Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

Professor Layton has become somewhat of a poster-boy for Nintendo handhelds. His games' combination of unique charm, mystery stories, animated sequences and puzzle-solving have proved to have a universal appeal. Miracle Mask is his first adventure on 3DS. Can developer Level-5 keep up the Professor's sterling reputation?

While this is the 5th game in the series, it is chronologically the second and part of a prequel trilogy. If you want to get the most out of this particular game, I would recommend playing The Last Spectre (DS) and then watching The Eternal Diva (DVD/Blur-ray) before getting this. At least read a decent plot summary, otherwise there are a few references that will be lost on you. I don't want to go into many story details, because that would ruin a lot of the fun. Basically, Layton gets a letter from an old friend asking for his help. She lives in Monte d'Or, a city in the desert that has rapidly sprung up and grown into prosperity. He arrives just in time to catch the carnival parade in the evening. However, the festivities are brought to an abrupt halt when a number of people turn to stone! At that point a figure who calls himself The Masked Gentleman appears, claiming it is one of his many “miracles.” And he has a lot more of them in store for this city and its citizens...

One of, if not the best villain in the series!

The Masked Gentleman is a very flamboyant villain. His sharp suit and silver tongue will keep you thoroughly entertained. I was always looking forward to his appearances during my playthrough. In fact, all of the characters are great. The main trio of Layton and his two assistants Luke and Emmy are as charming as ever. The designs are all unique, a lot of the citizens are quite hilarious. The series is inspired by European animation like Belleville Rendezvous, so expect to see a lot of weird and accentuated features. You'll also get to discover Layton's past during this story and it will give you a better understanding of his character. The games often take a long time to be localised (21 months in this case), but you can understand why because the effort put into the writing is plain to see. All of the characters have lot to share and there a lot of funny exchanges. For example, a shop keeper with a very disproportionate build who has a crush on Emmy made me chuckle.

Always being a true gentleman.

Presentation-wise, the move to more powerful hardware has added a lot to the series. While this is a relatively recent release in the west, it was in fact a launch title in Japan. Bearing this in mind, I was surprised at how well Level-5 have used the system. My favourite change applies to the exploration. In the DS games there would be a static scene on the lower screen and you interacted with the environment and characters by touching them. Now the environments are on the 3D screen and they have a lovely layered depth to them. They remind me of Victorian dioramas and I think it's a great addition to the franchise. The Las Vegas-inspired city of Monte d'Or is a very cool setting as well. It suits the game's light-hearted tone while also giving it a sense of spectacle and celebration. The added depth encourages exploration and you can look around the environments by using the touchscreen like a mouse. You still touch characters to talk or tap on the scenery to find hint coins. The hint coins are hidden in the scenery and they are used to unlock hints in the puzzles. The characters are now fully modelled and they have managed to keep the animation style intact in this transition. They now animate a lot more in conversation too. These features combined with the 3D screen bring the game life in a way the DS could not.

In 3D the environments really pop!

The gameplay has also benefited from the hardware. You will see some puzzles that use the gyroscope and both screens in ways that haven't been done before in the series. You also now have the choice as to how you want the puzzle presented to you. The puzzle explanation can be sent to either screen, or hidden away. I found this immensely useful when using the memo function. I would have the explanation on the top while making my notes on the bottom. I know it doesn't sound like all that, but it was so helpful. The puzzles themselves are pretty good, I definitely needed the hint coins for the later ones! They are quite varied and everyone will find some challenging ones. Something the games have always done well is test different parts of your brain. For example, I had more trouble with the number related puzzles, but breezed through the more visual puzzles.

The music and sound design is as good as ever. The songs are all very pleasant and add to the air of mystery. I particularly like the main theme of Monte d'Or. Occasionally the puzzle music was distracting, but most of the time I enjoyed it. 

My main issue with the game is its length. At over 20 hours, I personally found it it a bit too long. I was playing while watching TV for some of the time, so I'm sure I could have finished it faster if I was more focused. Still, I would rather pay less money and have a shorter game. It still equates to good value for money, as there are 150 puzzles in the main game. There are also three mini-games which are quite fun, but don't compare to those in The Last Spectre (I loved the Toy Train mini-game so much!). You can also download a free puzzle every day online for a year, which is extremely generous. You definitely won't be starved for content. Whether you are a completionist or just want to enjoy a good mystery story, I don't think you'll be disappointed with Layton's new adventure. I haven't come close to seeing everything the game has to offer.

I have completed Curious Village (1st game) and The Last Spectre (4th) and I enjoyed this one the most. I would recommend this game to everyone; it is another great release for the 3DS, which is fast becoming one of the best handheld systems ever. It offers a charming, intriguing world filled with quirky characters and interesting puzzles. What's not to like!? 

Find Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2012-10-28
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Level-5


This is a great game, and I'm glad you enjoyed it. The best in the series is undoubtedly the 3rd game (Lost Future/Unwound Future depending on your region). Be sure to try that one soon!

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