Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is the sixth in the popular puzzle series. The total number of puzzles in the first five games is 776, so it's perhaps unsurprising that the developer is struggling for variety.
The 500+ new head-scratchers in the latest outing don't offer much that's new over the rest of the franchise, yet Azran Legacy manages to prove itself as one of the more memorable Layton titles thanks to a new non-linear story approach, and an entertaining trip around the world.
A Legacy to live by
Once again, Layton and co. have stumbled across a mystery that needs solving. Once again, this gives the Professor and his friends a first rate excuse to galavant about the place, pretending to have real jobs.
Strangely, many of the people that Hershel talks to won't give him straight answers, instead insisting that he solves some form of puzzle before they spill the beans. Fortunately, the Professor eats puzzles for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and frequently as a snack.
For the most part, Azran Legacy plays out much in the same way as every other Layton game. You stroll around each area, finding ways to push the story forwards, and every now and then scratching your noggin over a conundrum or two.
What makes this particular title so interesting compared with the others is its focus on non-linearity. Rather than blasting your way through a set A-to-B-to-C scenario as per all the other Laytons, Azran Legacy gives you a selection of different places to go.
You can even jump back out of a branching storyline and go somewhere else if you get stuck, or simply want a change of environment. It's not exactly true non-linearity - you still need to go to each place eventually, and the stories don't change depending on what order you visit in - but it still feels mighty refreshing in this context.
Lay it on me
What adds to this expanded exploration is the variety in places you get to visit.
The majority of Layton games see you visiting one single area, and trouncing around there for a solid 20+ hours. Azran Legacy sends you off all around the world, throwing lots of different scenarios your way.
Since the puzzles are becoming a tad stale - you can really feel the strain as the creators try to push another batch of 500 puzzles out of their brains - there's a notable focus on story this time around, and it works to the benefit of the experience.
Notably, there is one caveat to the branching paths approach - rather than giving you a single gigantic story, you're offered a collection of smaller ones. This means the game doesn't have the wiggle-room to really offer up any truly mind-blowing narrative, as the story paths are simply too short to do so.
But this is still a great Layton game through and through, enhanced further by some well-judged 3D effects. Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is rumoured to be the final outing with Hershel as the protagonist - if so, it's a wonderful send-off.