Layton in another light: Enter the “Mystery Room”

Layton Brothers Mystery Room title screen

Today’s profile: Layton Brothers Mystery Room
Publisher: Level-5
Platform: Apple iOS (reviewed), Android
ESRB rating: N/A (but suitable for ages 12 and up)

By now it’s pretty well established that we — and by that I mostly mean “I,” although tag-team partner in fandom Jason Y. is certainly no stranger to the games, either — are huge fans of the Professor Layton and Ace Attorney (aka Phoenix Wright) series of games. So much that there was much crying (on my part) when the second Miles Edgeworth Investigations game was not released in the U.S., and much disdain (on many fans’ parts) when gaming website Kotaku revealed the reason for that. There was equally much tearing of hair as Capcom remained noncommittal about the release prospects for Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, the Nintendo 3DS game that pretty much is what the title says.

Fans such as myself might be eased somewhat in their pain with the recent release of the game Layton Brothers Mystery Room. As I commented to Jason while I was immersed in the first case, I felt like I was indeed playing a crossover of Layton and Ace Attorney. The caveat? It’s only for the iOS. Yes, only for Apple mobile devices, only for the iPhone and iPad.

(At least, it was so at the time I wrote this part of my review, which, admittedly, was back in July. Now, however, being that Mystery Room was recently released for Android devices, that’s kind of a moot point. But bear with me and my fangirl pain for at least the next few paragraphs.)

I will skip over the many exclamations of disbelief I used when I was made aware of that fact. Because, sadly, I have no such device. And I have no plans to buy one. Although, being as Layton- and AA-starved as I was, I had to admit I was teetering dangerously toward getting one. So much that I had to warn my husband (who is a rather staunch non-Apple user, but please don’t comment on that) of the possibility.

So how, one may ask, could I have been playing the game if I don’t have an iOS device? Simple: I had to beg Jason to borrow his. (I had actually been borrowing it for a different game; the release of Mystery Room was unexpected and caught me off guard. And I’m sure my fevered, delirious chats to Jason once I found out about it caught HIM off guard, as well.) He walked me through the steps of downloading and installing and BAM! I was soon back in the world of Layton.

Well, not really.

Continue reading “Layton in another light: Enter the “Mystery Room””

Deficiencies peek out from behind ‘Miracle Mask’

Layton coverToday’s profile: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
Publisher: Nintendo
System: Nintendo 3DS
ESRB rating: E10+ (suitable for everyone ages 10 and up)

For those of you who are still procrastinating on getting a gift for the gamer in your life, I’ve got a great suggestion: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask!

Yes, you knew this was coming — particularly because, well, this, this and this — and here it is.

But for this latest Layton series game, which was released Oct. 28, I’ll skip my unofficial tradition of recounting how insane I went trying to get the game on release day (mostly because I didn’t go as nuts this time around). I will say, however, that a certain store advertised it in its circular, I rushed to said store and got there before it opened, and there was one other customer actually trying to find the game along with me because it wasn’t out on the shelves, so we had to bug two separate sales associates, and the store had only 5 in stock, and WE SNAGGED TWO OF THEM.

In Miracle Mask, the titular professor Hershel Layton once again receives a letter from an old friend, this time from one Angela Ledore, whom he hasn’t heard from in many years. She talks about a personage calling himself the Masked Gentleman — and he does indeed wear one — who is terrorizing the desert oasis of Monte d’Or, a Las Vegas-type city that her husband, Henry, helped build from scratch into a haven of glitz and glamour in a mere 18 years. Angela, who was like a sister to Layton in his youth, asks the professor to investigate before these actions destroy the town.

74075_Animation_01_13_The Gentleman has been performing what he terms “dark miracles” — events that include the apparent transformation of people into horses, a cage full of Monte d’Or residents going up in flames but with those same people later found at home unharmed, and paintings suddenly coming to life with their subjects running out into the streets and wreaking injurious havoc. But what really clinches things for Layton is the mention of the Gentleman pulling off these stunts with the power of something called the Mask of Chaos — a relic from an ancient civilization and one that has a very personal connection to the professor.

