Since I always have a story to tell, let me tell you where I first got acquainted with Professor Layton.  Before going away on a business trip about 6 years ago, I was looking for Nintendo DS games to take with me on the plane ride to Asia.  I’d already gone and purchased all of the Phoenix Wright titles I didn’t have, and then a coworker of mine, realizing my love of puzzle games told me about Professor Layton and the Curious Village.  I was at the store within about 15 minutes of his mention purchasing it, and I never looked back.  I was away from home for a month on this particular trip, and Curious Village more than got me through that when I needed my gaming fix.  Since then, my wife has made it tradition to buy me the latest title as a birthday or Christmas gift, and I’ve happily added Diabolical Box, Unwound Future, Last Specter and Miracle Mask to my collection.  So it really goes without saying that I’ve been excited for Azran Legacy to come out (and the gifting tradition was broken.)  

In fact, if you listen to my podcast, you’ll know I’ve been speaking in anticipation of the game for months now.  That day has finally come.

Release Date: February 28th 2014

Overall Rating: E10+

Consoles: Nintendo 3DS

 

Professor Layton and the Azran legacy finds our friends Herschel Layton, Luke Triton and Emmeline Altava sailing in the good airship Bostonius into various locales to attempt to retrieve the ancient relic of the Azran Legacies from the villainous Targent, who are attempting to harness the power of it for their own good (or bad in this case.)  This is the final game of the prequel story arc that leads to the original Curious Village game.  Emmy wasn’t in Curious Village, and she does tell you immediately here that this will be her final series of challenges with the professor, just in case you forgot.  Overall, the main quest has 165 puzzles throughout, and are a big range of what you can expect if you’ve played the series before – Math problems, Logic Puzzles, Pattern recognition, sequences, etc.  You will also take Bostonius into different regions as well, where you will find that puzzles tend to have a regional feel to them.  For example, in the first area where the village is covered in snow and ice, the puzzles relate to the chilly climate.  Later, when you take Bostonius into the highlands, or into the jungle, the puzzles change to reflect the climate, though they require the same skillsets.  “Picarats,” the scoring system of choice to the series are dished out depending on how difficult the puzzle is.  10 picarats means you’ll probably be through faster than in a supermarket express lane.  20 picarats means everybody brought 12 items to that express lane.  40 picarats or more and well, there’s a price dispute between the cashier and a customer.  Get ready for a bumpy ride.

You can come to expect a pretty unique experience from the game – The series has always blended cutesy Studio Ghibli-esque animation and artwork with simplistic looking puzzles and succeeded well.  While the puzzles are technically secondary to the storyline, they’ve always blended into the story perfect.  What I mean by this (and I’m really dating myself with this reference) is in classic puzzle/adventure games like the Kings Quest series or Maniac Mansion series, the puzzles you solved were directly in-game and required you to solve them to go on.  Here, you do need to solve the puzzles to get farther in the storyline, but Professor Layton is never trapped in a dungeon while you lament not having picked up a skeleton key in a room at a point 4 hours beforehand, or with only a couple minutes to solve before you’re eaten by a ogre or giant.  You can simply take the time you need to and focus on finding the solution.  All of the puzzle pieces and cogs for that main story are always at your disposal as well (unless you run out of Hint Coins of course, in which case you’re going to have to flex your brain muscle that much more.)

But, the fun doesn’t just end at the main quest.  Starting with the release on February 28th, you can also connect online via SpotPass once a day and download a new puzzle.  This will be available for one year after release.  So in essence, for your purchase price, you’re getting access to over 500 puzzles in all.  That’s a lot of bang for the buck!  If you’ve never taken advantage of this optional feature before, you’re missing out.  These additionals themselves are just as well thought out and contrived as the main quest puzzles, so there’s no cut corners or difficulty drops just because they’re offered up for free.

Still, that isn’t it.  There’s even more to do.  There’s been a virtual arms race of sorts amongst all gaming developers to take their video games, give you your basic game, and then add all sorts of bonus content over top.  In this case, it’s the integrated streetpass feature.  You can send Find-It challenges to other gamers based on items found in-game.  There’s around 100 or so items, and you set your own personal challenges and send them over Streetpass.  It’s a cute feature, but I admit it will probably get overshadowed by the primary function of the game, which is the puzzles and brain teasers.

