Over the last several years Professor Layton has slowly but surely become one of the more recognizable faces of Nintendo’s handheld consoles. The series’ fifth installment, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, is the first adventure of the puzzle solving gentleman on the 3DS and also the first game in the series to make any real changes to the gameplay. With increased the puzzle variety and a huge number of total puzzles, the series continues to be the best choice for puzzle fans.
As they all seem to, the story starts when Layton receives a letter asking for his help solving a mystery. Never one to turn down a challenge, he, his apprentice Luke and his assistant Emmy arrive in Monte d’Or, a town that looks like Mardi Gras came to Las Vegas. Monte d’Or is being tormented by the Masked Gentleman, who has been appearing around town and performing dark miracles. Layton’s pursuit of the Masked Gentleman will force him to confront a tragedy in his own past, providing a glimpse into the life (and hair) of the young Hershel Layton.
In its 3DS debut, Miracle Mask features the same structure as prior Layton games, but with some new mechanics to match the hardware. The bottom screen provides a top-down map allowing you to move between areas, while the top screen is your view of the area you are currently in. In order to interact with the environment you move the stylus around the lower screen to move the corresponding magnifying glass icon on the top screen. When the icon turns orange you can tap to interact with that object; a blue icon means that you can tap to zoom in for a closer look.
Moving the view area to the top screen, which allows the game to be played in 3D, has both positives and negatives. Moving the magnifying glass is comfortable and the color feedback allows you to find things in the area without aimlessly tapping everything in sight, as was the case in previous games. It does make for some extra taps, though, since you now need to switch between investigation and travel mode, where before both were available at the same time. The magnifying glass stutters a bit when moving from background to foreground elements when playing the game in 3D, but overall the controls are fine and do what they need to do.
The core of any Layton game is the puzzles, and Miracle Mask has a nice variety, with several puzzle styles that feel new for the series. While each game has added some new types, the puzzles in this game feel distinctly new to the series, which is really great. The puzzle interface itself gets some welcome tweaks, as well – instructions can be viewed on the top or bottom screen (or hidden altogether), and the memo function has some useful enhancements. While the puzzles are good, the pacing feels off; at times I was getting puzzles rapid-fire, while other times I would go for long stretches without one.
Previous games in the series have offered a new puzzle for download each week for a year after release, but Miracle Mask makes a big leap and offers a new puzzle every day for a year, bringing the final puzzle count over 500. Based on the setup of the downloadable puzzles it looks like there will be several different types, each with increasingly harder versions as the year progresses. It’s a smart setup, and adds tons of replay value without requiring a new set of instructions every single day.
As is tradition for the series, the game also includes several mini games, which are unlocked through progress in the main game. There is a game that involves training a rabbit to perform in the circus, which I lost interest in pretty quickly because it felt like a lot of trial and error. Another, where you pilot a robot through a course to the goal, is fine, but not especially inspiring since it’s very similar to previous mini games. The standout for me was the shop game, which challenges you to arrange items on the shelf in a way that will entice a customer to buy everything. It’s a new concept for the series that really stumped me a few times, but unfortunately it’s marred by some seemingly arbitrary rules and occasionally difficult controls. I still enjoyed it, but more than once I felt like I was fighting the puzzle rather than trying to solve it.
The game features the first visual changes for the series, swapping 2D sprites for 3D character models. Characters in conversation now move and are significantly more expressive, while still maintaining the series’ goofy and fun art style. The 3D effect never fully worked for me – it felt like the field of vision required to maintain the 3D was narrower than other games on the system, and just didn’t feel completely comfortable, although never enough to force me turn it off. It plays fine with the 3D turned off, though, and you don’t lose anything other than the slick animation that accompanies the start of a puzzle.
The character voices are in line with the other games in the series; Layton is calm and methodical, while Luke is excitable and a bit overanxious at times. Emmy sounds like her voice is done by someone different, and she is definitely not as spunky as she was in the last game. Like the graphics, the music steps out of the box and stretches the formula somewhat, while still maintaining the style of the series. Once again, it strikes a nice balance of being pleasant while not getting in the way of your thought process.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is the first game in the series to break any real new ground, even adding in some light action sequences. While some changes, like the occasionally awkward 3D, are not great, the improved puzzle variety and sheer volume more than make up for them. It remains a perfect game for a mobile platform – something that can be quickly picked up and enjoyed for either a short or long stretch of time. It’s still the best game of its kind, and something that will keep puzzle fans happy for a very long time.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.