Miracle Mask is the second prequel game, coming after Last Specter and before the animated movie Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva. Layton’s assistant from Last Specter, Emmy Altava, returns here along with his self-appointed apprentice, Luke Triton.

withi durin n the first 15 minutes you’re already treated to a bevy of new controls and animation
because you now have to essentially double-tap to find coins, it’s difficult to keep the magnifying glass in the same place
the space to input your answers is now on the touch screen
It makes for some extra work as you need to tap the arrow to pull up the text of the puzzle, but it’s also handy to be able to write down answers as you might think of them
controls take a bit of time getting used to. i kept tapping the suitcase when i wanted to move, as the move “shoe” icon was located there in previous games.

To envision this in 3-D, please print out this image, cut out the figures and hold them slightly above the background. Crinkle for texture.Within the first 15 minutes of the game, you’re treated to a bevy of new controls and animation. In-game characters are now drawn in 3-D (without needing to use the 3DS’s built-in ability), and although it’s strange at first, it grows on you soon enough. Most cut scenes are still done in the old 2-D style, but some scenes using the 3-D figures do come later in the game. They’re well done and the characters move as fluidly as in the regular 2-D animation, though they still give a sense of being slightly stiff marionettes.

Moving around town is a bit simpler. Instead of a Shoe icon as in previous games, a map of your current location and adjacent areas appears on the 3DS’s touch screen. Places you can move to are marked as orange dots; touch the desired dot to move there, and the location will show up on the upper screen. In this way, you move through Monte d’Or.

However, exploring is a little more complicated than before. Along with the familiar Trunk icon on the touch screen is a magnifying glass, which is the Investigation icon. To check around an area, first you must tap that magnifying glass to enter Investigation mode, which causes a corresponding glass to appear on the upper screen. Instead of tapping madly, you now slide the stylus on the touch screen to move the magnifying glass over the area. The glass will turn orange when you land on something of interest; tapping on it then reveals a person with something to say (and very likely with a puzzle to throw your way); a distinct feature of the town, with commentary from Layton, Emmy and Luke (and all three of them WILL comment); a hidden puzzle or treasure; or a hint coin.

Sometimes the glass will turn blue, denoting a place to zoom into. Zooming in uncovers deeper areas, along with more people and treasures.

Adding to the complexity: Locations now extend beyond the dimensions of the 3DS’s physical screen, so you need to move all around while in Investigation mode to see everything possible. This could prove slightly dizzying if you’re like me, wiggling the magnifying glass all over everything to try to find every nook and cranny where the glass might turn orange or blue and reveal secret items.

The controls do take some getting used to. Because of the disconnect between the movement of the magnifying glass and your control of it, and because of the lag the 3DS has in responding to stylus movements, it can be hard to home in on points of interest if, like me, you slide the thing around rapidly and keep passing over the precise point where the glass turns orange. You now have to double-tap to grab hint coins, and it’s difficult to keep the magnifying glass in the same place to do so. I also kept accidentally tapping the Trunk icon when I wanted to move to another area, as the Shoe icon was located in that spot in previous games.

Yes, there's a puzzle involving Layton's hat. There always is. Luke's hat? Never. But Layton? Every single game.Then there are the puzzles themselves. The mandatory, zero-picarat “puzzles” that must be solved to advance the game make a reappearance — mostly in the form of multiple-choice questions as Layton and the police are dissecting the Masked Gentleman’s “miracles” — and there is no loss if you don’t quite solve it the first time around. Other puzzles are standard Layton franchise fare, and none (that I’ve found so far) take advantage of the console’s 3-D ability. What they have added are mostly aesthetics: The puzzle and the space to input your answer will be on the touchscreen, and some kind of animation will often be on the upper screen — such as little statues of cats jumping over each other when trying to clear a board of all but one statue, or pizza slices flipping upside down and right side up as you try to get the entire pizza facing the correct way up.