 

I feel like an infomercial here in saying – BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!  There are some little secondary mini-games you can access from the Save Menu too.  These have been imaginative little secondary additions to the series, but not something I admit I spend a lot of time playing each time out.  There are three mini games in total, though I found the funniest and most enjoyable one to be “Dress Up,” which you receive in the opening moments of the game.  In this mini-game, you have to provide fashion advice to willing participants and come up with an outfit that suits the specifications they give you prior to your choices.

 

This is a bit of a bittersweet homecoming of sorts for me. Somewhere between Miracle Mask and this game, either my brain broke, or they’ve really ramped up the difficulty of these puzzles.  I don’t know if I should be admitting that I was literally stuck on the first puzzle for 20 minutes, and this was BEFORE the main quest was established.  Woe is me.  Thankfully, the next few puzzles were much easier on my poor head before going back to deep waters. Still, I’d admit that I found this to be the hardest of the series thus far.  The space around me and my 3DS always turns into this crazy mix of logic diagrams, drawings and math equations, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It`s been 6 years of a similar equation for the Professor and friends, and it`s just as good today as it was in 2008.  The thing is – Professor Layton is a pretty unique entity for gaming in general, and a lost art of sorts.  Back from the NES through the PS1 era, you could throw a stone and hit a dozen pure puzzle games.  Nowadays, caught up in gaming.  It was even something not as common, but still there during the Gamecube/PS2/XBox generation.  I feel like we’ve done away with that in the last decade, but this series is trying its best to keep things afloat mixed in a sea of microtransactions, mobile games and the continued growth of the FPS and action/adventure genres.  There’s almost no game clock you can stick on this title.  This game could take you 4-5 hours if you cheat your way through (or you’re an absolute genius, in which case you should probably play through this game and then go help solve some of the other logistic issues plaguing our world today) or 100+ hours, and that’s just the main quest.  Those other freebies through SpotPass I mentioned could be another few dozen hours.  

In terms of the general age demographic, well, really, there isn’t one but the age ratings are probably spot on.  It’s rated E10+ I suppose, but I would say it’s more toward the difficulty than anything else.  There isn’t really a whole lot of mature content (there’s no bad language and many childrens’ cartoons and movies are far more violent) but obviously, you wouldn’t be able to sit a young child down in front of the game and have them figure things out just like that.  

I’m going to drop a huge thumbs down to the navigation system in this game, however.  The overlapping interactive map for the top screen with the on-screen airship/map navigation on the bottom screen honestly has to be the worst thing to ever happen to the series, and hours after I started playing, I still couldn’t find myself to like it.  Like most of the other nav menu features, perhaps the Airship and city navigation should have been rolled into its own menu instead of letting the overlap occur, or perhaps a split screen option of sorts?  Something better than what they did here.  Unfortunately, this is one of those times where I feel like the 3DS would have benefited heavily from two touch screens instead of a 3D screen up top.  That would have fixed everything and given you plenty of playing room with no competing real estate on-screen. It doesn’t turn you off the game overall, but it just makes the bottom screen feel a bit too cluttered.

The other problem I have with this game?  The fact that the Professor Layton series as we know it may be over.  This game wraps up the prequel trilogy.  Everything that I’ve seen thus far concerning the mysterious “Layton 7” game shows that the series is taking a whole new direction visually (and perhaps even a genre change in general,) unless Nintendo is putting out an experimental non-canon or spiritual successor-style game, which they could very well be the case (see: Final Fantasy Four Heroes of Light and Bravely Default.)  Should this be the end of the series as we know it, it’s a bit of a sad goodbye coming from someone who feels this is Nintendo’s best debuted franchise since Animal Crossing, but everything evolves over time.  I just think that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.  

Final Ratings
Gameplay: 5 / 5

Graphics: 4.5 / 5

Sound: 4 / 5
Controls: 3 / 5

Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 5 / 5

Overall: 4.3 / 5 (86%)

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is available now exclusively for Nintendo 3DS.  Get it now and then buckle up for a month from now, when the Professor and Phoenix Wright go toe to toe!  That’s definitely my most anticipated title for the month of March.