Lost Future explored the origins of our hero, and this game takes us back to the early days of his sidekick, young Luke. Essentially a prequel, Last Specter is the story of Layton and Luke's first mystery together. When Layton meets the young man, he's not the scamp we've seen before, that chipper boy with the pluck of a Dickensian bootblack. Rather, he's a sullen kid trapped in an affluent but troubled household. This gloomier chapter to his story adds dimension to Luke. While the Layton games are formulaic, Level-5 also uses each new entry in the series to deepen their characters a little, and the progress is appealing.
Like the original Japanese release, the North American Last Specter cartridge also includes Professor Layton's London Life, an entirely separate game that has practically nothing to do with the familiar Layton adventures. Set in a quaint dollhouse version of London where the citizens are all characters from the Layton universe, you play a fresh-faced newcomer who's out to make a living in the big (but tiny) city.
London Life is cut from the same cloth as life-simulation games like Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon, although it's daintier and faster moving than either of those. You find a job to amass wealth, and you spend that wealth, with brings you happiness. That happiness in turn makes you more efficient at your job, which brings in more wealth, and so on, like one long Karl Marx acid trip.
The mini-game-centric career paths are hit or miss - it's hard to make trash-collecting fun - but London Life is a pleasant delight overall. The basis for its charm is found in the career-specific nuances that emerge as your quest advances, and in the little interactions you have with the tiny but fully realised denizens of the fair city.
If you live in actual London, however, your cartridge doesn't come with London Life. Japan, North America, and Australia get this rather huge bonus; the U.K. and the rest of Europe don't. It's the kind of tedious, infuriating localisation strategy that Nintendo still holds over from the 8-bit era, when it was possible to keep people on distant shores from knowing they were getting the short end of the stick.
Even the varying titles of the game betray the fingerprints of busybodies in corner offices. The game I reviewed is called "Professor Layton and the Last Specter," and the game that will be released in the U.K. is called "Professor Layton and the Spectre's Call." Read those two titles out loud; the difference you hear is the sound of a marketing executive justifying his salary.
That's all this is, really. Somebody in a thousand-dollar suit typed up an ingenious little global-sales strategy, broke it down into PowerPoint-friendly bullet points and presented it to a room full of other suits. Nintendo may plan to release London Life as a separate title in the U.K., but that information is kept secret from the public, because The Strategy says so. After all, conventional wisdom holds that people in thousand-dollar suits must know what they're talking about. This is why we hate conventional wisdom.
(It is, of course, possible to stick it to the man and import the U.S. version of the game. But be prepared to deal with the fact that words like "favorite" are spelled without a "U." It's my understanding that this type of thing infuriates certain people.)
We don't know what we want until we know we can't have it. In Lost Future, there's a sweets vendor who refuses to sell her confections to anyone but children. Suddenly, even though she was perfectly content before that moment, Professor Layton's research assistant Emmy wants nothing more than a candy cane. The professor himself, ever the reasonable sort, couldn't care less.
Without the tangentially related bonus pack-in, Last Specter would just be another rich, satisfying Layton adventure. It offers the same delight and entertainment as any of the past Layton games. A rational mind would conclude that there's no reason to be less satisfied this time around, yet the average European gamer is going to be miffed that the rest of the world gets to enjoy something extra. Which one are you? My guess is that we're all more average than we'd like to think.