Professor Layton: Catch Up to the First Three Games
With the announcement of the new Professor Layton game for the Nintendo Switch (Professor Layton and the New World of Steam) I think, to help people understand and appreciate everything that Layton has to offer and has offered to many fans. It was about time for a sort of compilation and summary of the much needed 3 games from the start of the series.
Just as a note, there will indeed be minor spoilers, so I highly recommend that you play the games for yourself if you want to get the full experience. This will only be a summary and review of each of the first three games.
"In the curious village of St. Mystere, puzzles are part of everyday life. So, when a wealthy baron's will points to a hidden treasure, it's up to puzzle mastermind Professor Layton to unravel the mystery! Stretch your grey matter to solve brain-teasers and piece together the clues to uncover St Mystere's secret..."
- Blurb of Professor Layton and the Curious Village
The first game, released on the Nintendo DS in 2007 (2008 for the rest of the world). Professor Layton and the Curious Village was a new game from the company Level-5 in partnership with the Puzzle Master of the time, the late Akira Tago, who would be the puzzle master for the Layton series until the release of Layton’s Mystery Journey to due his death.
The game sees the player going through 20th Century England as the famous Professor Hershel Layton. He is a professor of archaeology at Gressenheller University, and his apprentice, one Luke Triton. The gameplay is a simple sort of “point-and-click” variation, the player can tap things on the screen that seem interesting. You can tap the shoe icon to move around via yellow arrows and the small briefcase icon to access the Professor’s briefcase to save the game and access other side elements such as minigames and a puzzle index.
In the first game in the series, the player explores the village of St. Mystere with Layton and Luke. The professor was called out there to help one Lady Dahlia with some sort of inheritance dispute of the late Baron Augustus Reinhold. The Baron promised his land and wealth to anyone who could find…the Golden Apple, something he calls his most prized treasure. Within the town they find that the inhabitants are enamoured and delight in puzzles and puzzle solving.
As the first game in the series, it establishes some recurring elements and characters. Obviously, Professor Layton himself and Luke Triton. As well as the characters of Don Paolo, Flora and Inspector Chelmey. It also establishes them as characters, Layton as the mature and responsible adult of the series and Luke as the carefree child. Mostly they have a sort of Holmes and Watson relationship, where one learns from the other. In fact, Sherlock Holmes is one of the bases for Professor Layton as well as the famous Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright.
Don Paolo, while poorly expressed in this game and not fully explained nor explored, is still decent for whom he is, as the game and series’ first villain. Flora is also well expressed here but this tends to be the only game in which she is explored fully as later games push her to the sidelines and don’t know what to do with her mostly. Inspector Chelmey, while introduced and noted here is not well known nor, for plot reasons, is really explored and due to that is it left to the other games in the series to pick up where Curious Village left off.
The first game in the series has some issues too with the main core element of the series, the puzzles. Chances are if you know Professor Layton, you know the puzzles and they do have a kind of deep history to them. The majority of the 135 puzzles in the game are not connected to the game or dialogue in any way. As most were adapted from the Japanese book series, Head Gymnastics, a series of books Akira Tago worked on. As such, the gameplay between the two halves of the game is very disconnected, and Level-5 knew this and would address it in later games.
Overall, for the very first game in the series, while showing its age…has held up remarkably well all things considered. A game born from two very different creative minds, coming together to form one amazing franchise and can even be said to be a DS classic.
Pandora’s Box/Diabolical Box
Credit: The Telegraph
"In this mind-bending mystery, puzzles hide in every corner. As rumours of a cursed artifact circulate, the professor's mentor is found dead in mysterious circumstances, and the only apparent clue is a ticket for the Molentary Express... Test your wits in this engrossing, mind-bending adventure!"
- Blurb for Professor Layton and the Pandora’s Box/Diabolical Box
Professor Layton and the Pandora’s Box/Diabolical Box is the second game to be added to the Professor Layton catalogue and was met with more than enough success, being one of the highest selling DS games in the UK and the highest selling Professor Layton game in the UK.
The story this time starts in London with Professor Layton and Luke receiving a letter from Professor Layton’s mentor, Dr. Andrew Schrader basically setting up the game. Mainly about the Elysium Box, otherwise known as Pandora’s Box, a box that kills anyone who opens it. The letter is 2 days old and when Layton arrives at Dr. Schrader’s apartment, he is unconscious, and the box is missing. Layton finds a clue in a ticket for the Molentary Express so Layton and Luke decide a trip down the railway will help get to the bottom of the case.
The second game does give us a lot of the same characters, Layton and Luke being obvious, but we also see Inspector Chelmey return along with Flora and Don Paolo. But also introduces a host of new characters, Constable Barton (Inspector Chelmey’s right hand man), Mr. Baluga (Owner of the Molentary Express) and Katia (Daughter to the mayor of Dropstone with her own reason for going on the train). These new characters at times can feel like filler, but all of them do add something to the plot and its overall story.
The core gameplay of the games did not change, still point and click with some additions and variation. With many being from the puzzles themselves, unlike the first game where many of the puzzles felt very disconnected, many puzzles in the game are tied to the plot of the game. The first few in London to get to Andrew Schrader’s apartment are all puzzles that advance that plot point.
