We’ve seen one trilogy come and pass from the Professor Layton series. All looked as if the tale had been resolved and we’d not see the Professor and his young apprentice grace our handhelds ever again; unless you pay attention to where the series is up to in Japan. While the Japanese prepare to see the final chapter in this new trilogy and wait for the upcoming Ace Attorney collaboration, Europeans get Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask – the 3DS debut for the logic puzzle series. Does it pass with flying colours, or will it need to re-sit the next year?
As part of the prequel trilogy, this follows on from Professor Layton and the Last Spectre. Our story begins with Professor Layton, his young apprentice Luke and assistant Emmy witnessing the people of desert city Monte d’Or being turned to stone by a person known as the Masked Gentleman. According to Angela, an old friend of Layton, the Masked Gentleman has been causing havoc with his ‘miracles”.
The story moves at a bit of a sluggish pace, with perhaps too much exposition than is absolutely necessary. The major mysteries are given away very early on to those who can decipher the clues, especially to those who know about the series in general, but there are also some neat minor details that flesh out the story. Fanciful dialogue is all well and good, but there are occasions where the localisation gets its grammar wrong (it’s ‘with impunity”, not ‘in impunity”). Since Professor Layton games usually have pretty good localisations, this is a bit of a minor sore spot.
The city of Monte d’Or is relatively simple to explore. By using the map on the lower screen, you can guide Layton to different locations in this bustling location, while tapping the magnifying glass allows you to take a look around. Apart from finding Hint Coins to make your life a little easier, you can find collectables and puzzles. The dialogue for the majority of the puzzles does make it seem like the game forces them upon you though, making Layton’s journey feel like being a star on the red carpet. Everyone is coming up to you and wants you to sign their autograph book – a task that is somewhat tedious and oddly makes you sympathise with celebrities.
One of the eight main chapters brings a new element of gameplay that closely resembles the Legend of Zelda’s dungeons. Here you will journey through, using the touch screen or the buttons and d-pad to interact with soil and boulders. It brings a really nice change of pace to a game that feels largely monotonous and shines as one of the better moments in the game.
Logic puzzles make out most of your endeavours with Professor Layton games and this one is no exception. Each of the 135 puzzles found in the story mode challenge you to logically think around and occasionally outside the box. Some trick puzzles may throw your brain off guard, meaning that initially taxing looking puzzles are merely deceitful. There is a greater emphasis on making sequels to existing puzzles however, meaning that some of the more infuriating puzzles get a second chance to irritate.
Controlling the interface on each puzzle is nicely explained when entering puzzles that don’t rely on you clicking one letter or writing the answer down. Being able to write notes is a nice plus, but having to click through to the explanation seems clunky considering you don’t use the buttons all that often.
Aside from the puzzles in the campaign, there are more of them to be unlocked after completing the game and even more to download on a daily basis. The latter is a feature that has been there since the series’ inception and it is great that it is easier to do this time around. The extra puzzles range from the offensively easy to the ridiculously hard; so be prepared for either. The mini-games are progressively unlocked in a somewhat similar in nature to the ones previously seen in the series, but range from arranging items on a shop shelf to guiding a robot to its destination. One particular highlight is the Bunny Theatre where you are required to train a rabbit actor back to its former glory. It’s entertaining and more varied a simulator than the others, which act more like a quick-fix.
This chapter in Professor Layton’s tale is the first on the 3DS, so naturally it was going to look flashier than ever before. What may surprise you is the amount of detail that has gone into making sure this chapter outshines the Nintendo DS equivalents. Instead of a static background with individuals dotted around, you are presented with a living and breathing environment that comes to life on the screen. Stunning looking 3D models for all the characters and a lot of the puzzles, with 2D style animated cut-scenes for the more important plot elements also help bring the game to life.
As for the 3D trickery itself, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask does the best job in elegantly presenting itself without causing motion sickness or obscuring vision. It’s just a shame we didn’t get to see any of the 3D being utilised for the puzzles, though I’m sure this is to make it accessible to everyone. Sound direction is typical for the Professor Layton series, but I’m always baffled by the style. Everyone seems to speak the Queen’s English, despite the musical score obviously being French in origin and the location being a desert oasis wonderland. The characters we hear have the same style of voice, but the dialogue for others is regionalised, meaning that potential characteristics have been struck off.
No doubt that if you wish to follow the series to its conclusion, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is a necessary task. It’s visually appealing in all its forms, including the 3D feature that often disappoints in other big Nintendo 3DS titles. If you can get over the fact that the story reveals its hand far too soon and has more exposition than a court case in a soap opera, you may enjoy this romp through the desert. You will have a plethora of things to do, including the option to download more things to do in the coming future. Professor Layton’s latest is a step up from his previous coursework, but he needs to vastly improve his originality to achieve the higher grades.