Like pumpkin pie and military shooters, Professor Layton has become something of a yearly fall tradition for American gamers. Over the past five years, the folks at Nintendo of America have released five entries in Level-5's delightful puzzle series.
These games have mostly blended together in my mind: ask me to tell you why intrepid heroine Emmy stars in the latest one but not the first few, for example, and I'll happily admit that I have no clue. But if Professor Layton games continue to be this much of a pleasure to play, if they keep giving us the sort of clever puzzles and sharp writing that the latest entry has to offer, to Level-5 I say this yearly tradition is A-OK.
The newest Professor Layton game is called Miracle Mask, and it's the first Professor Layton game for the Nintendo 3DS. (Previous games were all on its predecessor, the DS). In some ways Miracle Mask is the same as all of the games that came before it. In many ways it's very different.
The biggest and most apparent change involves the way you interact with Layton's mystery-packed world. While in previous games you used the DS's bottom screen to prod behind jars and open drawers, scouring the environment for puzzles and clues by touching each area you wanted to investigate, Miracle Mask switches this up entirely. You'll now drag your stylus along the system's bottom screen to move a cursor around the top, then tap when your cursor lands on something you want to look at. Environments on the top screen are no longer flat and static; as you navigate, you can see different angles of each room or street and you can even magnify suspicious areas to get a new perspective.
At first I found this irritating. Why change a system that worked perfectly before? Why do I have to slide my stylus around the screen instead of just tapping what I want to look at? Why is this making me so dizzy?
By the second chapter I had gotten over this. I don't know that this new interface is more intuitive or helpful than the old one, but it works. The camera can be a little sensitive, and the controls are kind of finicky, especially as you're starting to get adjusted to them, but the whole thing isn't too hard to get the hang of.
WHY: The characters are great, the story is lovely, and the puzzles are wonderful.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
Release Date: October 28
Type of game: Puzzler
What I played: Completed the game in 10 hours and 54 minutes. Solved 82 puzzles. Earned 2,728 Picarats.
My Two Favorite Things
- That "I'm a genius!" rush of endorphins that hits when you piece together a tricky puzzle without using any hint coins.
- Professor Layton is one suave badass.
My Two Least-Favorite Things
- Getting used to the strange new UI, which can be a little finicky.
Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes
- "The real puzzle is why Professor Layton's top hat never falls off." —Jason Schreier, Kotaku.com
- "By far a better yearly tradition than going to the dentist." —Jason Schreier, Kotaku.com
The second-biggest change is that everybody is now rendered in glorious 3D. The eponymous Professor Layton, his sidekick Luke, and everybody else in the world is presented in smooth, blocky, three-dimensional fashion when they're not participating in anime cut-scenes. It's a first for the series, and certainly not a bad one.
"The world is full of puzzles!" one exuberant character shouts near the beginning of Miracle Mask. In Layton, as you might already know, this is both figurative and literal. Puzzles are both challenge and currency, sometimes offered up as a reward to the Professor for helping a boy find his mother, other times hurled at you by a pair of crooks who want nothing more than to bleed Layton's wallet dry. Puzzles are the lifeblood of this world.
And the puzzles in Miracle Mask are some of the best I can remember in any Layton game. Some play around with the 3DS's three-dimensional screen, like one brain-teaser in which you have to count a number of people waiting in line for some store opening, but they are all obfuscated by a sign. You can turn on the 3D so that the sign pops to the foreground and the people behind it are easier to distinguish. It's one of the best uses of 3D—usually a vestigial feature—I've seen to date.