The biggest hole in the game is towards the end of it, while not giving much away, the game does feel to drop off and gets very tedious when you hit the last area of the game and when it comes to the, all be it necessary, villain. They seem rather underwhelming for the build up that came before him. But the game isn’t about that, it’s about the advancement in the story telling and symbolism and for the second game in the series to do that, it does it very well.
There is a solid reason why Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box became the fastest selling title in the UK for it upped everything that needs to be upped and the story and characters do evolve and we see more of them in this story so we get more of a feel of them and how they interact with the world around them. While the last area can be a bit disappointing, from a storytelling aspect, it is wonderful to see and the games and the series go up from here.
Lost Future/Unwound Future
Credit: The Telegraph
"A mysterious letter sent from the future warns Professor Layton of an imminent threat to London! Could this be linked to the mysterious disappearance of the prime minister in the accident at the time machine presentation? Join Professor Layton and Luke in an epic and thrilling journey through time, uncover secrets from the professor's past and help him face his toughest opponent yet - himself!"
- Blurb for Professor Layton and the Lost Future/Unwound Future
The third game and (so far) the last game chronologically, considered the fan favourite…Professor Layton and the Lost/Unwound Future. At this point, the series was REALLY getting in its stride, but one thing was clear when it came to the story of the games overall…the characters needed to evolve and needed to be exposed in some manner…Lost Future is a masterpiece and case study in how to do this.
To start with, Layton and Luke are on a bus where Luke and Layton are looking over a mysterious letter, a letter supposedly sent from Luke…10 years in the future, telling them that London in 10 years will be in utter ruin and despair. Layton can’t be sure that the letter is authentic, but thinks it relates to an event that happened a week ago. A time machine presentation gone wrong that also caused the Prime Minister and head scientist to vanish. The two of them then decide that the best course of action is to do as the letter instructs and go to a clock shop on Midland Road.
The story of the game is something that has been praised by reviewers, fans and general players alike. The story and characters are so much better here, not only do we see their personal history but that also lends themselves to opening up and becoming more fulfilled with the world and how it shaped them. Layton himself is an excellent example as many pointed out that he was almost too perfect of a character, but in this game, we see his insecurities and fears on full display.
As for the gameplay, that does not change outside of a few things like a memo feature in the trunk and small things like an arrow and notation to show the player where they need to go to advance the story which is all well and good considering the size of the two main areas the player finds themselves in. With that, there are two unfortunate problems with the game.
First is the pacing, while the story is fantastic, the pace does kind of drag and has a lot of filler. Finding the hotel, going through the arcade, the hospital visit, the trek through the woods and various other areas, the pacing does get dragged around a lot and it seems that there are large segments of filler before the game gets back on track, until after everything that happens in Chinatown.
The other problem is the setting and atmosphere. The game has you going between London and Future London. The problem lies in that concept, the other games had places dripping with atmosphere. But London and future London…honestly don’t have much difference between them, there is little that makes Future London different from regular London. I’ll never forget St. Mystere, Dropstone and Folsense…but Future London and regular London blend together too well and outside of a few areas…not much is very out there and in the forefront of everything.
But the characters and overall story, make up for it, as do the puzzles. These are some of the hardest puzzles in the franchise and when it comes to their relevance, you really do feel a lot of them are tied to the plot. The puzzles here can stump you even are small point in the game, but every puzzle here is perfect and well made. While I might merge areas of Future London and regular London, I could never forget puzzles like the Banana Slide series, Two Necklaces, Slot Machine Gun and all sorts. Additionally, this kind of serves as a sort of Layton: Civil War with foes turned friends and friends turned foes. While a number of the characters are very much tied to the story, and so I can’t say much without some really big spoilers for an outstanding tale, the new characters introduced and the old ones used…really make this game work even better!
Overall, for the end of the original trilogy this stands up REALLY well and makes great strides in what was to come forward in the Layton series. The story is wonderful, despite the dragging pace and filler segments and the characters feel more evolved and alive. This game is a fan favourite for a very clear reason and also will have you reaching for the tissues towards the end.
Credit: Nintendo Life
These three games are the foundation to understanding the Layton series and while changes were made in the prequel trilogy (like new style for the Point and Click adventure as well as an overhaul of graphics to accustom the new 3D models of the game), the game play of solving puzzles and diving into the great adventures that Layton game has never changed. Going through a village not on most maps, uncovering secrets on iron tracks and travel between the present and future to save London…the Layton games have always had great stories, memorable characters and outstanding puzzles.
Growing up with Layton, you may have found yourself getting smarter and more recognising of the patterns and tricks used in brainteasers like this. And even if you start playing it all these years later, you can see wonderful games of the early 2000s in all their glory.From a series that was clawing its way through a bunch of shovelware titles to one of the faces of Level 5…it is quite a success story of the franchise.
We can only hope to see new innovations and the same old fun puzzles in New World of Steam…after all, even in a new region there are puzzles to be solved…that’s what a gentleman does.
Review by Adil Rahman