So, this is it then. This is where the story ends. After six years of meeting sidekicks, scuppering nefarious baddies, and uncovering more than one incredibly important lost relic, the puzzles, the archaeology and globetrotting adventures of the gentlemanly Professor that we've come to know and love are coming to an end. At least, that's what the developers say. After six years, and with six games under his belt, Professor Layton will be hanging up his hat, potentially leaving Nintendo a blockbuster game short - and leaving a puzzle shaped hole in our lives. That said, if this is his last game (and we'll be keeping our fingers crossed it isn't), Professor Layton will be going out as you'd imagine a gentleman would. In style.
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Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, is a conclusion in more ways than one. Along with being the last game to star Professor Layton, it's also the last game in a prequel trilogy that began with Professor Layton and the Spectre's Call. While that may make it sound like this is the sort of game you'll need have played all the previous titles to understand, it's actually surprisingly easy to get into Azran Legacy, even if this is the first time you've ever picked up a Professor Layton game. With plenty of tutorials to help point you in the right direction, and a story that works well as a stand alone, despite its references to games gone by, you certainly won't be swamped by the complexities of the backstory here.
Not that it doesn't have a gripping plot in place to keep you poking your Touch Screen till the small hours of the morning. Donning his top hat for the last time, the tale here follows the dynamic trio of Professor Layton, his sidekick Emmy and apprentice Luke, as they embark on a voyage around the world in a quest to unlock the secret of a mysterious ancient race known as - you guessed it - the Azran. As a Professor of archaeology with a mind for cracking a good puzzle, you may expect this would be short work for our hero, but in this game, you're working against a foe. A mysterious organisation, known only as Targent, has also got wind of the secrets of the Azran legacy, and wants to discover it for themselves. As the only thing that stands between the baddies and a great power, it's up to you to put a stop to their dastardly deeds in the only way you know how. By solving puzzles.
What follows is a point and click style adventure on a much greater scale than before, that'll take you to all corners of the globe. From the snow topped mountains of Froenborg to the tourist paradise of San Grio, and even London's Kensington High Street itself, you'll be jetting between locations at the touch of a button (travelling by airship, of course - how else is a gentleman to travel?) as you explore narrow passages, search for the five hidden Azran eggs (which have been scattered around the globe, naturally), and chat to the locals, who all seem to have a strange fixation with puzzles. You may be trying to stop an incredible power from falling into the hands of some dastardly people, but the good citizens can't let that get in the way of a good puzzle.
"Do you know of a strange, egg shaped artefact or stone?"
"I might do - but I'll only tell you if you solve this puzzle"
Despite finding their way into the conversations in the strangest of ways, it's these puzzles that form the backbone of Professor Layton, and with over 500 of them to play through, there's plenty to keep you busy. Coming in all shapes and sizes, from riddles (I have four less than A, but five more than C, how many do I have), to slide puzzles, from mazes to tessellations and all sorts of head scratching, brain teasing challenges in between, the puzzles in Professor Layton are like no other, and have an uncanny ability to get under your skin when you just can't figure them out. Luckily, help is at hand thanks to the game's hint coins, which you collect during your adventure, and can then use to unlock progressively more obvious hints that'll nudge you back on track, with three normal hints on hand, along with a bonus Super Hint that basically all but tells you the answer available if you get really stuck.
And thankfully, the quality of the puzzles is up to the usual Layton standard too, with each and every riddle requiring you to think in a different way. Nothing is ever quite as it seems, and very rarely is the most obvious answer the right one, so you're forced to approach your challenge from all angles, and look for the red herring that's trying to catch you out. There are few things more satisfying than getting a Professor Layton puzzle right first time, without using any hint coins, basking in the warm glow that comes from having dodged the puzzling hand grenades the game had thrown your way.
Unfortunately, though, there are still a few puzzles that seem a little bit daft - and one new feature in particular that has the potential to catch you out, until you start looking for it. In a new twist for this game (or at least, one we didn't notice so much in the others), some puzzles contain certain visual cues in the pictures, either on the top or bottom screen that are essential to answering the puzzle, but that the game never mentions. In earlier games, the art on the top screen was often nothing more than something to accompany the puzzle and give you something nice to look at while you're tearing out your hair - here, on the other hand, it's often a lot more involved. One early question (skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid spoilers), in the sub-zero land of Froenenborg revolves around a present that's been encased in a block of ice. The question asks: if five 150ml cups of hot water melt 30g of ice, how many cups are necessary to melt the 2kg block of ice that's around it? Any ideas? If you answered 333 and a third, you're wrong. The clue here is in the question - there's no need for it to tell you how big the cups are, so the chances are you won't have to use that in your answer. A quick glance at the top screen reveals a fireplace in the picture, so the answer is 0 - just leave the present and it'll melt itself. Annoying? Definitely. But not as annoying as a question about the crown jewels later, that it's actually impossible to get right on the first try.
The few annoying puzzles aside though, Layton and the Azran Legacy is a game that lives up to the incredibly high standards the Professor Layton series has set for itself. Like its predecessor, Miracle Mask, when you're not solving puzzles here, you'll be exploring the gorgeous, bright, and detailed environments with your stylus, using the bottom screen like a trackpad to guide a cursor around the top. Clicking on practically everything in sight as you hunt down the hidden hint coins, try to talk to villagers, and find the hidden puzzles ("Ah - this piece of cheese reminds of a puzzle I once heard..."), you'll want to make sure you've tapped every inch of the world if you want to see everything there is to see.
As in the earlier games, there's a range of distractions to give you something to do when you come up against a particularly difficult puzzle, too, with a range of mini-games (or mini-puzzles) to take your fancy. From Nut Roller, which let's you play as a squirrel trying to roll his nuts around a maze, to Blooms and Shrooms, which asks you to make use of a range of exploding flowers to ensure you cover the entire grid, each offers a nice diversion from the main game, but perhaps only in a Layton game could you take a break from puzzles by doing puzzles. An entirely new new feature for the series, though, is the StreetPass mode, although it's nowhere near as good. Essentially a StreetPass treasure hunt, you'll receive lists of items from people you meet in real life, and have to track down the items in Layton's world to earn points, which can unlock new bonuses. Although it's a nice touch, it does feel a little bit forced, as having to trek round the entire game looking for that dastardly miniature snowman that Xx_sniper_xX asked you to find can quickly get tiring.
In all honesty though, this is only a minor niggle, as there's so much Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy gets right, there's so little else to pick fault with. With a gripping storyline that's full of twists and turns, over 500 puzzles waiting to be solved, and the ability to download a new puzzle every day for the next year (that's 365 extra puzzles, completely free of charge), the tweaks come together to build on what was already an incredible game, making this one of the best Layton games - and one of the best 3DS games - so far. While we'll undoubtedly be sad to see the professor go (although, there is always the upcoming Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright cross-over to look forward to), there would be no better way for the Professor to take his final bow than this. If you've ever enjoyed solving a puzzle; if you like a great story; if you think puzzles should have answers, then this is a game you should be picking up.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS