Review: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

ProfessorLaytonAndTheMiracleMask

If there’s another naked “and the” running around in the gaming landscape, that means there’s another shot for the crew at Level-5 to clothe it with a “Professor Layton” and a “Something something” on either end.  The sumpin sumpin this time is the Kiseki no Kamen, or Mask of Miracle or, as has been localized in North America, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask.  Taking place before the first game, [and the] Curious Village, but after the last one released, [and the] Last Specter, the continuity would be a real headache if it mattered.  All that really matters is the newest Professor Layton game and that it is a step up in quality for the series.

This adventure finds the Prof, Luke, and his other assistant Emmy going to Monte d’Or, an all ages Las Vegas-esque city in a desert that thrived over the last two decades on an economy based on spectacle and games of chance.  Angela Ledore has summoned Layton and his hop’alongs to investigate the mysterious Masked Gentleman who has been upsetting things by performing various miracles.  Which sounds nice, but is in fact the most benign way that one could ever describe turning the populace of a town to stone.  I might have said “atrocity” but ‘Professor Layton and the Mask of Atrocities’ sounds like both a nerd metal band and a game that needs a higher rating than E10+. 

It should come as no shock to anyone that the plot is as complicated as any case that Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and the gang encountered.  There are flashback scenarios where we get to see a young Layton without his signature top hat, but the story never advances beyond charming into the realm of interesting.  The portions that are voiced are done well and with the same comforting British accents that the characters have always sported.  The voices are confined to the frequent ten second cartoon cinematic and occasionally the dialogue bookending these action sequences.  Most of the time, the story is conveyed in plain text and a series of short pleasant tones will accompany the scrolling text.  This presentation should be familiar to any Layton fan or anyone that has played a Level-5 game before.

The story serves largely as a way to force the characters to go from place to place, encountering puzzles along the way.  Whenever someone is seen milling around, doing nothing in particular, you can bet that if you tap on them a red explanation mark (!) will appear and they will say something, and eventually give one of a hundred variations on “Now try this puzzle, smart guy.”  This is the real meat of the game and the reason fans keep coming back and the singular reason why anyone would ever slide this into their 3DS or download it from the eShop. Every numbered puzzle will queue up the classic low-key Layton solving music and present a logic or spatial brainteaser that will usually get the brain a’cooking. The teasers run from fairly obvious to “I would never have gotten that.”  Hint coins found throughout the world can be spent to get an increasingly helpful hint to the solution.  I took a new tactic in playing this Layton game: if the solution or the path to it was not apparent in ten seconds, I spent a hint coin.  Before I would horde them like a Duckberg miser, hoping to one day swim in my digital bounty.  Even changing my tightwad ways still left a large surplus of hint currency towards the end.

The only thing else to note about these self-contained puzzles is that now some puzzles which require moving things, like wooden rabbits which turn from white to brown whenever they are jumped over and all the white ones must be turned brown to complete the puzzle, are reflected with moving puzzle pieces on the top screen.  This is an unnecessary graphical improvement, but it does help the puzzles feel less static.  As the story progresses, a few puzzles that Layton can take on the go are unlocked.  Luke gets a pet bunny to train as well as a toy robot to complete various courses with, but it is really an excuse for contextless logic problems.  These do not need to be completed in order to progress, indeed many of the puzzles do not need to be completed to progress, but constantly unlocking these does make it feel like there is always another challenge around the next bend.

Miracle Mask has given the series a facelift into the third dimension.  Rather than looking at pictures of the characters as bubbles of text appear on the screen, now fully detailed and moving three-dimensional characters can be seen as bubbles of text appear.  The world is no longer a few drawn backgrounds but a lush and moving cartoon world.  Turning on the 3D capabilities of the 3DS draws the characters out of the backgrounds and makes them into little animated imps moving about on the top screen.  While the older games were never a brown and gray mess, the color range has been increased as well.  It is a very visually appealing game.

These improvements are not merely to increase the eye candy, they make the game better.  In earlier games, the way to play was to tap all over the screen to hopefully reveal a hint coin or even a hidden puzzle hiding in some random pixel.  Because the coins and puzzles would not always appear when an area was first encountered, that equaled a lot of tapping and retapping.  Now the touch screen is used to move a magnifying glass to highlight interactive objects or characters to talk to in a 3D environment.  Exploration is the same as it ever was, searching for hint coins and puzzles in odd nooks and crannies, but at least now there are only a few taps necessary.  It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when I think of how much of a pain it was to tap all over those old games, I don’t want to go back.

Similar to past Layton titles, players can connect to the internet to download additional puzzles, should the 150 in the main game not be enough to quench your thirst for curious conundrums.  Via the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection, parched puzzlers can download a new puzzle every day until the game’s one year anniversary for a total of 365 downloadable puzzles.  While that sounds like a lot–and it is–so far there are only multiple variations on about 20 puzzle types and looking at the user interface, it does not look like there will ever be additional types, just harder and harder versions of the same puzzles.  The downloadable content will be fun for puzzle fanatics, but far, far less than the variety of riddles in the main game to hold anyone else’s interest.

There is not much more to say about the newest Layton game, it simply is just that.  Ignoring the graphics overhaul, which would be a huge disservice to the work of the developer and the impact it has on navigation, it is the same game that came out five years ago when players were invited to “Solve brainteasers to crack the case!”  That being written, this is a fantastic Professor Layton game.  There are more puzzles than there ever were before with even more available for download.  The new three-dimensional character models are dynamic and expressive and easier to interact with.  All in all, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is great game for anyone even remotely interested in puzzles.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ New and improved graphics freshen things up
+ Game is easy to navigate
+ Hatless Layton
+ Free DLC

Cons:
– Story is inconsequential to gameplay
– DLC is not as varied as the main game

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Level-5
Release Date: 10/28/2012
Genre: Puzzle Adventure
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.