The Professor Layton series is unique in Nintendo’s catalogue because it’s a million-selling franchise that has gained worldwide fame, yet it’s not based on characters that existed prior to the release of its host platform, the Nintendo DS.

The first Layton title – Professor Layton and the Curious Village – was released only three years ago, making his meteoric rise to fame all the more incredible.

However, within seconds of booting up this latest DS adventure, it’s clear why the series has achieved this astonishing degree of global success. Not only is it visually alluring – with a unique European style that calls to mind to mind the work of renowned French animator Sylvain Chomet – but it’s also addictive, gratifying, and fun.

Elementary, my dear Luke

Although it must have entered into the realms of common knowledge by now, the core gameplay of Professor Layton deserves a summary. The titular hero – an intellectual fellow with powerful skills of deduction and a natty line in tall hats – solves various mysteries with the assistance of his young and enthusiastic apprentice, Luke Triton.

In the case of Lost Future, the intrepid duo is attempting to get to the bottom of a time-traveling escapade that would make Marty McFly scratch his head in befuddlement. The storyline is wonderfully told via static dialogue sequences, speech, and exquisitely animated cut-scenes, and takes many devious twists and turns before finally giving up its thrilling conclusion.

However, the game’s action is propelled forward not by plot points but puzzles. To make progress in Lost Future you need to solve various conundrums based around logic, numeracy, memory tasks and other brain-busting problems.

Puzzling stuff

Solving these puzzles in as few attempts as possible yields Picarats, which act as the game’s currency. The difficulty of the tasks is perfectly balanced, and the game rarely puts you in a position where you become frustrated. For those moments when you truly are stumped, you can purchase hints with special coins.

Purists will no doubt scoff at this method of solving the challenges, but this system helps keep the aggravation level low. There’s also a Super Hint option, which costs two coins and only becomes available when you’ve exhausted the three initial hint choices. This practically solves the puzzle for you, and should only be used as a last resort.

Outside the abundant brainteasers, you can take time out by filling picture books with stickers gained from successfully solving puzzles. There’s also a lightweight but enjoyable toy car mini-game, where you lay down markers to guide a small vehicle around an item-filled maze. Finally, there’s a mode which allows you to direct the fruit-delivering flights of a friendly parrot. This trio of challenges is peripheral to the core gameplay of Lost Future, but they offer up a pleasant way to unwind after hours of furious detective work in the main quest.

With 165 different problems to solve, Lost Future is likely to keep even the most devoted Layton fan very busy. However, it goes without saying that once the game has surrendered all of its secrets and you’ve busted every last mystery, there’s little reason to return – aside from to experience the excellent storyline and better your Picarat haul on the some of the more challenging puzzles.

Despite the questionable replay value, it’s hard to grumble too much when the game itself is of such an impeccably high standard. Level-5 has managed to draw together a gripping plot, rewarding puzzles, and a level of presentation that is so impressive it puts to shame similar titles on rival formats. Layton is unquestionably the king of the genre, and this latest instalment is as good – if not better – than the games that came before it.

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