(www.plasticpals.com) Professor Layton and his loyal apprentice Luke are back in their third (of four) puzzle-solving adventures for the Nintendo DS. A time machine demonstration goes wrong, and its inventor and several others disappear in the accident. Layton then receives a letter from someone claiming to be Luke from ten years into the future. The Professor's itch to investigate leads to a wormhole that sends him and Luke to a strange, steam-punk London ruled by "The Family", an organized crime ring. Even more disturbing, it seems that the head honcho is known for his top hat just like the Professor's. More than 165 puzzles await players along the way to solving the latest mystery.
The game is played entirely with the touch screen. A map appears on the top screen, while a snapshot of your current location appears on the bottom screen, populated by whatever characters might be milling about. You tap the screen to initiate conversations and move around. If you've tried the previous entries in the series you'll know what to expect from this one: talk to people, solve the puzzles they throw at you, and move to a new area to uncover clues (wash, rinse, repeat). It's a user-friendly system and a simple formula, but manages to draw you in with its characters and mystery story.
If you weren't already a fan before, this one probably won't convert you, but returning players will find the general formula improved in key ways. There's more voice acting than the previous games, which makes the story more enjoyable, and the puzzles feel more related to specific areas and characters. Thankfully there's less backtracking than the last game. You steadily gain access to new areas, populated by new characters, which helps to keep things fresh.
The puzzles are an enjoyable mix of block, maze, observation, and logic types. As usual, each puzzle is worth a certain number of Picarats (points) based on its difficulty. For a perfect score, you need to solve the puzzle on your first attempt subsequent tries are worth less and less points. Scoring points isn't only a matter of personal pride, as your total will determine what bonuses you unlock after the game is over, in the form of extra puzzles and features. You can make it a bit easier on yourself by spending "hint coins". Each puzzle has three to four hints that will vaguely lead you in the right direction before outright ruining the puzzle.
One of Layton's "perks" are the weekly downloadable puzzles. You have to connect your Nintendo DS to the internet, and it will unlock any puzzles that are available. This is kind of stupid, because the game isn't really "downloading" the puzzles; they're already on the game card (it is simply "unlocking" them). Connecting to the internet over Wi-Fi isn't always easy, so why force players to connect at all?
It could be said that these games are nothing more than dressed-up activity books (many of the puzzles were originally created for just that purpose), but that would be doing them a huge disservice. The latest chapter is the best yet, with a more interesting mystery and deeper characterization that will have you tapping the screen like a good page-turner.
The Layton games are known for their lavish production values, and this one doesn't disappoint. The game contains the usual assortment of painterly backgrounds, charming character portraits, and wonderfully animated scenes. The multitude of puzzles are great for when you only have a few minutes to spare here and there, but expect to get at least 15 hours of enjoyment in total.
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