There has, over the last few years, been one game series I’ve always wanted to get into, but for one reason or another never actually picked up. That would be the puzzle-adventure series from Level-5 starring Professor Hershel Layton and his plucky sidekick, Luke. There have been four games released for the Nintendo DS and now, with their newest handheld firmly in place, the series makes the jump to the 3DS with Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask. I’m finally getting my chance to see what all the fuss has been about and, considering how much I enjoy puzzle games, it could be the perfect time to hop into the franchise.
What You Need to Know
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is the first entry for the 3DS and as such it upgrades some of the game’s previously created systems. The game takes place in a city known as Monte d’Or, which grew from nothing in the desert to be a bustling tourist destination thanks to its hotels, circus and the infamous exploits of someone known as the Masked Gentleman. This man is terrorizing the town, performing “miracles” courtesy of the titular Mask of Miracle. Layton comes to town with his assistant Emmy and apprentice Luke, to help one of the professor’s childhood friends get to the bottom of all of the goings on. You use the 3DS touchscreen to explore the many shops, sights and locations throughout the city. Virtually every citizen you meet will have a puzzle for you to solve. Also, there are many extra things to do outside of the investigation and puzzle solving.
Professor Layton games are all about the puzzles and there are plenty to be found in this game. Somewhere between 100 and 150 puzzles await your brain power and many characters won’t talk to you until you’ve solved their puzzle. Hint coins can be found littered throughout the environment, so if you’re finding some of the puzzles to be frustrating you can spend those coins to unlock up to three hints to help find the solution.
Many of the puzzles will also take advantage of the 3DS depth to enhance them in some small way; like ladybugs that have become separated on an ear of corn and you need to rotate it to find the path to reunited them. Not only that but the enhanced resolution of the 3DS screen makes the puzzles look that much better. The varying art styles presented also mean you’ll never get bored seeing the same characters over and over again.
I found there to be some odd spikes in the puzzle difficulty where one would require the use of all three hints and multiple failed attempts to find the solution only to be followed by a puzzle that the answer just seems to jump right out at me. Many of the puzzles can be solved at a later point but some of them are required to progress the story.
Can I Have a Layton Anime Please?
One of the most striking things about this title is how beautiful it is to look at. The game’s many cutscenes are done in fully animated, fully voiced features that left me longing for a 23 or 24 episode series on DVD. The 3D adds a little depth to them, but just works to enhance the gorgeous hand-drawn art style. Being on the 3DS the developers have taken the opportunity to give all of the characters a bit of an upgrade, moving from flat 2D images to fully rendered 3D models and, with the exception of Layton’s unusually shaped head, all look stunning. While I don’t have much personal experience with the series previously, I’ve seen comparisons from the previous games and they have done a very solid job of adding depth to these characters that makes them believable.
The environments you explore are full of vibrancy and color. It reminds me of pictures from something out of Cirque de Solei, the Vegas Strip or the Ringling Brothers circus. Many of the characters you meet have exaggerated features that brim with personality. Each of these characters also spring to life in the segments where they are talking, of which there are plenty. They’re not static images like many games in the past, but their mouths move, they gesture with their arms and hands and you see the emotion on their faces. Everyone feels real; from the gruff, London inspector who constantly puffs out his chest with his arms crossed, to the infatuated fan of the Masked Gentlemen who bubbles over with excitement every time the villain is spotted in the city.
Young Layton Sported a ‘Fro
The game doesn’t just give you one story to play through. Rather it weaves two connected stories set in two different periods of Layton’s life. You start out, as you would expect, going through the investigation of what’s happening in Monte d’Or, but you soon find out that what’s happening is connected to Layton’s past. From there you weave back and forth between the two time periods, learning the mask’s origins, the relationships of the characters involved and how everything relates to the present day conundrum. While it might seem like running these two stories together would be confusing, they actually blend perfectly into each other and reveal several details about both that might otherwise be hard to convey.
Not only do you have those stories, but the story of the mask itself involves clever deceptions, horse chases through a city, strained friendships and a long forgotten race of advanced people. What’s not to like?
With the move to the stereoscopic 3DS, it was only normal that the action of the series be moved to the top screen. What that means is no longer are you just tapping on things on the bottom screen to search for hint coins, find hidden objects and interact with other characters. Now you have a map that, with the press of a magnifying glass icon, will allow you to move the stylus over the bottom screen to explore the top screen. Items and people that can be interacted with the turn the magnifying glass orange and tapping the touchscreen when you find one of those will cause the scene to unfold.
It’s a slightly inelegant solution and means that there will be many times you have to readjust the magnifying glass to tap on something; when you remove the stylus or tap back down it will no longer be aligned with what you want to interact with. It’s a small gripe in the grand scheme of things but still something that can cause small moments of frustration.
For this being my first game in the franchise, I am not really qualified to say how the series has stood up over time. However, if this is your first Layton game, you’ll probably feel much like I do now and wonder what took so long to get into the series. The puzzles are clever. The art style is beautiful. The voice acting is top notch and the plethora of extras will keep you busy long after you finish the dozen-or-so hour story. I’ve played a lot of puzzle games that try to weave a story around them and, while some of the puzzle introductions do feel forced, it does a good job of stitching everything together. Fans of the series are sure to enjoy the game as much as they ever have and newcomers like myself will find a franchise they’re probably going to want to explore more.
Review copy of the game provided by Nintendo.
Played through the entire story and numerous hours on the bonus content.
Total play time: 16 hours