Because of this, the text of the puzzle is hidden, though you can easily pull it up again by tapping on the arrow to make it appear on whichever screen you choose. It makes for a little extra work, but it’s also handy to be able to write down answers as you might think of them.

But similar to investigating areas, there’s a disconnect in the controls in some puzzles, such as one in which you must guide a ladybug around a corncob that has had pathways “eaten” into the corn. The corn and ladybug appear on the upper screen, while on the touch screen there is a “dial” that rotates 360 degrees and that is used to direct the ladybug’s movements. Again, the lag in reaction time means you often find yourself smacking the bug against a wall of corn or missing the intersection you wanted to take. It’s a good thing running into corn is harmless in this case, as opposed to, say, trying to maneuver the bug around a maze atop lava and trying not to fall off the edge into the lava below.

Silly rabbit, tricks are for kiGAH LOOK OUT FOR THAT TREEAnd, of course, there are the usual mini games found in the Professor’s Trunk. This time, you have to train a lazy rabbit to perform actions in stories on stage so the circus ringmaster will allow him back into the circus. (After awhile, your rabbit becomes your hint-coin-finding helper, appearing every so often to warn you of coins that you missed in a particular scene. However, the rodent’s more useless than animals in previous games because all it does is pop up in the corner and doesn’t point out the exact location of the coin.) Another is a robot game in which you must guide a toy robot to land on a goal while avoiding enemies. The last is the one I had the most fun with: a shop game in which you arrange items on the shelves in such a way that the customer will be enticed into buying out the entire stock in one fell swoop. Successfully complete the mini games to unlock more difficult puzzles in the Bonus section.

But the most fascinating part of “Miracle Mask” is the Ruins Mode, which is more of an action-adventure that’s easier to play using the D-pad and buttons. The Ruins are an integral part of the game, so without giving too much away, I will say that the first few rooms offer a tutorial into how to make your way through the Ruins, although the first room you come across with an obvious solution to veteran adventurers is painful as you watch Layton go through the motions of being at first unable to solve it.

Ruins Mode is where the game really gets exciting because it’s so different from the usual puzzles. (Plus, those mummies are actually kind of scary. My heart was pounding when they closed in on me as I tried desperately to run to safety.) The concept is simple: Each room has a mixture of enemies, obstacles, switches and rocks, and you must use some things and avoid others to get to the door at the other end of the room to advance. Hint coins are occasionally buried in the ground, marked quite obviously by a glowing yellow light.

The Ruins are also a turning point in the story, when you discover exactly what happened that affected Layton — and indeed his entire life — so drastically.

In this scene, Luke gets in some needed "point with conviction and purpose!" training, foreshadowing his meeting with Phoenix Wright and Maya Fey in "Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney." (Or not.)And ah, the story. Perhaps I’m getting a bit desensitized to the plot lines in the Layton series, but in this regard the series seems to be failing. While uncovering the secrets within Monte d’Or is certainly engrossing, the denouement is more of a disappointment now than in previous games. Instead, they seem to be focusing on the larger, overarching story — if you recall the end of Last Specter, you know there’s something bigger going on, and the end of Miracle Mask advances that.

It’s really the promise of how everything comes together in what’s supposed to cap this second Layton trilogy that’s making me look forward to the sixth game — no longer is the prospect of solving more brain teasers as much of a draw as it was when I first discovered this series. In fact, I haven’t downloaded a single daily puzzle — oh yes, there are daily, rather than weekly, downloadable puzzles in Miracle Mask — nor have I been as eager to go back and find all the hidden puzzles and solve all the 80-picarat brain-busters. I haven’t even been tempted to enter the secret code from Last Specter to unlock the mystery goodies. The difficulty of the puzzles seems to be ramped up in this game — I probably used more hint coins in this game than the previous five combined — which might also explain my dampened enthusiasm for unlocking all of them.

