Professor Layton and The Miracle Mask Review

Platform: 3DS
Originally Reviewed: 2012

Having never entered the world of Professor Layton before, one thing became clear to me rather quickly during my first visit – it is a world full of time wasters. This is a bizarre place where Detectives solving cases – like ones that involve turning people to stone – are all too quick to completely abandon their investigation for some kind of puzzle one-upmanship. Master criminal on the loose? Well, hang on a second; the Professor’s sidekick wants to show you his puzzle he made with some stamps last week.

Miracle Mask is faced with somewhat of a catch twenty two situation. The puzzles are quite ludicrously shoehorned into the story and break up the unravelling of the mystery, whilst the insipid and bland dialogue inherent within said story goes to great lengths to make players wait inexcusable amounts of time in between the puzzles themselves. Indeed, the first half hour of the game features roughly one puzzle of note. Veterans of the series will find the wait to get back to what they love most about Layton to be quite excruciating.

Said story sees Layton and his band of merry puzzle solvers visit Monte d’Or after the Prof. receives a letter from an old high school friend asking for assistance against a strange masked man who is terrorising the city. It’s an intriguing tale for the most part with questions over the masked man’s identity, the power of the mask, and the role that Layton’s past has to play in the mystery all keeping things interesting. The story’s main problem is that most of the characters are pretty bland and it still develops through an overuse of text-based dialogue that players can totally be forgiven for skipping more often than not.

The presentation of the story is decent enough, but smacks of a missed opportunity. The beautiful anime cut scenes and reasonably solid voice acting combine well to continue the series’ distinct and aesthetically pleasing style, but the poor implementation of 3D is almost as much of a brain buster as the game’s puzzles. Miracle Mask was actually a launch title for the 3DS in Japan last year, but this actually makes it all the more surprising that the 3D wasn’t given more of a starring role to emphasise the reason why Layton fans need to buy a 3DS. As far as demonstrations of the 3DS’ abilities go, Miracle Mask pretty much turns the slider all the way down.

The lack of 3D implementation stretches to the puzzles as well. Super Mario 3D Land showed how subtle use of 3D can enhance the gameplay of an established title, and you’d think that a puzzle game is ripe for the picking when it comes to inventive new ways to harness the 3DS’ USP. Sadly, Miracle Mask shies away from deviating from its established formula and sticks with its staple puzzle types that are more Brain Training than Another Code.

Despite Miracle Mask shunning any type of puzzle innovation, you can take nothing away from the fact that developers Level 5 certainly know how to produce quality noodle-scratchers. Everything that series fans expect is included here and anyone who’s played Layton before can easily get stuck into the game they know and love. Again, it’s just a shame that the puzzles aren’t woven into the story in any meaningful way – with characters reasonably blasé about the fact that they spend the majority of their time simply messing about with brainteasers.

Miracle Mask has to fall into the ‘more of the same’ category. That, of course, means that the game is an enjoyably taxing puzzle game and series fans, as well as newcomers, will definitely still get a lot from the game. It’s just disappointing that Miracle Mask really doesn’t push the boat out on the new hardware. The presentation of the game is still good, but the 3DS deserves more than half-baked 3D and layer upon layer of scrawling text to sift through. It’s a good game, certainly, but a real missed opportunity nonetheless.

The key element here is that Professor Layton is clearly a game for casual fans, which makes sense as to why Nintendo pushed it as a launch title for the 3DS in Japan to get the casuals on board with a game they recognise. But anyone who didn’t adopt the 3DS has plenty of reason to be rather peeved that Nintendo has basically released a DS game that they can’t play on their DS.

Alex Aldridge

GRAPHICS

Wonderful animated cut scenes and 3D character models ensure that Layton has never looked so good, it’s just a shame that the 3D merely adds a few levels of depth to the visuals and nothing truly spectacular.

7/10

GAMEPLAY

It’s the same Layton that a lot of people love. The puzzles are still fun, but there’s not really anything in between them other than line after line of scrolling text and some clicking on backgrounds. The 3DS should have been harnessed more and surely the lack of mind-blowing 3D puzzles is a missed opportunity.

7/10

STORY

Reasonably engaging and beautifully presented. There’s just too many bland and predictable characters and not enough voice acting.

6/10

REPLAYABILITY

It’s pretty long, and you’re unlikely to go back and do puzzles you already know the answers to again. The extra mini games do add replay value though.

6/10

VALUE FOR MONEY AT

The sheer length and huge number of puzzles mean that Layton and puzzle game fans will definitely get a ton of fun out of the game. There’s also plenty of mini games and things to collect, so it’s a generous package.

£20

OVERALL

As enjoyable as it is frustrating. Another case of a truly solid and enjoyable Nintendo title seemingly missing an opportunity to expand and evolve a key franchise. The puzzles and animations are brilliant, the lack of any 3D implementation of note and repetitive text dialogue aren’t. If you love Layton, you’ll love this, but if you love the idea of the 3DS adding a new dynamic to the series, you’re going to be let down.

7/10

GOOD

 

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