A less perplexing puzzler than expected

With its bounty of conundrums complemented well by a cast of charming charactersall wrapped in narratives that have players guessing until the very endthe Professor Layton series has established itself as one of gaming’s premier puzzle franchises. But it seems that even the brainy Layton couldn’t figure out one last riddle: how to end a prequel.

That’s not to say that Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is a bad game. In fact, it still hits many of those aforementioned franchise staples. Azran Legacy features more puzzles than any previous game in the series, and while some definitely require a lower barrier for entry than others, a few challenges will likely have even the most experienced puzzle fiend cashing in hint coins.

The game also offers a bevy of enjoyable minigames that unlock as you progress through the story, including a fashion-themed one wherein you try to put together the best-looking outfits for eight different ladies. I almost felt like Eric (our executive editor), with his love of Style Savvy! I had a lot more fun than I ever would’ve expected playing dress-up. There’s easily more content here than in any previous Layton game, and even if you do the bare minimum, you’re still looking at a solid 15-hour experience.

The cast is also just as lovable as ever. Whether it’s innocent Luke trying his best to impress his mentor or new characters like Aurora, who you’ll meet early on in the adventure, it’ll be hard for gamers of any age not to fall head over heels with the Professor and his crew. A big reason? There’s just as much effort put into the dialogue and rapport between characters as the puzzles themselves.

Azran Legacy falters in two key areas for me, though. The first is a technical issue. I’m among the few who actually likes using the 3D feature on Nintendo’s current handheld. Typically, I use it on just about every 3DS game I play. Using it during Azran Legacy, however, gave me a horrendous headache within five minutes. It might have something to do with the anime-style backgrounds and cutscenes, but I couldn’t find a slider setting or a position for the 3DS itself that didn’t make my head start pounding or cause most of the scenes come across a little fuzzy. Turning off the 3D is a small sacrifice, and an easy solution to a minor problem. Plus, the game still looks great in 2D (and this option nullified the pain!).

But something I couldn’t fix with the flick of a slider was the actual story. The plot of this particular Layton adventure is the weakest in the series. Part of this comes from the fact that it’s a prequel forced to tie up particular storylines in order to maintain the continuity established in The Curious Village. This corner that Level-5 painted themselves intoa pitfall in pretty much all prequelsleft the adventure absurdly predictable. Even the first two entries weren’t as unsurprising as this one; there, the writers still had room to maneuver narratively. Here, certain things had to happen, and I knew 20 minutes in how everything would unravel. The twist that usually comes at the end of every Layton game, therefore, was nonexistent here. Sure, the story shoehorns in some soap-opera-quality drama, but it’s so forced and so unnecessary that I could only shake my head in disappointment and power through the last dozen or so puzzles.

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is a valiant effort to show that there’s hope to be had for prequels, but in the end, it succumbs to all the same traps as many franchises before it, leaving it a bit bland and predictableespecially when compared to the rest of the series. This shouldn’t deter Professor Layton fans from the game, though. If you can look past the low points of the story, it’s still an exceptionally well-designed puzzler. If you’re looking for a game to simply promote more critical thinking, Professor Layton still reigns supreme.

Developer: Level-5 • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 02.28.14
With the most puzzles in series history, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy will force players to rack their brains, and the Professor and his crew are as lovable as ever. Unfortunately, the prequel limitations really put a crimp on the overall narrative.
The Good Puzzle-solving is still a lot of fun.
The Bad The story’s even more predictable than expected from this series.
The Ugly Not even Professor Layton can escape underwhelming prequels.
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive that was reviewed using a retail code from Nintendo.