Overall, I still enjoy the series. The great interactions between Layton, Emmy and Luke, the dialogue of other characters, and the excellent voice acting make “Miracle Mask” another worthy addition. But the series also seems to be wearing out its welcome. (For one thing, just how many depressing things can we believe the professor’s gone through without snapping?) The fan in me is more than a little ready to move on after the sixth game … or perhaps to Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, Capcom? Level-5? Just a suggestion.

The Cel Shaded Report, 9/21: Mini Con, meet maxi-fun

Mini Con 2012 flyerYou might call it the Little Convention That Could, or perhaps Artist Alley Con 2012, but one thing’s for certain: Mini Con is back for a third year at the McCully-Moiliili Library. And, pardon the cliche, it’s bigger and better than ever! No, really, it’s gotten to the point where it’s started to spill out from the meeting room in which it’s traditionally been held, taking over an area known as the children’s storywell near the circulation desk as well. Sure, it’s no Ala Moana Hotel-to-convention center transition like Kawaii Kon in its third year, or Blaisdell Exhibition Hall-to-Aloha Tower Marketplace like the Hawaii Entertainment Expo in its third year, but still.

Subscribers to this fine publication saw our writeup about it last Saturday in the Today section’s weekly “Kalakoa!” roundup, but for those of you who aren’t subscribers (and why not? It’s cheap, plus it ensures that I have enough money to eat and keep a roof over my head), here’s a recap: Come on down to the library on Saturday, dress up in your favorite costume and get prizes, watch free anime, and meet many cool people including:

  • Jon Murakami, the artist behind Gordon Rider, our paper’s Calabash strip and a number of children’s books and greeting cards.
  • Audra Furuichi and Scott Yoshinaga, Team Kimonokitsy Studios and purveyors of fine plush pup swag for more than six years running now.
  • Kevin Sano, a Crazy Shirts designer who’s also produced some neat prints inspired by Kikaida characters that will be available for sale. Debuting this year: four Hakaida prints.
  • Members of Pen & Ink Works, the anime/manga-inspired art group that debuted at this event last year. Artist Tara Tamayori will be talking about inking techniques at noon, and one-on-one consultations with artists of all skill levels will be available.
  • And new this year, welcome Misty-Lynn Sanico and Alex Alba — and mascot Wormy! — of Hawaii Reads (formerly Hawaii Book Blog), who will be handing out bookmarks and spreading the word about their site, which promotes and examines local literature.

You can also watch your friendly neighborhood Star-Advertiser anime/manga blogger run around taking pictures but generally not saying very much because, even though he just turned 18 (*mumble*timestwo*mumble*) last Saturday, he’s still kinda shy.

Need more convincing? It took one year and 11 days, as well as a leap into the Flickr pool, for me to get this up and running, but I’m finally ready to present some of the highlights I captured from last year’s event. Since it’s been a few months since I posted my last Flickr gallery, here’s a refresher course on how best to use it: To start the slideshow, just press the “play” button in the middle of the frame below. Pause and restart using the button on the lower left. If you want a larger view, click on the icon on the lower right; in that full-screen view, you can also see the captions I’ve written for each picture (using the “Show Info” link) or slow down the automatic scrolling (using the “Options” link). Finally, if you’re viewing this blog on an iOS device (iPad/iPod Touch) and can’t view Flash plug-ins, or if you just want to skip all the slideshow fiddling and go straight to the gallery, here’s the direct gallery link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sumiyoshi/sets/72157631579553092/

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=109615

There’s much fun to be had, for sure. I think there’s too much to cram into three hours like previous years, so this year, Mini Con is lasting a whole extra hour, running from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The library is at 2211 S. King St., and once again I must add the customary disclaimer: Parking in the immediate area is limited, so arrive early, carpool or use public transportation. For more information, visit the Mini Con Facebook page, which is also available to non-Facebook users.

