All images contained within this article are 2D versions.
Writing a review of any of Level-5’s Professor Layton games takes me a lot of time for a few reasons. For one, I take my time playing through the stories. Each Layton game has a beautifully written story, inviting the player to get lost in the world of the Professor and his companions. Secondly, I thoroughly enjoy the puzzles; so I spend a good deal of time hunting them down and finding all of the goodies hidden throughout the games. Layton and company’s latest adventure, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, surpasses the bar set by the previous titles, making for a wonderful gaming experience for experienced puzzlers and newbies alike!
Miracle Mask mostly takes place in Monte d’Or, a holiday town in the middle of a desert. The town, in a way, is the first real mystery that we are introduced to; it is a huge tourist spot with a booming economy – odd, because it’s relatively young and somehow manages to survive and thrive in the middle of an inhospitable landscape. Shortly after arriving, Layton, his apprentice Luke, and his assistant Emmy witness an attack on the town from the mysterious Masked Gentleman. This attack is not the first. It is, I fact, the latest in a string of assaults that have the local police baffled. Your job, as Layton, is to solve the mystery behind what is going on, and restore peace to Monte d’Or.
Professor Layton translates well into 3D.
One of the most interesting aspects of this particular Layton adventure is that the mystery you are trying to solve cannot simply be solved in the present – it relies on information from the past as well. As Layton and company attempt to solve the mystery of the Masked Gentleman, Layton reveals part of his past to his friends in the hope of uncovering clues that will aid them in the present. While the bulk of the story takes place in the fairly large city of Monte d’Or, the amount of ground to cover in the historical adventure portion is not insubstantial. The past and the present are masterfully woven together and make for quite an emotional ride.
No Layton adventure is complete without a seemingly unending number of entertaining (and sometimes, downright odd) people on the street, ready to stump you with a puzzle – and Miracle Mask is no exception. The game had 150 puzzles to start (made up of standard, unlockable, and hidden puzzles) with new problems available each week, downloaded automatically thanks to SpotPass (and a broadband connection). The difficulty level for each puzzle can be gauged by the picarat (point) rating presented at the introduction of the problem – the higher the number, the more difficult the puzzle is (usually). Failing to solve the puzzle will result in you losing picarats; picarats are deducted each time you fail to a maximum value, allowing you to still get some points for eventually solving the puzzle.
To mitigate this, hint coins are hidden all around the city – and can be used to purchase multiple hints for each puzzle, allowing you a fighting chance to ensure that your picarat count is high by the end of the game. Picarats are the key to unlocking more puzzles and special goodies in the game – so make sure you take care in submitting solutions to your puzzles. I found that most of the puzzles in this latest chapter were fairly manageable; but some of them were pretty tricky. It is important to make sure that you read the questions very carefully, for even an “easy” puzzle might not have as obvious an answer as you think.
Some of the puzzles really pop in 3D.
Every Professor Layton title is beautifully presented with wonderfully-drawn foreground characters on painted backgrounds – as well as animated cut-scenes. Miracle Mask takes this a step further with 3D presentation. The three-dimensional effect is surprisingly good, giving the game plenty of depth (on top of the cerebral and emotional depth that it already has) without actually becoming tiresome. Like all 3D-enabled games on the 3DS, you can choose to pull the slider back to full 2D to leave everything flat. However, the 3D effect on the animated cut-scenes is well worth watching in the new mode.
Accompanying this new visual style is a new interface. Rather than poking about on the background with your stylus to find clues and switching to a separate screen for locomotion, Professor Layton and the miracle mask simplifies things a bit by combining the two. Now, you have access to a magnifying glass icon that ties into the upper screen; moving the stylus on the touch-screen causes the magnifying glass pointer on the top screen to move as directed. Points of interest, and spots where one can zoom in (opening up a new part of the background) cause the magnifying glass to change colour. These points of interest may hold puzzles, hint coins, hidden objects (that are stored in Layton’s trunk) or dialogue. I found this system easy to pick up and much more fun to use than the previous iterations.
As if great visuals and an intuitive interface were not enough, the sound effects and music are all well-crafted. One of my favourite aspects of the Professor Layton series is the voice acting. The actors always do a great job with their characters, giving a lot more weight to the story with solid performances.
The new interface is easy to pick up and fun to use.
Like previous Layton titles, there are a few mini-games made available early in the game. At their core, each mini-game consists of a series of puzzles that must be solved using a specific set of rules. The first game involves guiding a robot on a grid to a particular location (complete with obstacles and power-ups). The second game is about stocking store shelves with various items in a particular order as an incentive for the customer to buy all of the items thanks to a clever algorithm. Each of these games have only one solution per puzzle – and some of them are pretty difficult, so fetch your thinking cap from the dry-cleaner because this will be a challenge! The third mini-game involves training a rabbit to perform stage plays using various actions that you teach it (using a gesture-based system). All three games are a lot of fun, and levels can be found peppered throughout the game.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is a fantastic addition to an already amazing series. The addition of 3D is solid and the new batch of puzzles are top-notch. While it is technically a sequel to Professor Layton and the Last Specter, it can be played as a standalone title without too much confusion. However, I would recommend that you play previous titles in the series, because of the fantastic writing and voice acting.