I Wish Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright Was Better

If Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright were a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it'd be one of those sandwiches where the peanut butter is all shoved to one side and the jelly congeals on the other, so when you take a bite you can taste either peanut butter or jelly.

Those occasional bites where the peanut butter and jelly do mix together are great, but most of the time you're just getting one or the other. And neither side is quite as satisfying as one full peanut butter or jelly sandwich would be.

Not to say that Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, released last week for 3DS, is a bad game. Or a bad sandwich. I've spent ten hours with the latest adventures of Phoenix and the Professor, and the story has hooked me enough that I'll most definitely finish. (I'm on Chapter Five right now.)

The basic concept is this: Layton, Luke, Phoenix, and Maya all find themselves trapped in a medieval fantasy world where magic is real and everyone is crazy. As the crew tries to figure out what's going on, they wind up entangled in the story of a girl named Espella, who is accused of being a witch. Given that the punishment for Witching in this world is instant death by fire, it becomes rather important for Phoenix and crew to get Espella off the hook.

But instead of finding some sort of unique mechanical ways to cross over two of gaming's most interesting characters, Layton vs. Wright just gives you half Layton-style exploration and puzzling, half Phoenix Wright-style court battles. Really, that's all this is. One chapter you're doing puzzle stuff; the next chapter you're defending accused witches in court. There's an interesting mechanical twist in that the prosecutor can now call multiple witnesses, and you can use their testimonies against one another, but other than that, this is all stuff you've played before.

It's really too bad. I was hoping for some more interesting experiments and challenges that would combine the skills of both Layton and Wright in ways we haven't seen in either of their games before. I was also hoping to see them fight to the death in one-on-one Smash Bros.-style combat, but I guess that was a little unreasonable.

Still, the familiar landscape wouldn't be so bad if the puzzles and legal battles didn't feel like Lite™ versions of what we've seen in all the other Layton and Wright games. The puzzles are weak (many are just variations on mazes) and the court battles are too easy (mostly because you can only hold eight or nine pieces of evidence at once). Again, I've only played ten hours, so things might get different later, but at least in the first few chapters, there's very little that will challenge anyone who has played other games in either of these wonderful series.

The localization is lame, too. Instead of giving us the Treehouse treatment, Nintendo of America just stuck us with the European version of Layton vs. Wright, which came out in March. This means: A) Britishisms like "humour" and "colour"; B) A distracting lack of periods at the end of titles like "Mr." and "Mrs."; C) An even more distracting usage of the British voice actor for Luke.

For now, I can't recommend this game to anyone but hardcore fans of Professor Layton or Phoenix Wright. (I imagine those two fanbases overlap quite a bit.) Granted, there's something really special about watching the two iconic puzzle-solvers team up to point their fingers at people and yell "objection!" together, but I wish the other moments were as entertaining.