The complete HEXXP 2012 guest roster, take 2

hexxp-logoI really meant for last week’s Cel Shaded Report to be the last major update on the Hawaii Entertainment Expo (HEXXP) story until the event itself. Maybe there would be a few little details to add to the “More From the Anime News Desk” section, but that was it — the guest roster was locked and loaded, the schedule of events was posted, I think it’s time we blow this scene, get everybody and their stuff together, OK, three, two, one, let’s jam.

… and then I went and forgot to put voice actress Megumi Nakajima on the list. This happened despite the fact that the Aug. 2 Cel Shaded Report was about her and all.

Whoops.

Sigh.

So in the interest of being one-stop-shopping complete, let’s try this again. Here is the full guest list for this year’s HEXXP:

  • Angel Anatomy, musical duo with a style that’s “ambient, classical, industrial, and a touch of opera”
  • Akiakane, noted Nico Nico Douga/YouTube utaite (cover artists who perform Vocaloid songs and other anime/video game /J-Pop pieces)
  • Atelier Pierrot, a clothing brand known for its EGL (elegant gothic lolita) styles
  • Andy Lee, modern zen painter and illustrator who’s done work for DC and Marvel Comics
  • Livetune, music mastermind behind the Hatsune Miku Re:package and Tell Your World albums
  • DJ MaRia, Avex Entertainment’s resident DJ for House Nation, “the most famous house music party in Japan”
  • Megumi Nakajima, voice of Ranka Lee in Macross Frontier and Chiho and Chise Mihara in Kobato
  • N.S.D.P., J-rock band
  • Royalvana, online purveyors of Japanese GAL fashion
  • Sana, visual kei guitarist
  • Nobuo Uematsu, music composer for many games in the Final Fantasy franchise, who’ll be performing with his band, the Earthbound Papas
  • Kazuki Yao, voice of Franky in One Piece
  • Joji Yoshida, local actor

HEXXP is happening Oct. 19-21 at the Aloha Tower Marketplace. I mentioned last week that the Slopes of Diamondhead Hui’s “Crazy, Sexy, Ghoul” Halloween party/Make-A-Wish Hawaii fundraiser would be running up against the convention’s Friday night programming; it’s since come to my attention that Scare Hawaii’s “Terror at the Tower” haunted house will also be running concurrently in the same area all weekend, from 6 p.m. through midnight. My advice is very similar to the Mini Con item above: Carpool, take a bus or taxi, or be prepared to either walk from a downtown lot or pay for valet parking. Parking in the immediate vicinity will be tight.

For more information, visit www.hexxp.com. You can also preregister there, but there’s now another way you can get your tickets: Groove Ticket outlets at Local Motion stores statewide, including the Ala Moana, Waikele, Windward Mall, Hawaii Kai and Sheraton Waikiki locations on Oahu; Kihei, Kaahumanu Shopping Center in Kahului and Lahaina on Maui; and the Queens Market Place in Waikoloa on Hawaii island.

More from the anime news desk

Kawaii Kon:It’s late September, but it’s never too early to start thinking about next year and the local anime convention’s ninth annual installment. If you ever wanted to sign up to be a volunteer worker, your time is now: The first of four volunteer staff meetings is being held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Kakaako Waterfront Park. (You’ll have to attend at least two out of those four meetings to qualify as a volunteer.) Bring your properly filled-out forms, available at http://www.kawaii-kon.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=7508.

MangaBento: This group of anime- and manga-inspired artists meets from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Honolulu Museum of Art School, 1111 Victoria St., Room 200. Visit www.manga-bento.com for more information.

Comic Jam Hawaii: Local artists gather to draw collaborative cartoons and other artwork and talk story, 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Kahala Mall, center court area. East-siders, take note: This is the last time they’ll be at Kahala Mall, as they’ll be shifting their sessions to Pearlridge starting next month. Visit http://www.facebook.com/groups/147779161986428/ (Facebook login required).

