Review: Spectre’s Call was the first time Level-5′s series of puzzle adventures looked tired and bereft of any new ideas. Can PROFESSOR LAYTON AND THE MIRACLE MASK help rejuvenate the series?
You’ll probably know by now if the screens of symbols, letters and codes Professor Layton games challenge you to decipher make you break out in a cold sweat of frustration, or have you cracking your knuckles back in delight. So you’ll either be pleased or hugely irritated to learn that not a huge amount has changed in Professor Layton’s fifth adventure. You’re still assaulted by puzzles at every turn, this time in the mysterious city of Monte d’Or, which is being terrorised by the imaginatively titled Masked Gentlemen.
If you’re looking for differences, the top hat-wearing detective’s jump to the 3DS for The Miracle Mask results in it being the best looking Layton game to date. 3D backdrops and characters replace the stationary 2D ones from previous entries – something that’s initially quite strange – but the series staple of beautifully animated 2D cutscenes is thankfully still present. The only blot in its puzzle book in terms of presentation is the odd lack of voice acting during some sections.
This window dressing is welcome, but what really counts are the puzzles, and with 150 individual conundrums to solve there’s a lot of thinking to be done. For those not versed in Layton lore, these puzzles are usually given to you as you explore various locations, talk to specific people or discover new areas. They’re basically jazzed-up puzzle book teasers, with block sliding, riddles and spot the difference being just a few of the brainbashers you’ll face.
Some puzzles can be quite sadistic – they occasionally rely on tricking you rather than the usual logic-based majority – but overall they’re as enjoyably vexing and varied as any other title in the series, and the infinitely useful hint system is always there to lend a hand if needed.
It’s a bit strange, though, that the game feels the need to make some sidesteps from the core formula, which inevitably come off as somewhat awkward additions. One such case is a simplistic action sequence early on where you direct Layton’s horse past barrels and down various streets. It feels out of place and more like a mini-game from Project Rub back when the DS was first released.
The Legend of Layton
Later on, there’s a lengthy dungeon section which has you shoving boulders and flicking switches, and you wonder whether you’ve stepped into a new Zelda game by mistake. But The Miracle Mask never fully commits to these diversions, so they just end up coming across as poorly thought out attempts to widen the scope of the game.
Fortunately, the story is always there to help drag you through such moments. This element of the Layton games is never usually lavished with praise, so the fact that The Miracle Mask has a surprisingly engaging one is a reason for celebration. It’s very easy to mock Layton games as just a string of conversations with puzzles randomly shoehorned in – a city may be descending into chaos, but there’s always time for a stranger to pose you a riddle – but here the plot does feel vaguely coherent, and you do care about what happens to the protagonists.
This is no doubt helped by the exploration of the Professor’s childhood. It may be a cliché and unoriginal direction for a game to take, but it’s a sure-fire way to increase your connection to the characters.
And although in the main story you’ll know who the man behind the mask is long before the end, the quality of the script is high and you’ll work alongside some great and memorable characters (some new as well as many old ones).
Professor Layton and The Miracle Mask is ultimately a well-presented and content packed delight, then. The only thing you can really say against it, is that it won’t win any new fans over. But clearly, this was never the aim – the series has a dedicated fanbase of screen-tapping head-scratchers, so to unsettle that would be unwise. Despite a couple of peculiar diversions, this latest entry is one of the best so far and arguably the most well-rounded of the bunch. And if you’ve somehow never played a Layton title before, The Miracle Mask isn’t a bad place to start.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, by Nintendo and Level-5, is available now for 3DS.