All the pieces fall into place as 'Professor Layton' puzzle series comes to an end

Chicago TribuneApril 24, 2014 

In Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, billed as last game in the franchise, Professor Layton, standing left, and his assistants Emmy, right, and Luke find a "living mummy."



    'Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy'

    Platform: Nintendo 3DS

    Publisher: Nintendo of America

    Developer: Nintendo of America

    ESRB rating: E10+

Professor Layton and his able assistants Luke and Emmy tackle another mystery in Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, available exclusively for Nintendo 3DS. Pitched as the final release in the series, Azran serves as an excellent capstone to this franchise in which characters and story matter as much as the puzzle design.

Azran follows up on archaeological leads left dangling in the two most recent Layton games. After encountering ruins from the ancient Azran civilization, Professor Layton finds the most unbelievable relic yet: a "living mummy." The mummy, actually a girl named Aurora, inspires Layton to travel the globe on a hunt for lost Azran stones, all while staying a step ahead of the nefarious secret organization known as Targent.

Functionally, Azran is much the same as ever. You walk through odd locales and pump passersby for clues. Naturally, almost no one cooperates until you solve a puzzle. After five games, it's a well-worn pattern, but it's all so comfortable you are unlikely to mind.

The only major change to the formula is that the middle portion of Azran lets the player choose the order in which to explore the stones' locations. In the end, it hardly matters because you have to do all of them anyway, but it is nice to experience multiple mini-mysteries in wildly different locations.

There's a wide variety of puzzles — logic, number, organizing, even some that seem only possible in a video game — but the in-game hint system does a great job of making sure you can figure them out. Even if you do not want to devote the time and brain power required to de-stump every stumper, the game is so good that it's worth playing even if you cheat your way through using a strategy guide.

The series' signature element is that the puzzles are connected by a well-written, intriguing story told via top-notch animation and voice acting. Azran includes revelations about Professor Layton and builds a connection back to the first game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village (2008). The animated segments are a treat, with unnecessary but appreciated 3-D enhancement.

Azran also makes use of the 3DS's StreetPass feature to create a hidden-object-style puzzle to share with other players. However, it involves serious amounts of backtracking as you search out specific hidden objects, so it's probably the least interesting part of the package.

Between the story line, the side puzzles and unlockable content, Azran has hundreds of puzzles to chew on. New downloadable puzzles will be provided every day for a year, for free.

There is just no better puzzle game series out there. If Azran does stand as the last time we follow the good professor into the unknown, this is a fine game to end on.

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