Specter of disappointment loomed large

As the scheduled October release date approaches for the fifth game in the much-heralded “Professor Layton” series, subtitled “Miracle Mask,” let us have a little retrospective on the previous game, “Professor Layton and the Last Specter” for the Nintendo DS.

I think every time a new game in the “Layton” series comes out, I also hit a new low in terms of desperation and sanity loss.

lastspecter_coverFor “Last Specter,” I actually started an intermittent countdown to its release date on my Twitter feed. The only reason it was intermittent was because the surrounding days also happened to be chock full of personal stuff that prevented my fangirl mind from drooling over the impending “Layton” release every second.

Two nights before the scheduled release, my mind slowly started whirring. Very slowly, because the aforementioned personal stuff was still in full swing and still taking up the majority of my brain power. But apparently my hysteria takes an amazingly short time to spool up to sky-high levels, as evidenced by the fact that I was already trolling the website of the particular store that I bowled into last year to get the previous “Layton” game, hoping to find that store’s new Sunday ad to check if they’d have the game on the day of release. Keep in mind that I was frantically trying to get this information on Saturday night. I figured that hey, it was already midnight on the East Coast by this time, surely the latest flyer would be posted!

I found the ad and rapidly flipped through the digital pages. Much to my disappointment, the game was not listed. I then decided to check certain other likely stores’ websites, hoping for a glimmer of hope in once again getting the game two hours earlier, as with what happened with “Unwound Future.” Still nothing. My despair was growing.

Being that “Last Specter” was released nearly a year ago, I can no longer remember the exact sequence of events that led up to me eventually getting the game in my hands on the afternoon of the release date — which, as tag-team-partner-in-fandom Jason Y. tells me, was a moving target, with the date having been changed several times. I do not remember any of that, so I can no longer write about it. Which is probably just as well, considering the already pathetic state of my mind as evidenced by previous paragraphs. I do remember that Jason managed to snag me a copy on the morning of release at a certain big-box store that we never thought about checking originally, which hopefully means that I have more options this year for getting “Miracle Mask” early in the morning. I cannot remember how my feverish fangirl self managed to survive that ENTIRE MORNING knowing that “Last Specter” was available on the mainland but might very well not exist here on our little island in the Pacific. I can only barely remember reading the instruction book and then popping the game in my Nintendo DS.

So anyway. “Last Specter” is the first of a prequel trilogy to the “Professor Layton” games in which we see how the good professor and his young apprentice Luke first met. The game opens with Layton at his office at Gressenheller University, where he receives a certain letter that causes him to drop everything and rush out — although not, of course, without first having a spot of tea freshly brewed by his housekeeper, Rosa.

As Layton drives away, he runs into — or more appropriately, is chased down by — a young woman named Emmy Altava, who was hired by the dean to be the professor’s new assistant. He has Emmy read the letter, which is from his old friend Clark Triton, the mayor of the town of Misthallery. The town is being destroyed by a mysterious giant, and Clark asks his friend to investigate. But there’s also a hidden message in the letter that makes Layton think there’s much more going on. Emmy accompanies him to Misthallery and they meet with Clark.
Something dastardly is happening in the town of Misthallery, and Mayor Clark Triton asks his old friend Layton and the professor's assistant Emmy to investigate. --Courtesy GamesPress
The mayor is glad to see Layton, but he denies sending the letter that brought the professor into town. Eventually they discover that Clark’s son, Luke, was the one who sent the message. The boy has become somewhat of a recluse since the specter arrived; he desperately needs to talk someone to about the incidents, which is why he enlisted Layton’s help. Turns out that Luke is able to predict the specter’s attacks, and according to his calculations, one is scheduled that night. Layton, Emmy and Luke hurry off to the North Ely part of town to uncover what they can about this destructive giant.

