It’s almost impossible to imagine that “Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy” (3DS; $39.99; Rated E10) is the sixth game in the “Professor Layton” series. While higher profile series like “Call of Duty,” “Assassin’s Creed” and “Mario” tend to get most of the press, little “Layton” squeaks out a new under-the-radar entry every year or so, right alongside the big boys. And somehow, “Professor Layton,” a game as quiet and unassuming as its top-hatted hero, manages to pull solid reviews and sell plenty of copies even as it refuses to shout for its players’ attention.
The “Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy” installment is essentially no different from its predecessors. You travel from scene to scene, hunting for and tapping at anything that looks interesting or out of place. Sometimes you’ll talk to people, sometimes you’ll find a puzzle, and sometimes you’ll find “hint coins” that will help you solve those puzzles.
Solve the puzzles
The puzzles themselves are the selling point of the “Professor Layton” games, and the puzzles throughout “Azran Legacy” don’t disappoint. There are actual block-on-wood puzzles in which you have to create an image from the space not occupied by the blocks. There are also logic puzzles, math puzzles and simple-yet-infuriating trick questions.
Some puzzles’ solutions are obvious from the outset, while others could take hours to truly understand without the use one of the aforementioned hint coins. The puzzle variety here is vintage “Layton,” which makes it the type of game that you’ll want to share with others – especially if they get the same rush out of puzzles that you do.
The larger mystery
That said, “Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy” does take a risk that separates it from its predecessors. Like all of the “Layton” games, there is an overarching mystery that unfolds over the course of many hours, but in this one, there is a piecemeal feel to it. After a relatively brief introductory set of missions, you can choose to go to any one of seven locations, each of which has its own sub-mystery attached to it.
This is how “Professor Layton” is dipping its toes into open-world video game waters. Rather than forcing you to attack its puzzles in a mostly predefined order, you can jump from locale to locale at will, and if one puzzle starts stumping you, you can jump to a different location and take on its puzzles.
As the game progresses, you’ll find other reasons to jump from location to location, and plenty of bonus puzzles arrive as you solve the “real” puzzles. This keeps you busy no matter how many puzzles might be giving you trouble at any one time.
Not puzzled out?
As if all of that wasn’t enough, WiFi-equipped players will have access to one new puzzle a day that doesn’t relate to the overarching story. These are puzzles for the sake of puzzles, just in case you’re not entirely puzzled out by the time you spend the 30 or so hours it takes to get through the winding, well-written and occasionally downright touching story of “Azran Legacy.”
But change must come even for the successful, and it seems that “Layton” developers Level-5 are ready to hang up their title character’s oversize top hat for good. “The Azran Legacy” is the final “Layton” adventure to feature Layton himself as the hero.
The good news is that Layton goes out in style – “The Azran Legacy” is the most well-developed and absorbing of the Layton games. That said, one gets the sense that Level 5 might just be getting started. There are many characters we’ve come to know over the course of the series’ six games who could certainly carry their own game.
However “Layton” lives on, it is likely to remain the quietest yearly success story in gaming.
New This Week: You can take the Orioles (or the Twins, or the Astros, or anyone you want, really) to the World Series with “MLB 14: The Show” (PS3, Vita), the latest entry in the best and longest-running (and right now, only) console baseball franchise. PS4 owners will get their shot at the big trophy, too, but they’ll have to wait until May.