Even though it’s only been around for five years the Professor Layton games have clearly made an impact. The combination of perplexing puzzles, glorious animation and stories that more often than not have proven to be unlikely winners in the handheld realm. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is still all of these things, but makes its debut on the Nintendo 3DS for the first time. With a new format to play around in, Layton, Emmy and Luke’s latest adventure is still in keeping with the spirit of the series, but there’s enough here to distinguish it and justify the leap into the 3D arena.
As all Layton games do, The Miracle Mask begins with Professor Layton receiving a letter from an acquaintance of his. This time around it’s Angela, a friend of Layton’s from his school years. Angela asks Layton to come to her home city of Monte d’or in order to solve the baffling mystery of the Masked Gentleman, who performs a series of ‘miracles’ that terrorize the citizens of the city. Layton and Angela have not seen one another since his teen years, after a tragic accident changed their lives forever, and it’s possible there’s a connection with the Masked Gentleman. Make no mistake – this is one of Layton’s most revealing and personal adventures yet, and the gameplay splits in between the present day and Layton’s past teen afro years to highlight this.
The overarching gameplay itself remains largely unchanged from the past Professor Layton titles – you’re still going about the city, solving puzzles while revealing more of the intimate story. However, getting about town has changed a little bit out of necessity. Where previously the top screen served as a map and the bottom laid out your view of different locations and allowed you to tap to discover puzzles and talk to people, Miracle Mask puts the map at the bottom and the in-depth scenery at the top. Clicking on the magnifying glass at the bottom screen activates investigation mode, which brings up a magnifying glass icon on the top screen, which you pan around and click on items of interest down the bottom. It feels a bit strange at first and there is something of a learning curve involved, but it’s something done more out of necessity than anything else, as all of the interesting scenery and action is presented in 3D on the top screen.
Outside of the main game, minigames make their return once again. Two of them feel remarkably different to those which have gone before. The shopping minigame sees players arranging items in a corner store to make them seem as attractive as possible to customers so they will buy out all of the stock. You need to try and align like-colours and objects in order to secure consecutive buys. It’s a unique distraction and can be seen as an amusing microcosm of strategies used by bigger supermarkets to get people to buy more. The other unique minigame on offer involves you teaching a rabbit how to act with a series of poses and gestures it can make. It proves to be quite a fun and charming outing and requires a bit more imaginative thinking than you might initially believe.
The main use of the 3DS’ unique capabilities are clearly in its visual presentation. As mentioned before, the top screen is devoted to presenting 3D cutscenes, locations and conversations. It does this surprisingly well, and helps to give a real sense of depth to the unfolding events. Accompanying this change is a bit more of a cel-shading style for the characters when they are simply conversing and upon solving a puzzle. It does take a little bit of getting used to, but ultimately proves to be visually appealing. It’s particularly amusing watching the posturing of everyone involved, right down to Layton’s famed finger-pointing scenes. The puzzles themselves don’t have quite as much emphasis on 3D and other functions of the 3DS, such as the gyro capabilities and cameras aren’t really used much. Perhaps more could’ve been done in this area, but the use of 3D animation mostly makes up for this.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is likely the longest game of the series to date. It will take somewhere in the region of 14 hours to complete the main game, and that’s if you’re not fastidious about clearing each and every puzzle you unlock. As always, there are additional puzzles to solve outside of the main game and there are daily wifi puzzles that will extend the game’s life even longer for all of the puzzle lovers among you. The longevity of the series as a whole has also been assured until the next game at least, as the final storyline moments of Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask involve a bit of a cliffhanger and sequel hook that promise to tie together all of the prequel games and the movies.
Charming as ever and with a touching story to boot, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is another high-quality entry into the Professor Layton series, and a solid debut on the 3DS. Though there’s a bit of a learning curve with the new investigation system and the capabilities of the 3DS aren’t maxed out, it nonetheless remains compelling. With the next game on the 3DS said to be the last including Layton himself in a starring role, it appears that the next game is going to go out with a bang and tie much of the series together in a surprising mosaic. Will we discover what happened to Emmy to make her absent from the Curious Village onward in the chronology? Shall Luke ever find a new hat? And just what incredible fusion of Indiana Jones and Macgyver skills will Professor Layton display in the next game? Stock up on the Earl Grey and sandwiches now, as we shall have to wait until at least next year to find out!