With Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy due out on mobile in a matter of days, what better time to look back at the previous games in the series and try and rank them in some way.
Except Professor Layton’s London Life which for whatever reason wasn’t available here. Or in London.
Also look out for spoilers for the Spectre’s Call, but it’s not great loss if that one gets spoiled because…
Number 8: Professor Layton and the Spectre’s Call
An easy decision to make here, Layton’s final outing on DS and the first game in the prequel trilogy is by far the low point of the series.
Spectre’s Call is an interesting entry to discuss at the top of this list as it arguably represents many of the traits of the series as a whole but taken to a negative extreme. For example, most entries in the series have a slight problem with things like padding, filler quests and backtracking, but it reaches its nadir in this instalment, with multiple plot threads spread across the map with no real sense of how they fit into the mystery as a whole. Layton plots are always a little silly, with grand conspiracies, leaps of logic and campy melodrama, but in no other game are they as dumb as a prehistoric aquatic mammal wrestling with a bipedal excavation machine being mistaken for a ghost by the residents of a town. Although, the plot of one game did come close…
7: Professor Layton and the Pandora’s Box
After the surprise hit of the Curious Village, Layton and Luke made their return in this difficult second album. Pandora’s Box has some things going for it, for example it offers a more flexible note taking system, it has that minigame with the hamster with the Brooklyn accent, and by this point, what would become the series long trend of replacing puzzles and brain teasers with variations of spatial puzzles was only just beginning. Nevertheless, it has neither the polish of the later titles or the quality and cohesiveness of the story seen in its predecessor.
6: Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy
This relatively recent adventure draws both the prequel trilogy and (seemingly) our adventures with the Professor altogether to a close. It sees the Professor, Luke and Emmy team up with wealthy academic Desmond Sycamore and Aurora, an inexplicably Irish accented woman from the long gone Azran civilisation. Legacy’s more notable deviation from its predecessors is in its mid-section, in which Layton and Co must collect 5 artefacts hidden around the world. The search for these objects can be handled in any order and can be dropped and resumed at will by returning to the gang’s airship. It’s a nice idea and in theory means that if you’re stuck you can go do something else. However, by this point in the series most of the puzzles are quite perfunctory and it can feel as if these mostly self-contained plots are dragging you away from what is clearly the main story. Elsewhere, there are secrets from Layton’s childhood revealed, but as I’ve written previously, they aren’t really set up anywhere else in the series so there’s no real payoff to the reveals.
5: Layton Brothers: Mystery Room
An odd entry, which arguably shouldn’t be here (though if you can count you must have known it would be), Mystery Room stars Layton’s son Alfendi (presumably the brother to Lady Layton’s Kat) and his new assistant Lucy Baker. It’s a mobile game far more reminiscent in design and tone to the Ace Attorney series. Using advanced and very vaguely defined technology, the duo solves cases too tricky for the regular police force as at the same time Lucy and the player gather clues to Alfendi’s past. While still silly and goofy in places (the initial case involves a message from the victim encoded in a sandwich) Mystery Room is noticeably more grounded and darker than the DS games, which in almost all cases were at pains to clarify that no one actually died; “adult” concepts like secret affairs and serial killers are quite a departure from the oft-seen Layton tropes of academics who have fallen to the dark side.
4: Professor Layton and the Lost Future
In this closing chapter to the original trilogy the stakes and scale have once again been escalated as Luke and Layton find themselves in a future London, a dark future in which Professor Layton appears to have established himself as a crime boss. Fortunately, Luke’s older self is there to help them bring the truth to the surface.
In amongst Unwound Future’s many plot-lines and reveals is the story of how Layton got his famous top hat and why he seems so attached to it. It concludes with a genuinely sweet moment and a nice bit of “lore” as the kids say. The prequel trilogy that followed this game seemingly tried to replicate this moment with various stories about Layton’s childhood, to limited success.
3: Professor Layton and the Curious Village:
As mentioned above, while some of the kinks in the interface were later ironed out, later titles arguably diluted the formula that’s seen here. Becoming stuck and stepping away for a while before experiencing a glorious “aha” moment was a key feature to the Curious Village experience, but one which became rarer and rarer in later titles.
The story in this instalment is particularly, strong and I’ve always liked how the premise of the game (people keep offering you puzzles) and the premise of the story were properly intertwined, From Software style*, even if later games and especially the prequels mean that this aspect of the story no longer makes any sense.
2: Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
(It’s really more of a collaboration though)
That’s right (Wright?), the second-best Layton game isn’t even really a Layton game and if I’m being perfectly honest, the Layton sections are arguably the worst part of it, it’s the courtroom that’s the real draw. That said, the hybrid of Layton-style puzzling and the investigation sections of the Ace Attorney games are an improvement on the normal investigation segments from Wright’s games.
The game whisks Layton and Wright away to a strange, seemingly medieval town called Labyrinthia, where magic appears to be real and witch trials and subsequent witch burnings are a regular occurrence. It’s one of the more interesting settings in the franchise and one of the strongest Layton plots overall, with Ace Attorney scribe Shu Takumi bringing a sense of humour that’s sometimes missing from the regular titles.
1: Professor Layton and the Mask Of Miracles
The Professor’s penultimate proper puzzling adventure and first foray onto the 3DS brings together the honed mechanics of the four games gone by and marries them to a tightly paced plot based in the colourful city of Monte D’Or as well as a series of flashbacks to Layton’s teenage years in a sleepy English village. Perhaps having learned from the Spectre’s Call, in this instalment, the main mystery of who is this Masked Gentleman that’s wrecking up the place takes centre stage and there’s a clear connection to the main story at all times. Not unlike the first game, the twists in Miracle Mask are possible to see coming, rather than keeping all its cards to itself as seen previously. In fact, in a handful of very nice sections, the player is invited to explain how some of the Gentleman’s miracles were carried out, which is a neat moment for those who were paying attention.
So there you have it have it, in my view, the Professor’s trip to Monte D’Or is his finest hour!
Do you agree, disagree, not care?
Valid opinions all, why not pop ’em in a comment?
*Curious Village is the Dark Souls of Layton games, you heard it here first