After nearly two years, fans of Professor Layton (outside of Japan) can finally sample his first adventure on the 3DS and while I wouldn’t necessarily call it my favorite entry in the series, I’d say Professor Layton and The Miracle Mask is certainly well worth the wait.
Before digging into the gameplay, there are a few matters I’d like to get out of the way. First of all, I know some fans may be a bit weary of Level-5’s decision to replace the hand-drawn aesthetic that helped define the series on the DS with a cel-shaded 3D makeover, but let me assure you, the series has never looked better.
I initially thought it’d take some time to get used to the new presentation, but the dynamically animated characters and beautifully hand-painted backgrounds are an absolute perfect match for the series. In fact, I was immediately impressed with the game’s use of 3D. It felt as if I had witnessed a painting come to life, making the charm of Layton’s world the most immersive it’s ever been. The only downside is the 3D effects will cause eyestrain eventually, but it’s not as headache-inducing as other games in the 3DS library and it’s without a doubt the best use of the technology outside of Mario and Zelda.
But if you’re a purist for hand-drawn animation, don’t worry. The standard animated cutscences make a return and not only does Miracle Mask feature more of them, they’re overall visual quality is also improved thanks to the 3DS’ hardware. The 3D, if you choose to turn it up, will make these cinematics look slightly better but it isn’t a very noticeable difference.
The series’ look isn’t the only thing to receive a fine tune-up for the 3DS hardware. A new stereo feature takes full advantage of the handheld’s superior sound system, giving players the opportunity to further adjust the volume to their specific preferences. It should be said this change isn’t the most noticeable, but it gives the top notch voice acting and Tomohito Nishiura’s masterfully composed score a bit of extra depth, especially if you happen to be wearing headphones.
The graphical and audio presentation has certainly been taken up a few notches but the gameplay is mostly the standard Layton fare with a few tweaks and new additions to keep things fresh. In terms of tweaks, navigating your way through the adventure and searching for hidden clues and puzzles has been altered slightly. The touch screen now acts as both a world map and magnifying glass. The map design is pretty neat and even reminiscent of Super Mario World, but having to tap your way to every destination between points A and B can feel a bit redundant at times. Granted, there are short cuts but they only lead to a few key destinations and don’t appear until later in the game. Guiding the magnifying glass to search for clues and talk to witnesses isn’t quite as intuitive as simply tapping on everything and everyone in sight. However, it’s not too big of an adjustment and the Zoom function (which makes great use of the 3D) is a nice touch.
Another tweak worth mentioning is the way in which all puzzles use both of the 3DS’ screens. The touch screen is still the primary means of puzzle solving but the top screen will brilliantly show off your progress in 3D with some great animation or at very least, give you a pretty picture to look at. With both screens being implemented, you are now given the option of displaying the puzzle instructions on either screen or hiding them out of sight. I know this isn’t the most relevant feature to mention but it’s a nice, subtle change-up that long-time players can appreciate.
Speaking of puzzles, Level-5 made the right call when bringing in new talent to aid puzzle master Akira Tago. Players will be treated to an assortment of clever new puzzle types that will have them smashing back totems with a mallet, guiding penguins on a iceberg, skipping kittens on a checker board, and (my favorite) guiding a ladybug through a corncob maze, etc. There are also plenty of the charming brainteasers, riddles, and (sigh) annoying math problems that appear in every Layton game but their numbers have been slightly reduced.
Both veterans and newbies will appreciate how well Level-5 has adjusted the difficulty curve this time around, as players can easily adapt to the rules of each puzzle type. That’s not to say the game’s a cakewalk, as there a plenty of challenging and frustrating puzzles to take up your time as well. But if you find yourself stuck at any particular point, don’t sweat it. There’s an abundance of Hint Coins hidden throughout the game, so you don’t have to worry about breaking the bank with those Super Hints.
However, you will be occupied with more than just the puzzles littered throughout the campaign, as the developers have also added some new mini-games, along with horseback riding and dungeon crawling sections. The mini games include guiding a toy robot through an obstacle course, arranging items on a store shelf in order to sell out its inventory, and training an adorable rabbit to make it the best little circus star it can be. The mini games are nice little diversions and offer up quite a bit of fun. The horseback riding and dungeon crawling on the other hand, though they provide some diversity, aren’t overly great. While the horseback riding sections are enjoyable enough in small doses, the dungeon crawling quickly loses its novelty and the fact it takes up an entire chapter of the game is fairly disappointing. But some strong plot points and hidden puzzles manage to keep even that particular chapter from feeling overly tedious.
Other than the mind-testing puzzles and clever mini games, the real attraction to the Layton series is its whimsical stories. In Miracle Mask, the Professor, Luke, and Emmy travel to the bright and colorful city of Monte d'Or after receiving a letter from an old high school friend of Layton’s. This friend asks him to aid in the investigation of the Mask Gentlemen, an elegant criminal who’s been using an ancient relic known as the Mask of Chaos (which is also linked to Layton’s past) to terrorize the city with his “dark miracles.” It’s up to the Professor investigate the streets of Monte dO’r and relive a tragic story that took place 18 years prior in order to uncover the mystery of the Mask of Chaos and save the “City of Miracles.”
While the story isn’t the best in series (that distinction still belongs to Unwound Future), the plot of Miracle Mask is a solid effort with a great cast of memorable characters, a charismatic villain, and the ability to effectively tug at the heartstrings when needed to. So it’s an enjoyable 20+ hour (or 15+ if you’re smarter than I am) ride, even if some of the plot twists are tad more predicable this time. Not to mention playing as a teenage Hershal and some subtle (and not so subtle) foreshadowing for the series’ big finale (Azran Legacies) were a real treat.
After completing the story and solving all of the puzzles, is there any reason to come back to Mask of Miracle? Absolutely! Besides the standard bonus content (the cutscenes, soundtrack, challenge puzzles, etc), the folks at Level-5 will be releasing one brand new puzzle everyday via the Nintendo Network from now until the one year anniversary of the game’s launch. Thus far, there have been plenty of fun new puzzles released, so it’ll definitely be worth checking in every once and a while to get your Layton fix until the release of Azran Legacies or the Phoenix Wright crossover-- whichever comes first.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask may have a few hiccups here and there but its many unique puzzles, whimsical art style, and charming characters make it one of the gems in the 3DS library. In other words, it’s truly Laytonesque.
(8s are great games that have something holding it back from excellence, or some features aren't as polished. The game is still extremely worthy of playing, but it may not be the most impressive.)
|Ryan Conway became the Weekend Editor at ScrewAttack after writing for the community news section for 20 months (14 of which he served as head writer). This lover of platformers, beat ‘em ups, and fighting games (and just about any other genre really) currently resides in a small town located in Nova Scotia.|
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