Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (Nintendo 3DS) - Review by Andrew
It's difficult to stress just how important Professor Layton has been to the continuing success of Nintendo's handhelds and the series has shifted an impressive amount of units worldwide. It's not without it's imitators, of course, but no developer has managed to even come close to the charm and challenge of the original Layton games. The Miracle Mask was originally intended as the final outing for Luke and the Professor but it's now thought that they'll be a sixth game not to mention a crossover with Capcom's Ace Attorney. As a huge fan of the series I had high hopes for this 3DS game but was it worth the wait?
Choosing the tired and tested 'if it 'aint broke, don't try and fix it' approach, Miracle Mask has a similar layout and overall design of the previous adventures with a series of puzzles woven into a strange and elaborate plot. The action this time takes place in the fictional town of Monte d'Or with his assistant Emmy joining the duo to discover the identity of the Masked Gentleman who is wreaking havoc amongst the frightened townspeople. There is one clue though and Professor Layton has encountered the Mask before which allows for the whole adventure to play out in two very different time zones: the present and Layton's youth, complete with the Professor sporting an incredible head of hair.
Of course, placing the story to one side, this is all really about the puzzles and as usual, there's a generous amount of head scratching to be had here with the designers once again delivering a collection of cleverly designed challenges. If you have played the previous titles in the series then it's fair to say that some of these will be very familiar to you although we were a little surprised at just how many can be guessed at with only a loss of a handful of Picarats as a penalty. There's also a sizeable chunk of the adventure where the genre actually changes completely and, we have to say, successfully. We're not going to spoil this for you and the whole experience perfectly compliments the other elements of the game but it was still very surprising.
One thing the Layton games have been praised for is their added extras and in addition to the main adventure there's a whole collection of distractions should you tire of solving puzzles. As usual, these are all unlocked as you progress throughout the game and sit nicely in your itinerary should you ever want to take a closer look at any of them. These include training a bunny to impress a theatre critic (did we mention he was fluffy?), a robot maze type affair and a shelf stacking game, which as not nearly as mundane as it first seems. In addition to all of this there's a huge amount of collectable trinkets, which you'll only find by exploring the main adventure and solving puzzles.
The Professor Layton games have always relied on the touch-screen and Miracle Mask is no exception even though some games, such as the early horse racing section, would be far better suited to the d-pad.
Level-5 have done an impressive job in updating the adventure for the 3DS and in addition to the wonderful cartoon FMV cut-screens each of the main players has now been recreated in 3D. These look great and mean that some of the more static screens are now alive with characters expressing their emotions in addition to mouthing their lines. The other visual upgrade is activated when you are allowed to 'enter' a hidden area. It's here you are allowed to explore in much greater detail with some clever camera trickery making the whole thing appear panoramic and therefore 3D. The backgrounds and various locations are as beautiful as ever and the hand-drawn effect works surprisingly well with the new 3D characters.
The audio elements have always been a strength of this series and Miracle Mask is yet another triumph featuring the same charming music, sound effects and expertly delivered dialogue.
One big change this time around is that all the action takes place on the top-screen although you'll still control everything with the stylus. Your cursor now appears as a magnifying glass which changes colour should you scroll over an area of interest. Most of these are hint coins but you'll also come across new characters to interact with and the all-important puzzles. You'll still have the same old interface on the bottom screen such as your inventory and mini-games and moving around is as simple as selection the shoe icon and then choosing the desired direction.
The 3D looks spectacular here and there's even the odd game, which has been specifically designed to take advantage of this extra dimension. An unexpected surprise was the use of the gyroscope and while we welcome any experimentation of the 3DS's features we have to say that the results happened to be one of the more frustrating puzzles in the whole adventure. We're not going to spoil it for you but you'll see what we mean when you eventually attempt to solve this little brainteaser. Meanwhile, anyone contacted to the internet will be able to receive a new puzzle every week for quite some time to come meaning your Layton goodness will go on far beyond actually completing the game.
Layton's first journey into the Third Dimension is a triumph and despite some puzzles feeling like they've simply been re-cycled, there's still more than enough here for old and new fans alike. The series remain one of the most rewarding and engaging on the Nintendo handhelds and the visual and interface upgrades have been well designed to take the maximum advantage of the 3DS's unique features. If you haven't bought this yet, it should certainly be on your list, with Miracle Mask representing yet another quality title in the growing 3DS library.
Pro: Great New Interface, Wonderful 3D Effects, Great Story and (most importantly) Gr
Con: Some Puzzles Feel Very Familiar Whilst Other Can Be Guessed.
Final score: 8.2