Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

Developed by Level-5
Published by Nintendo

            Professor Layton is one of those series that just keeps going on, not reinventing itself, just adding new puzzles, and continues to be a joy each time a new installment comes out.  With the 5th installment, and the first 3DS installment, Layton still shows no signs of slowing down, even if some of the new features don’t work out.
            Layton (Christopher Robin Miller) along with his apprentice, Luke, and assistant, Emmy (both voiced by Lani Minella), have come to the desert town of Monte d’Or, which, in a fairly small amount of time, has gone from nothing to a thriving tourist city.  Unfortunately, a mysterious figure known as the Masked Gentleman has appeared, and is performing “miracles” that involve things such as turning people to stone.  Naturally, Layton has to solve the mystery—and it all connects back to a tragic event from his past.
            The story continues to be one of the strong points of the Layton series.  It’s intriguing, making you want to find out the answers to the mysteries, and full of good characters who you like to see pop up.  Even the characters who you talk to just to get a puzzle to solve are interesting characters.  The story’s real twist here, as opposed to other Layton games, is the flashbacks to Layton from 18 years ago.  Layton’s past has been touched on before, but we get to see more of him and his childhood here, at a time when he didn’t even like puzzles.  And, just like in Unwound Future, bringing the plot to something that personally affects Layton gives it more of a human touch that the Professor can sometimes be missing.  Also, don’t worry if you haven’t played any Layton games before: even as the second game of the second trilogy, the plot stands well on its own.
            As always, puzzles are the currency of the day in the Layton world.  From sliding puzzles and a variation on the block-jumping solitaire to brainteasers and logic problems, Miracle Mask is filled with plenty of the usual suspects, but they are enjoyable as usual.  There’s some of the old hat that should surprise nobody, but there’s also some new tricks, like dividing a chessboard of pawns, that haven’t been seen before.  The game does try a few new things along the way, and, well, it’s a bit mixed.  For one, there’s some puzzles that seem too focused on the new 3D graphics rather than actual difficulty.  Guiding a ladybug through a maze is hilariously easy, and its variation doesn’t get any harder.  But there’s also new gameplay entirely.  An early part has you riding through the city on a horse, and an action-oriented scene like that doesn’t have any place in the calming Layton universe.  Some of the other puzzles also rely on things that are moving while you’re trying to think, which generally just makes things unnecessarily difficult.  There’s also a chapter that focuses entirely on dungeon-crawling, with the puzzles involving defeating mummies and pushing blocks around.  It’s entertaining for a while, but starts to wear out its welcome by the end of the chapter.  When the characters wonder if there could be 100 floors, you’ll probably reel in terror.

            Still, Layton with a couple problems is still Layton, even with its problems.  Longtime Layton fans can mark this as a must-buy, and those new to the series can consider this a good place to start.

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