A new dimension to the tale of Professor Layton

As wonderful as Level-5’s Professor Layton franchise is—and, trust me, it is wonderful—it’s easy to feel a little burned out on it at this point. It’s an inevitable position that one sometimes finds themselves in when follow-up chapters to beloved games come in quick succession—and, facts are facts, this is the fifth Professor Layton title to come along in as many years.

So, if you’re wondering if you’re really up for more puzzle-solving with Hershel Layton and his apprentice Luke Triton after four previous DS adventures, I don’t blame you for  asking yourself that. I know that feeling, because I was in the same position myself—but now that I’ve given the Professor’s first outing on the 3DS a go, I’m glad I did.

The premise in Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is exactly what you’d expect if you’ve played any of the other entries. Coming as the second chapter of what’s shaping up to be a Professor Layton prequel trilogy—Level-5’s Akihiro Hino seems to be pulling a George Lucas on us here—the game kicks off with the Professor receiving a letter for an old friend he hasn’t heard from in around 18 years. The letter takes Layton, his spunky assistant Emmy Altava, and Luke to the town of Monte d’Or. This desert oasis has become a thriving world of bright lights and bustling tourists, but it seems not everyone is happy with the city and its success—as a mysterious man calling himself the Masked Gentleman has been terrorizing the city. When our trio arrives, the Masked Gentleman appears; adorned in what is claimed to be the Mask of Chaos, he uses strange mystical powers to transform some of the citizens of Monte d’Or into stone.

As expected, it’s the job of us players to help guide the Professor, Luke, and Emmy in solving the mystery of this masked miscreant and his reasons for wanting to bring an end to Monte d’Or. This would all be standard Professor Layton fare as we’ve come to know and love, except we’re thrown a bit of a curveball here: We also get to travel back in time 18 years to see Hershel in his high school years. While these flashback scenes may telegraph a few of Miracle Mask’s twists for some, it’s a really fun break from the main storyline as it plays out, and they add some personality to the characters we’re asked to care about.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Professor Layton game if you could solve a mystery by simply talking to characters and progressing through the storyline, so the game is chock-full of brain-bending puzzles just begging to be solved. However, after literally hundreds of puzzles presented in its previous chapters, it’s inevitably getting a bit hard to have every one of these challenges feel fresh and new. This is a legitimate issue with Miracle Mask, especially for those of us who have played every Professor Layton up until now. It doesn’t detract from the fun of Miracle Mask, and the puzzles get better as the game presses on—but, being totally honest, whenever I see another “who is telling the truth, who is lying” riddle, I kind of want to stab myself in the ear with my 3DS stylus.

But—and you know this part is going to be important, because I typically hate starting sentences with “but”—what moments of exasperation I may feel when the latest presented puzzle comes off like something I’ve done numerous times before are completely outmatched by the joy I found in how Professor Layton as a game has been reworked for the 3DS. I still adore the DS iterations of the series, and I still find a wonderful amount of charm in their art styles and presentations. And yet, as much as I can still appreciate what they were for their time, what Professor Layton is now on the 3DS makes for a better game—and, shockingly, maybe even a more emotionally engaging experience.

Layton, Luke, Emmy, and the rest of the Miracle Mask cast have made the jump from pieces of 2D artwork to three-dimensional, fully rendered character models. Given that the developers at Level-5 are masters of cel-shaded graphics, it’s no surprise that all of those said character models look fantastic. What is surprising, on the other hand, is how much life they add to the game. Seeing the characters in this world constantly moving, reacting, and otherwise coming to life during conversations and events adds a layer of connection that I didn’t really recognize was missing before. Yes, the game now looks more like a “game”—and less like an interactive storybook as the DS Professor Layton releases did—but I’m not ashamed to now decide that I prefer that method. This is a new direction for the series that makes full use of the 3DS, and which is better for doing so.

Also different is how you interact with the various locations you’ll be combing over for clues. Before, static shots of a segment of the landscape were shown, and you’d play a game of tap-tap-tap-tap while hunting for secrets or points of interaction. Now, sliding your stylus across the bottom touchscreen moves a magnifying glass on the top display; as it moves, the world pans along with you. Not only does the new magnifying-glass tool make discovering secrets and riddles far easier, but the various locations look especially great as they move and shift if you’ve got the 3D effects cranked up. Just, at least for me, not too far up—while I found myself definitely appreciating the game with some amount of 3D, the huge amount of depth on the 3DS’ highest setting absolutely murdered my eyes.

Had Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask been another DS release, I think I might not have enjoyed it as much as I did. Not because it’s a bad game in any way; it’s just that that formula was starting to show a bit of age by this point. However, the move to 3DS—and the huge shift in style and presentation that came with that move—have really breathed some new life into the ol’ Professor. If you’ve been a long-running fan of the series, then Miracle Mask could be just the thing to reignite the passion that you’ve held for this franchise. On the other hand, if this would be your first introduction to solving daunting brainteasers with Hershel Layton and his young sidekicks, then I actually think this is now the best place to jump into the series.

I have but one real regret: I can’t help but feel as if Professor Layton and the Last Specter would have been a better place for this series to hop aboard the 3DS train. Having two chapters of a trilogy on one system, but the first chapter of said trilogy on another, just drives the OCD side of me completely bonkers.

One thing in a batch of three that doesn’t fit in? Why, that reminds me of a puzzle…

SUMMARY: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask reworks the popular series of puzzle-pushing adventures for Nintendo’s latest handheld, and the changes freshen up the long-running series while also making for a better experience for new players.

  • THE GOOD: The updated graphical and user-interface elements bring some great advancements to the Professor Layton formula.
  • THE BAD: Some of the puzzle concepts are feeling a little long in the tooth.
  • THE UGLY: Using up five hints on a riddle only to realize how obvious the answer was.

SCORE: 8.5

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is exclusive for the 3DS.


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About Mollie L Patterson

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Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Find her on Twitter @mollipen.