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Review: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

Professor Layton Level-5 Nintendo 3DS Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

Developer: Level-5

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: 3DS

Release Date: October 28, 2012

ESRB: E10+



There is no such thing as too many puzzles for a true gentleman (or gentlewoman). And in a world where any conflict can be effectively resolved by cracking puzzles ranging from challenging to…more challenging, it’s no wonder our favorite professor has developed a passion for puzzle-solving.

But believe it or not, the man under the top hat hasn’t always liked puzzles, nor was he even remotely interested in becoming an archaeologist In the professor’s first foray into 3D, we discover the change of heart as Layton’s journey extends from the present-day mystery of the Masked Gentleman to his early days as a teenager being dragged into an archaeological adventure by his buddy Randall. With such a fascinating story, along with breathtaking visuals and puzzles as mind-boggling as ever, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is one 3DS mystery you won’t want to miss out on.

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The mystery this time around, as the game’s name suggests, involves a mask that supposedly grants its wearer magical powers. When a theatrical hoodlum calling himself the Masked Gentleman appears in the desert oasis that is the Vegas-esque tourist town of Monte d’Or, Professor Layton receives a letter from an old friend who now lives there, pleading for him to stop by. Upon their arrival, Layton, his assistant Emmy, and his young apprentice Luke witness one of the Masked Gentleman’s “dark miracles” at a parade when some bystanders are seemingly turned into stone. This sets the story in motion as the trio try to dissolve the mystery of the villain’s identity while disassembling his miracles in a very Holmes-esque manner.

It’s always exciting to see the professor explain the truth behind these superficially impossible events (in the form of multiple-choice questions), but the game’s plot can unfortunately get a little predictable at times. While the overall narrative is brilliantly done, you may find yourself suspecting the actual culprit a little too early on. The game does do a fairly good job at shifting your eyes to other dubious individuals until the Masked Gentleman’s big reveal, but chances are you won’t have the same intense mystery-solving feeling that some of the past iterations (especially Unwound Future) provided.

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However, that is but a minuscule dent in the otherwise incredible narrative. While the majority of previous installments relied heavily on how big the mystery was, Miracle Mask relies a bit less on that and a bit more on how the story itself is told. This mainly involves the game’s unique way of giving a backstory. Rather than through text or through simple cutscenes, Miracle Mask actually puts you in the shoes of a teenage Layton as the past unfolds with your own puzzle-solving hands.

And these segments aren’t mere scenes that help the story along; there are full-blown chapters devoted to the past. And while the characters in the present will no doubt explain some of the more tragic parts, watching it all happen as you play is quite thrilling in its own right. Of course, as a follow-up to Last Specter, Miracle Mask also has some major connections with its predecessor, as well as being a big setup for the prequel trilogy’s finale. If the Scooby-Doo mystery of this game doesn’t sway you, it’s worth noting that the overarching story for the trilogy it’s in is holding my attention hard with the mighty grip of suspense. It hurts…

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During its transition from the DS to the 3DS, Professor Layton has made quite a visual leap. While I was skeptical at first about Level-5 scrapping the static 2D art I’ve been enjoying all these years, my skepticism disappeared immediately after witnessing the change first-hand. For one, the characters are now beautifully-rendered in cell-shaded 3D models, which allow them to move around with great buoyancy and let such actions as Layton’s signature finger-pointing flow nicely – especially when that finger pops out in 3D like it’s after your eye. Additionally, I noticed that with the 3D turned off, the characters don’t look too different from the 2D characters of olde, and with the 3D turned on, they seem to transform into their 3D selves. Now THAT’s art!

But characters aren’t the only things that had a makeover here. Just like with the hand-drawn character art, static backdrops have also been scrapped in favor of a more 3D environment. Don’t worry, though, as these are still hand-drawn, just with a lot more space to throw in environmental animations such as the flowing of water, the waving of flags, and the bustling of crowds that fit perfectly inside the spacious 3D areas. But what truly impresses me about this is the 3D effect you see when moving your view around in the top screen. Objects around you will tilt as your view shifts, giving you an amazing 2.5D effect.

Of course, showing off such effects to their fullest potential required the backdrops to swap places with their usual position in order to be on the top screen. In doing so, the mindless tapping for Hint Coins, collectables, and puzzles has been replaced with a magnifying glass that moves around in the top screen as you slide your stylus along the touchscreen. This change can feel a bit inaccurate sometimes, but it’s well worth the 3D you’re getting.

The audio work in Miracle Mask is what you would expect from a Professor Layton game – a feast for the ears. The music is as wonderful as it always is, with every song fitting everything with perfection. The voice acting is also very well-done, even if Luke can get a bit annoying here and there.

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If the story behind Layton’s adventures are the meaty parts, then puzzles are the bones. And just like any other entry, Miracle Mask certainly has no shortage. For the most part, the types of puzzles offered will be familiar to you. However, with the 3DS’ capabilities, you will also notice some differences, especially with the completely new puzzle types that add variety thanks to the system’s signature effect. There’s also a part as teenage Layton where you and your buddy Randall explore a dungeon with a top-down, Zelda-like mechanic where you solve puzzles by pushing boulders and digging holes.

Not to mention the puzzles are all just plain brilliant in design, which makes me glad that Nintendo has decided to release a new puzzle every day for a whole year after the game’s release. That’s 365 puzzles on top of over 100 that the main story already gives you! Challenge accepted.

No Layton adventure is complete without a handful of minigames shoved in your briefcase. One minigame has you guiding a little toy robot toward its goal, another has you stacking products on store shelves, and there’s even one where you train a bunny to perform in plays. They’re all quite fun and add a nice little distraction to the story and puzzle-solving.

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Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is not only a fantastic addition to the series, but a remarkable upgrade for it altogether. And that’s really saying something considering how amazing each of its predecessors has been. Sure, some of the game’s mysteries may be uncovered a bit early, but the incredible narrative style and an overall great story easily make up for that. And with its gorgeous visuals that make tremendous use of the system’s 3D feature, superb audio work, and a large selection of brilliantly-crafted puzzles, solving the mystery behind the Miracle Mask is one thing every puzzle-lover out there should put on their to-do list.

 

Pros:


+ Great story filled with mysteries

+ Breath-taking visuals, especially in 3D

+ Superb audio work, as always

+ Brilliant puzzle designs

+ Plenty of replayability


Cons:


- Certain plot points are somewhat predictable


 

Overall Score: 9 (out of 10)

Fantastic


Professor Layton's latest puzzle-solving adventure is as charming as it is remarkable. With a great story, stunning visuals, and brilliant puzzles, this is one game that's hard not to recommend.




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