Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask Review

Developer: Level-5 / Publisher: Nintendo / Played on: 3DS / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Mild Violence]

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Traveling to remote villages, solving countless mysteries, and helping everyday citizens with simple brainteasers are all in a day’s work for Professor Hershel Layton. By now you pretty much know what to expect from a Professor Layton game: a good story, beautiful visuals, and of course lots of puzzles to keep your brain working for hours. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is the fifth game in the series and the first to appear on the 3DS. With upgraded visuals, 150 new puzzles, and another solid mystery to solve, Miracle Mask is the professor’s best outing since the first game released in 2008.

Story

Professor of archeology Hershel Layton, along with his assistant Emmy Altava and young apprentice Luke Triton, arrive in the town of Monte d’Or, a bustling city in the heart of a desert, with bright lights, casinos, massive hotels, and happy citizens are far as the eye can see. Unfortunately the veritable oasis also is home to the Masked Gentleman, a veiled figure who has performed “dark miracles” in the city, like changing people into horses and causing others to simply disappear. Layton was called to investigate the matter by his childhood friend Angela, wife of the wealthiest man in the city, and another good friend Henry.

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As the professor and his team start to unravel the mysteries surrounding the city, the Masked Gentleman continues to perform these “miracles” on the citizens, forcing the team to work with haste. The story grabs you from the very beginning and doesn’t let go. Layton games in the past usually take a chapter or two to get going, but Miracle Mask starts out with intense action and builds upon that foundation. Every other chapter of the story is a flashback to 18 years prior, with the professor still in school and interacting with the key players seen in the present.

This storytelling method gives each character a lot more depth, and creates intense drama between them. Not only that, but it allows series vets to finally see into the professor’s past. The ending does a fantastic job providing closure for the story you just witnessed, as well as leave you with such a cliffhanger that you cannot wait to play the next game in the series. Miracle Mask is also significantly longer than most other Layton games, coming in around 18 hours to finish the story. When compared to other games in the series, this game’s story is easily among the best.

Gameplay

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The fundamentals of Professor Layton have not changed: solving dozens of puzzles and brainteasers in exchange for clues about your investigation is still the basis of gameplay. It’s how all of that is executed that has been tweaked. For starters, the action has shifted from the bottom screen to the top screen. No longer do you wildly tap on suspicious objects in the background in hopes of finding hint coins or objects; instead you use the stylus on the bottom screen to guide a magnifying glass across the top screen to investigate said suspicious objects. It’s seems trivial, but it’s actually a step in the right direction. Instead of tapping furiously to find hidden objects, the magnifying glass will change color, alerting you to something of importance, and also making sure you don’t accidentally pass up on a hidden puzzle, hint coin, etc.

Miracle Mask offers 150 new puzzles to solve, and they are easily the most varied and challenging puzzles yet. With past Layton games puzzles were usually easy, with the solution apparent right off the bat, or they were the exact opposite, with no obvious solution no matter how you looked at it. In this game however, most of the puzzles feel more balanced, offering up the right amount of challenge and simplicity. There were a handful of puzzles that I had to use the memo feature for to jot down numbers, work out math, cross out incorrect solutions, and in general think before submitting my answer.

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Getting the correct answer to a particularly difficult puzzle is as satisfying as ever. There are still a handful of puzzles that fall short, being either too vague or having a lateral solution you’d never think of, but these can mostly be overlooked.  If you are unsure of the correct solution, the hint system from past games returns. In exchange for hint coins, of which there is a limited supply, you can unlock tips to point you in the right direction. These hints do a good job of revealing a bit about the puzzle without blatantly giving you the answer. At least until you unlock the final super hint, which pretty much tells you what the answer is. If you’ve played a past Layton game, you’ll feel right at home with this one. The game still suffers from a random vague puzzle or two that’s very frustrating to solve, but these are uncommon and only slightly hamper an otherwise great puzzle experience.

The change to the 3DS system has also changed some of the puzzles and gameplay. A handful of puzzles change the usual formula, like having you guiding a ladybug on an ear of corn through a maze of kernels to his fellow ladybug, or shuffling stones to resemble a specific totem pole. One chapter has the professor exploring an ancient ruin and has you actually moving Layton around with the control pad, instead of tapping icons to shift screens like in past games. These traits add much needed variety to gameplay and make the overall experience better.

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As with past Layton games, there are three minigames to try your hand at as well. The first involves a toy robot that must be successfully guided to a goal while avoiding obstacles. Another is a shop that tasks you with placing goods on a shelf in such a way that a customer will come in and buy all the items in one transaction. The last is a pet rabbit that Luke must take care of and train to become one of the top performing animals in the local circus. All three of these are fun diversions to the main story, and offer unique challenges to overcome. Combine those with unlockable episodes that give greater detail on specific story elements, as well as bonus puzzles you can download via Wi-Fi, and you’ve got a game that offers plenty to do beyond the main storyline. Sadly, the game doesn’t come with a successor to the previous game’s extra mode Layton’s London Life, which was an RPG that added dozens of hours in a completely different setting. Still, Miracle Mask has a great amount of diversity and challenge to keep you playing for hours.

Visuals & Sound

The first thing series fans will notice when playing Miracle Mask are the visuals. Gone are the hand drawn 2D characters and backgrounds from the previous games, and in their place are fully 3D rendered graphics. While I initially scoffed at this change (the 2D art style was arguably the best feature of the original games), it only took me a few minutes of gameplay to see that this is easily the most beautiful game in the series. Backgrounds in particular are gorgeous, with amazing attention to detail and lighting. Streets are bustling with bright lights and animated characters, and the insides of buildings showcase the lavish living style of Monte d’Or’s upper class.

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This style translates to the puzzles as well, with puzzles matching your movements on the touch screen with interactive backgrounds (such as sliding penguins on a block of ice). The characters themselves didn’t get off as well in the translation though. While familiar faces like Layton and Luke still strike the same poses they did in past games, the occasional clipping of clothes whilst arms are crossed, or the odd looking nose reminded me why I loved the prior games’ art style. That being said, the game’s cutscenes are still done in the 2D cartoon style, and retain the charm they had as well.

Miracle Mask sports one of the better soundtracks the series has seen, with the ending theme being a highlight. And, as always, the voice acting is top notch. Featuring delightful British accents, the voice acting brings each character alive, expressing emotion and delivering dramatic lines well. Not every line of dialogue is spoken, which is a shame considering the quality of voice acting in the game.  In short the game has been taken in a brand new direction and still looks and sounds like a Professor Layton title.

Bottom Line

Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is the biggest change the series has seen so far. Layton fanatics may cry foul at the series’ change of 2D to 3D visuals, but upon playing the game you’ll see the game is hands down the best looking of the series. With a strong story, fantastic new set of puzzles, and the same great soundtrack and voice acting seen in past games, Miracle Mask is a bright look at what is to come for Professor Layton’s next, and sadly last, outing. No matter how difficult the challenge may be, just remember these wise words from Professor Layton: “There is no puzzle without an answer.”

+ Some of the best puzzles in the series to date

+ Highly detailed visuals are a treat

- A handful of vague puzzles will cause some frustration

8.5 / 10

 

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