The Professor Layton games are like an educator-friendly version of the game industry’s standard role-playing and adventure-game conceit: Appealing characters run through a strange world, guided by a central story and loads of teasing side paths. But rather than physical fights, encounters with denizens of this world are played out through brain-teasing puzzles. The “puzzle economy” of Layton’s world isn’t much explained, and doesn’t need to be. Suffice to say that the characters all interact with questions of logic, and that puzzles and people alike are written and drawn with such attention to detail that the concept seems perfectly acceptable.
This third episode doesn’t require knowledge of the previous games, but still builds the trilogy to an appropriately grand conclusion. Professor Layton and his young protégé Luke are apparently thrust into a time-altered London peopled with a wary, sometimes hostile populace. Though the large world occasionally requires enough exploration that the puzzles feel slightly too spaced out, the upshot is that this is the most seamless world-building seen in the series. As a bonus, the story detours into the Prof’s backstory, finally making him feel like a fully formed inhabitant of his own world.
There are two notable changes to the basic puzzle-workings. One is an expanded hint system that will give out the full solution to a puzzle, which is useful as a last resort. And a revamped notes overlay lets you write in multiple colors and erase specific notes rather than having to clear your entire slate, both of which are useful for attacking the more complex posers.
Puzzles remain the source of the game’s core appeal, and the designers at Level 5 have come up with more than 150 that fit well within the world and don’t fall into repetitive ruts that too closely echo past chapters. The tasks are based in light math, wordplay, and spatial relations, and rely upon simple logic more than complex education. It’s never genius-level stuff, but with so many to complete, most players will likely be stumped occasionally. The simplest path usually leads to the answer, but finding that path often requires looking outside the stated boundaries of the problem. Appropriately, that’s an apt description of the Professor Layton approach to adventure-game design, too.