“Last Specter” has all the familiar aspects. Anyone who’s played previous games will immediately fall into the well-worn routine of tapping madly around each scene to find hint coins. It was worse for me in this game after I discovered that the availability of hint coins within each screen is triggered by certain events — not all the hint coins will be there the first time you visit, so it will take several visits to grab all the coins in one scene. This causes some funny breaks in the storyline:

  • “Oh, there’s the door. Let’s knock!” — But first, let me tap around for hint coins.
  • “Look, there’s a bell on the counter. Let’s ring it and see what happens!” — Yeah, after I tap around for hint coins.
  • “Come on, we need to hurry to North Ely before the specter appears!” — Wait, I have to tap around for hint coins!

Again, “Last Specter” includes some improvements over the previous game — or perhaps “twists” is a better word. Characters once again move animatedly onscreen in the same manner I noticed in “Unwound Future,” but now the environment itself is much more interactive — signs at a rope bridge tilt or twist when you tap on them, mailboxes open and shut, sunlight fades in and out of a shady forest, a woman’s luggage falls off a cart. (I tried to tap on that last one to replace it on the wagon after being alarmed by its unexpected falling-off, but to no avail.)

Lead a tiny kitty out of a maze by tempting her with fresh fish. You'll see the cat run up to each fish and gobble it up. --Courtesy GamesPressSome of the puzzles are more dynamic, as well. One brain teaser requiring you to fill buckets at water fountains shows the containers being filled and makes splashing noises when you trace your path near the fountains. Another, in which you must lead a cat out of a maze by using fish as bait, shows the tiny kitty running to each fish and quickly devouring it until nothing but bones are left.

Something else new are mandatory puzzles that, unlike regular ones that are preceded by the well-known “Puzzle!” marker, are introduced with the “Layton” logo and are built directly into the storyline without necessarily having to initiate conversation with a villager. They must be solved to advance the story, but are worth zero picarats and are usually more interactive than normal puzzles.

One thing I’m not particularly pleased with is the increase in the number of puzzles that require you to rotate pieces before putting them into place. As I noted in “Unwound Future,” the game and/or touch screen isn’t often sensitive enough, or perhaps it’s too picky — a lot of times I found myself rotating a piece when I wanted to slide it into place, and vice versa, causing a lot of frustration.

One neat new feature is you can now move around the shoe and suitcase icons to wherever you want them to sit on the screen. Now left-handers will no longer have to bear the indignity of blocking their screens when moving to tap on the respective icons. Although a caveat is the location of hint coins — you might inadvertently be obstructing your way to a coin by moving the icons, so I choose to leave them in their default placements.

Another thing that’s been changed — at least after you solve a certain small number of puzzles — is the screen that comes up after you input your answer, in which you see one of the game’s characters reacting to whether your answer was correct. It’s now a kind of sliding puzzle rather than showing the person’s plain expression, so you can’t tell which way your answer is going until the last second. It’s not something that matters much in the long run, but it was nice to have a little more forewarning as to whether you’ll be doing the puzzle again.

The conversation that comes up when tapping items is also kind of annoying — the dialogue appears the first time you tap on something when you enter a screen, no matter HOW many times you’ve visited the screen before — but I guess it’s slightly less irritating than previous games, which would bring up the same dialogue EVERY SINGLE TIME you tapped a particular item.

But the biggest change is the fact that “Last Specter” is not just one game. It’s TWO games: Included on the same DS card is a role-playing game called “London Life.”

As a fan of “Layton,” I was, of course, drawn to “Last Specter” for the simple fact that it was another game in the series. The addition of “London Life” was just a bonus for me, aside from the usual in-game secrets to find and mini games to complete and weekly downloadable puzzles. And as I am generally an anti-spoiler person, I didn’t try to look up any details of what this “London Life” was supposed to encompass, although the title alone is pretty much a dead giveaway.

