyone can tune in and enjoy it, although loyal fans benefit from running gags and foreshadowing (a certain police chief says hello) of adventures to come.
Taken in this spirit, Azran Legacy is a fine conclusion: the story moves at a good pace, the humour is charmingly daft and there's heaps to do, thanks to the returning one-a-day DLC. The finale lacks the emotional heft that singles Lost Future out as the best instalment, though its final hour does throw up a doozy of a twist. When Layton reaches his end it comes with neither a bang nor a whimper, but a forehead-slap of disbelief. You wouldn't want it any other way.