Widely acclaimed as one of the best puzzle game series of all time, Level-5’s Professor Layton stars the eponymous professor and his apprentice, Luke, following them as they travel around a bizarre and whimsical version of England, solving puzzles and crimes and generally breaking the laws of physics.
So here we have every Professor Layton game ranked. The games are known for their truly peculiar overarching plot explanations, unique character designs, inevitably bittersweet plots and of course, for shoehorning puzzles in wherever they can fit and even where they don’t.
With the announcement in February of the upcoming entry Professor Layton and the New World of Steam, the first new game in the series since 2017 and the first to star Layton himself since 2013’s Azran Legacy, we thought now was as good a time as any to sort through the entire Professor Layton series and rank the games from bottom to top.
For this list, we’re only including the mainline games, so you won’t see the Phoenix Wright crossover or the Layton Brothers spin-off.
Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaire’s Conspiracy
We’ll kick things off with the most recent entry in the series, Katrielle and the Millionaire’s Conspiracy. While Katrielle is a fine protagonist and an engaging character, she’s simply not as interesting as her father. Ernest, her assistant, is bland, and the fact that only they can understand talking dog Sherl is just plain weird. Add to this the fact that they’re not working towards any real overarching mystery, the cliffhanger ending, and the game’s weak puzzles, and it’s no wonder this game was poorly received.
It’s also worth noting that even the possibility of Layton having a biological child, after the heartbreaking backstory of his love life was brought up in past games, was not a particularly smart route to go down and one that was definitely going to bring on the fan ire. Tying the story into an anime series by obligation was also not the best choice for Western fans and a strange departure even for Japanese ones.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
Miracle Mask is by no means even close to a “bad” game, even though it ranks almost at the bottom of our list. Should you still play it? Yes, absolutely, it’s leagues above many other puzzle games out there. However, compared to other Professor Layton games, it’s definitely a bit lackluster. The 3D element of the 3DS is implemented in a rather clunky manner for the first go-round, and the weird circus setting isn’t the best.
As for the plot, it feels like it borrows a bit too much from Unwound Future but tries to remix it unsuccessfully, creating drama for drama’s sake. It was hard to care too much about any of the characters, despite their connections to Layton’s past. That being said, seeing more of Layton’s childhood and college years was a treat and very cute.
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
While Diabolical Box isn’t a bad game, it certainly doesn’t take the time to capitalize on everything that Curious Village lays out, and it’s pretty clear the devs were still finding their rhythm with the games. On the plus side, it includes more puzzles than Curious Village and has a spooky, enticing locale where the majority of the game takes place.
However, on the negative side, Flora is stuffed into a fridge for most of the game, the explanation for the overarching mystery is unsatisfying at best and a headscratcher in the worst way, and the game spends way too long on the train waiting to get to Folsense. It’s an uneven entry and the series is still trying to gets its bearings, but worth playing for the puzzles alone and for the Layton-esque atmosphere.
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy
The latest entry in the main series and the last time we’ve seen the Professor or Luke, Azran Legacy is a bit of a departure from previous games in terms of tone and the high stakes of the storyline. The game’s entire plot is much darker than anything in the series before it, and less whimsical. It’s a path that started in Miracle Mask but Azran Legacy takes it even further, which doesn’t completely work for the normally bittersweet yet optimistic series.
The storyline wraps up the prequel trilogy - even ending on a shot of Layton and Luke heading to St. Mystere from Curious Village - and finishes up Descole and Emmy’s character arcs, albeit in semi-unsatisfying ways. As ever, the puzzles are solid, and it irons out the wrinkles in Miracle Mask’s new 3D format, feeling smoother than the previous entry.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village
Professor Layton and the Curious Village is absolutely a classic for puzzle game fanatics everywhere, and it’s the game that launched the entire series; how could we not love it? That being said, while it provided a terrific blueprint for the later games in the series, it is notably lacking some polish, which is why we award it the bronze medal. It has the fewest puzzles in the series and a fairly short runtime too, which is disappointing on a replay, unless you happen to get really, really stuck.
Storywise, this game is a great and adorable introduction to all our main characters, Layton, Luke, Inspector Chelmey, Flora and for better or for worse, Don Paolo. The denouement at the end is bittersweet but also one of the most logical solutions in the Layton games. As a bonus, it also explains why there are so many puzzles in the game, an explanation that is chucked out for every subsequent game.
Professor Layton and the Last Specter
The start of the prequel trilogy, Professor Layton and the Last Specter is the last game released for the Nintendo DS and finally explains the backstory between Professor Layton and Luke, both their relationship and how they met. For that reason alone, it pushes the game further up the list, but add the London Life mini-game, which is practically an entire game in its own right, as well as an excellent set of puzzles, and you see why this game takes the silver medal.
It also introduces the Professor’s assistant, Emmy Altava, to replace Flora in the main group dynamics. Emmy is a great character, and much more assertive and less lady-like than Flora, quickly establishing herself as a fun addition to the group and not as a pale imitation. Emmy, along with the ridiculous solution to the town’s mystery and the impressive introduction of new recurring villain Descole, really set this entry head and shoulders above most of the others.
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
While assembling this list and ranking out the games was difficult, choosing Unwound Future for the top spot was the easiest decision. This game is absolutely peak Professor Layton, with engaging puzzles, an incredibly bittersweet story, wonderful characters and a bizarre world to explore with whimsical designs. The solution to the mystery is, as always, absolutely bonkers, and it works perfectly.
Unwound Future also hits just the right note revealing more about Layton and his past, though until the recently announced Layton sequel, the ending to the plot involving Luke and Layton is absolutely heartbreaking. The game also gets bonus points for being more involved with Flora and having her solve some of her own puzzles and for the neat way that it ties up the ongoing plot with Don Paolo.
So, that’s our rankings of all seven mainline Professor Layton games! Do you agree with our choices? Let us know in the comments below!