This Reminds Me of a Puzzle: A Professor Layton Overview

There’s this thing about video game sequels that’s always interested me. When a movie sequel gets announced, the initial reaction is often a negative one. At least, unless it’s a massive blockbuster action flick. If it is, then chances are the budget will be upped for the sequel, and you might get an interesting deal out of it. Chances are it won’t be anywhere near as interesting as the original, but still, it’s a sequel. What else did you expect? Let’s just brush the rare examples of better sequels aside for a bit, as they’re not what people tend to expect out of sequels.

When it comes to video games, sequels tend to be anticipated with a lot more enthusiasm. For some reason video games have proven that the same magic can be reused. Even in the current age, where people complain a game is “more of the same” as if it’s a bad thing, “more of the same” is often the exact thing you’d want out of a video game sequel. If a sequel to a game can bring you the same kind of experience as it did the first time, it’s a good sequel. Since developers have a much better knack for creating a second, third or even fourth part of the same franchise than movie producers, it isn’t even that rare for a sequel to surpass the original. Have people list their favorite titles from Nintendo franchises. Chances are, their favorite is the third of fourth game. Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World (Number 4) for Mario. Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time (Number 3 and 4 for consoles respectively). Super Metroid or Metroid Prime (Super Metroid is the third, Prime the fourth). Sure, not everyone agrees on their favorites, but the most common ones are rarely the first. Mega Man? People argue about 2 or 3, the first is almost a forgotten relic if it wasn’t for the iconic robot masters. A lot of people forget the first didn’t have a Wiley’s Castle at the end. Nor did it have a set of eight bosses. The second added that and made it the new standard.

So, what’s led me to writing this? If you’ve been reading my Twitter stream, or have contacted me in any other way, chances are you know how I’ve gotten obsessed with the Professor Layton series recently. If you’re not familiar with the series, I advice you to give the series a chance some time. The series follows the adventures of Professor Layton and his apprentice Luke as they tackle mysteries… well… for the sake of mystery solving. During their adventures, they’re constantly tried and tested by puzzles. In fact, the story line is just one big excuse for the game to chuck as many puzzles in your general direction as it possible can. You could almost go as far as calling the series a big book of riddles and puzzles for the DS. Each game simply loves misleading you by cleverly phrasing really simple puzzles to make you over think them.

...or they just make you hate yourself with another sliding puzzle.

There are currently three games out. Each of them a major improvement on the last. This series is a perfect example of how gaming sequels should be handled. There are very obvious signs that the developers knew what went wrong with the last title, and they’ve done everything they could to improve on it with the next.

Let’s look at each title, in order of their release, just to see how it’s changed and grown over time.

Curious Village Logo

Professor Layton and the Curious Village

The first adventure starring our two heroes, Professor Layton and Luke is quite a simple one. The Professor received a letter about a mystery revolving around a strange town called Mystere. Somewhere in that town a treasure hides a treasure, referred to as The Golden Apple in most of the game.

Story-wise, it stays about that simple. There’s a few extra threads of story floating around about Detective Chelmey and a possible murder. I know it sounds half-assed to put it like that, but it really never leads to much. Somehow the game lacks the punch to make the story come through effectively, which is a shame as the game does put down the basic foundation of the rest of the series. It just doesn’t do much with it.

Another area in which the game disappointed was the lack of connection between the puzzles and the story. Most of the time it doesn’t feel like there’s any relevance to the puzzles at all. Like they just assembled as many puzzles as they could, slapped a random story on it and decided to call it a day. There are moments the later games fail to deliver in this aspect as well, but it never gets as bad as this one. Oddly enough, the storyline itself is the only one that gives you a good reason for the to be puzzles in the explanation near the end of the game, as unfitting as they often are.

All in all, it’s a good game. Although it never really shines as well as the rest of the series does.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Right from the start of the game, it’s very obvious the people behind the game knew that what was lacking in the series was the sense of adventure. All in all, not much happened in the first title, nor did it ever feel like there was any real importance to the story. At least, up until the end. The sequel starts out with Professor Layton and Luke receiving a letter from the Professor’s mentor, Dr. Shrader, inviting them over to his home to look into something. Once there, they find out he has been killed. Not only that, the important MacGuffin Dr. Shrader wanted them to examine, the Elysian Box, has been stolen. The only clue that could lead them anywhere is a train ticket for the high-class Molentary Express. A ticket with no destination written on it. Things get even more complicated along the way.

