Here's the thing about the Professor Layton series and me: I'm a fan.

I've been with this franchise since the beginning, back before I really had any concept of how big of a developer Level-5 would become. I liked it for its easy to ingest art style and its penchant for brain teasers.

Back when my gaming life consisted of little more than Mario Kart and Halo 3 on my roommate's projector in college, thanks to personal funds, I relied on games like the ones in the Layton series for my downtime. When I had enough of the pew pew, I could always turn to the professor for one of his adventures.

That's sort of how I started to view the Layton series. It was a break from everything else. A simple departure that could be taken in on a slow, methodical basis. It was how I relaxed.

I've been with every entry since the first, and I love each for its own set of puzzles and characters.

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is the second in the franchise for the Nintendo 3DS. It's been out in Japan since this time last year, and Europe saw a release in December. Now it's North America's turn, and here I am.

Lookin' Good

Right off the bat, especially if you skipped Miracle Mask on the 3DS, the first thing you'll notice about Azran Legacy is that it's easily the best looking Layton effort so far. This series has always had wonderful cutscenes done up in anime style, but the in-game stuff has always been just as interesting.

The in-game look of Azran Legacy looks especially good given the jump between the DS and 3DS. Instead of pointing and tapping on a stacking view, you'll move your view around and turn the scene about to look for clues, talk to people and initiate puzzles. The characters on screen out of cutscenes even look better than they did in Miracle Mask, a point that almost surprised me.

All of that twisting and turning means that the Nintendo 3DS' underutilized 3D feature actually has a reason to shine. Yep, even I turned the 3D slider on now and again during this game. I'm the type of player who rarely touches the 3D function on this handheld, but the locales and areas in Azran Legacy had me doing it quite often.

The character designs, the different environments, the small slices of town and the ruins of ancient times all look fantastic. This hand drawn charm has always been one of the drawing points of the Layton franchise, and it returns in spades here.

Pushing the aesthetics of the game even further is the soundtrack. If you've played this series before, you likely already have an idea of what to expect here. The tunes are all light hearted, whimsical and easy to enjoy. They stir up epic moments when necessary, but there's nothing quite like visiting a new town and slowly rolling over a gentle tune whilst hunting for hint coins.

More Puzzles Than Ever

While there's a charming story here, one that I won't ruin any further than the trailer ahead did, the real reason to dive into any Professor Layton title comes in the form of puzzles. Solving puzzles is a gentlemanly pursuit, or so our hero regularly tells us, and it's good news then that Azran Legacy packs more puzzles than any other game in the series.

If you never connect your 3DS to the Internet, you'll be able to enjoy 160 puzzles in this game. Hop online in order to download the free puzzles (that's right, free), and that total will increase to 550. That's 35 more than its nearest competition.

With 550 puzzles, I sort of assumed I'd encounter a whole lot more of the throwaway variety. You know, you enter the puzzle only to find that the wording is off or the logic is flawed in such a way that solving it really doesn't make sense. Nope. Not here.

I solved more than 150 puzzles on the way to writing this review, and I never once felt dumbfounded by the instructions or hints within. There were a few in previous games that left me baffled as to what, exactly, I should be doing. Here, the puzzles were just as tough, but the language presenting them to me seemed to work better.

My only complaint, really, is that the puzzles don't take advantage of the 3D function of the Nintendo 3DS as often as they should. There's one puzzle that does it semi-well. You rotate a camera round a set of characters in order to figure out why a certain hose isn't working. The 3D functionality is great at that point. The rest of the time? The puzzle happens on the bottom screen. It just seems like such an odd oversight.

Otherwise, if the main event of this series is puzzling, understand that the puzzles in Azran Legacy is top-notch. I loved them all.

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy - 7

One for the Fans

My one recommendation: take your time…enjoy a little bit of the tale and keep it in the background as a great break from real life.

At this stage in the Professor Layton franchise's life, Level-5 could practically put the beast on cruise control and enjoy the sales. Instead, it keeps on upping its game. More puzzles, better music, better art and a solid story all add up to yet another fantastic entry in a series that really didn't need much improvement.

If you're a fan of the Professor Layton series, Azran Legacy is an absolute no-brainer. The characters will delight, the story serves its purpose and there are enough puzzles here to keep you engaged for weeks on end.

My one recommendation: take your time. If I didn't have to play this game for a review, I would have let it bleed on for as long as possible. I'd solve a few puzzles a day, enjoy a little bit of the tale and keep it in the background as a great break from real life. That's how you should play these games. They're so good for that reason.

As for you newcomers: it might seem like there's a lot of lore to trudge through in order to get to the heart of this series, but there's not. There's a professor and a young boy who go on adventures to solve puzzles in this whacky world. Enjoy. That's all you need to know.

Level-5 has shown that Professor Layton isn't going anywhere anytime soon. All I know is this: I can't wait for the Phoenix Wright crossover.

We received a code to download and review Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy for the Nintendo 3DS from Nintendo. We completed the game's story before starting this review.

4.5 out of 5