The first 'request' you'll get is to talk to your new landlady, Ingrid, outside the house you'll soon be living in.And “dead” is certainly what it sounds like. Despite my determination to not follow news of the game, I couldn’t help but pick up bits and pieces. It seemed as though the RPG consists mainly of Layton and Luke walking around and, well, doing everyday stuff. Now while this might sound like an incredibly dull premise, one must remember the wild success of Nintendo’s “Animal Crossing” — a game in which all you do is gather fruit and lumber and whatnot, ride the train, visit friends in neighboring towns, comb for seashells and fossils, all in the name of stashing up cash to buy cute stuff to decorate your home. In other words, Life.

“London Life” sets the tone for cuteness and a bit of surprise, with one introductory screen cautioning of the tiny populace, clothing, and plants within, and another warning: “This game is played with the Control Pad and buttons. Put away your stylus!” It was a concept that admittedly was rather foreign on the touch-screen DS, as I kept tapping the screen intermittently during the character creation portion to make my choices. I quickly got the hang of this strange “D-pad and buttons only” scheme, however, and I was on my way to picking various appearance and personality traits and playing some ordinary, brown-haired, punk-styling female with a sweet tooth in Little London.

You’ll meet some familiar characters — Sammy the rock-n-rolling conductor and the Molentary Express from “Diabolical Box” are the first you’ll encounter — along with plenty of ordinary townspeople.

I got a kick out of seeing what stuff is available for you to do in this game, just by checking out your stats in the menu. Among other things are counters for Flowers Picked and Fish Caught, and options for the (rather mysterious) Livelihood and Newspaper (both of which are locked at the beginning of the game but I’m sure will be made clear later).

One of the first jobs you can do for money is picking up litter around the town. Someone's gotta do it, I guess.Aside from that, this really does start off as “Life.” Check all your surroundings by simply going up to an item and pressing A, and you’ll get descriptions that are funny in their ordinary-ness. You go around completing “requests” that the townspeople give, which start off pretty mundane at the beginning: The first “request” you get is to see your new landlady, who then gives you another “request” to register your address at City Hall, and then “requests” that you visit the department store. It’s not all worthless, at least: All these manini tasks add to your Happiness score.

One extremely useful control to remember: Press the B button while walking to walk faster. It will relieve most of the boredom that comes from strolling about Little London when you want your promenade to be more brisk than leisurely.

It’s all somehow entertaining in its simplicity and stupidity. At one point I put my DS to sleep and recounted to my ever-patient fiance the first few moments of life in Little London, with these constant and rather silly “requests” that aren’t really anything such.

“See,” my fiance responded. “I told you it was going to be a quest-based game. And you keep doing them again and again, so they’re ‘re-quests’!”

My fiance is one of the kings of bad puns.

Don’t knock “London Life,” though. I found it strangely addicting, but it’s perhaps because I have an affliction for exploring and discovering things, as Nintendo’s “Legend of Zelda” series has ingrained in me. Echoes of the DS game “Hotel Dusk” (which I previously reviewed) by the late, lamented Cing are here as well, with the silly descriptons of plants, furniture, and other ordinary objects almost as fun to read as Kyle Hyde’s comments are in “Hotel Dusk.”

Overall, though? There’s a reason why this review is coming nearly a year after “Last Specter” was released. There was just something about the game’s story that didn’t hold my attention as much as previous ones. The first “Layton” game, “Curious Village,” certainly set the series’ precedent for off-the-wall explanations, but I was already tired of that implausibility by the second game, “Diabolical Box.” The secret behind this game’s titular specter could be seen from a mile away, although the secrets beyond THAT were a little more engaging, at least.

Still, I’m a fan and I fully intend to immerse myself in the next game, “Miracle Mask.” I’m interested in seeing how they incorporate 3-D into the puzzles, if at all. At the same time, I’m hoping that 3-D won’t be essential in too many of them, given how easily it strains the eyes, and when a puzzle stumps me, I can be staring at the screen for hours.

And, of course, here’s hoping that I’ll actually find a copy of the game on the scheduled release date of Oct. 28.