It’s not just the story that has been improved either. The delivery itself has gotten a lot better with this title. One of the favorite aspects for most people during the first game were the cut scenes, and there’s more than twice the amount of them now. It might sound strange, as cut scenes are often the biggest complaint with most games, but with this series, it’s exactly what was needed. Often enough, getting to the next cut scene is a reward enough in itself. It’s not surprising that they went and made a full animated feature later on. It’s very obvious the production values have gone up with this game, as there’s just a lot more care for the world it takes place in than the last title. It feels as if the “Laytonverse” first started coming alive in this title.

And it’s not just graphics and sound that got an overhaul either. Both the Professor and his apprentice get full names with the start of this game. Not only that, Professor Hershel Layton even states his official profession, archeology professor at a university. Puzzles actually tie into the story and situation more often than they used to. The amount of mini-games unlockable have doubled.

It’s quite amazing just how much the series had changed and improved with just one game.

This brings us to….

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

In the third game, the Professor’s quest starts with yet another letter. This time the person requesting the assistance of Professor Layton is none other than Luke Triton, his very own assistant. The strange thing? It’s dated 10 years in the future. The letter gives the Professor instructions to go to a certain address and locate a clock shop. Once there, Layton and his ever faithful assistant get thrown ten years into the future to a steampunk version of London. At the same time, there’s a murder case going on that the Professor is absolutely sure is connected to the case. Or at least, murder… There is no body. Not a single trace of both the supposedly dead prime minister or the scientist who killed him has been found. Both mysteriously vanished after an experimental time machine exploded right in front of everyone, with the prime minister in it.

The first thing that came to mind when I started playing this game was: “Wow. They’ve done it again.”

Every single improvement the second game made on the first, this one does on the second. It’s almost unbelievable. Just like with the last game, both the amount of cut scenes as well as the quality of them has made a massive improvement. The situations you find your characters in seem even more pressing than before. Puzzles play into what’s happening in the most awesome ways at times. It’s like they’ve finally discovered all their strengths and weaknesses with this game and decided to give it everything they have. We finally get an answer why Layton is always wearing his hat, as well as a properly fleshed out backstory to his character. The people behind this game knew what the fans wanted, and managed to deliver it.

Let’s just not speak of the fangirls shipping Future Luke with Layton, or even worse, Young Luke.

This is how a gaming series should progress. The first one was okay, but had a lot of potential and a great idea to follow up on. The second not only follows up on it but makes a ton of improvements finally bringing the series to a good standard. The third game takes everything it’s learned so far and creates a great experience with it.

Screw Space McWarShooter Pants, I’ll be playing this.

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4 thoughts on “This Reminds Me of a Puzzle: A Professor Layton Overview

  1. whilst i have never played the layton games, i have beef with your “more of the same” theory.

    Whilst i admit, theres something sickening when a game changes too much from its predecessor, but sometimes when they pull it off it can be a wonderful change of pace…then again it can be a spectacular failure.

    When “More of the same” is taken too far (i.e the same game with a couple of added features (im looking at you New vegas)) it just feels like lazy developing.

    The closest thing i can find to a perfect sequel? Mass Effect 2 – I never really enjoyed the first one, and it was a long time since i played it when i picked up mass effect 2…which subsequently ate all of my social life for about 3 weeks while i did everything. they took away parts of the game that people hated (and i loved…RIP mako), and added bits that people would enjoy (and i did, planet scanning isnt half as bad as people made out to be), But then again, with a story like ME’s, its difficult to mess it up.

    • Personally, I didn’t have much of a problem with New Vegas. Gameplay-wise, I found the game to make many improvements on Fallout 3. Minor improvements, yes, but there were enough of them to make a difference. The setting itself was a bit off though. Like they tried to widen the scope of retro-futurism in a really odd sense. A lot of things didn’t fit.

      As for it looking too much like Fallout 3. Well, it IS a sequel to Fallout 3. You shouldn’t really expect anything else. If you liked Fallout 3 and want another area to explore, it’s exactly what you want. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be playing another 3D Fallout game.

      Mass Effect 2, while really great, is far from the perfect sequel. It canned quite a few gameplay elements I enjoyed from the first title for me to call it that. It also didn’t really take the story anywhere. Mass Effect 1 moved forward, Mass Effect 2 seemed to move sideways. The story is still at the exact same point it was with the last one. Still, it was a solid game, much more so than the first. But a perfect sequel? It’s no Mario 3.

  2. Success with sequels in the video game world comes from being able to reuse code – If the engine works well, most of the time that code is used again because people really enjoyed how it worked. For example, Sonic 1 – 2 – 3. Films obviously can’t do this – not only are they driven by the stories and actors, but it’s not like then can reuse the action and effects from last time.

  3. Pingback: The Big DS Overview « Remy van Ruiten

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