Professor Layton is one of the great reliable gaming franchises. It never changes much, does a great job with its basic formula, and leaves you satisfied. Of course, it takes a certain mindset to enjoy it, and it’s not for everyone. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is the latest entrant in the series, with one major change: the move from the Nintendo DS to the Nintendo 3DS and its fancy new 3D screen. And while you can question the series for sticking to the same formula all the time, sometimes there’s something to be said for maintaining the status quo.
You can pick up pretty much any Professor Layton game and get the same thing. A gentleman in a top hat with his extremely polite accomplices investigate a mystery (this time, a strange masked man seems to have turned a number of parade watchers to stone) while taking time to solve puzzles that pretty much come out of nowhere. “Yes, that strange man actually reminds me of a puzzle I once saw. Let’s take a break from investigating this crime to try it!” “Yes, Professor, that scrap of cloth does seem suspicious because PUZZLE!” It’s goofy and quirky, but for some reason it works, and the high quality of each game in the series makes the plot flow issues quite forgivable. Miracle Mask is no exception.
Of course, there is one somewhat major change this time around to talk about, and that’s the inclusion of 3D. The game looks terrific with its distinct art style (the city of Monte d’Or really comes alive in 3D and with the higher resolution of the 3DS), and the scenes you investigate use the 3D effect very well. Of course, Layton fans will remember that usually you’re investigating on the touch screen, so the move to the top 3D screen means a bit of a change in how you investigate. It doesn’t take long to figure out how to use the bottom touch pad while scouring the top 3D screen, and once you see how good the 3D looks, you should be fine with the change.
Also new is how the story moves back and forth between present day and a look back on Layton’s younger days as a lad still studying at school. Apparently the whole “awkward puzzle appearance” thing has been going on with him for years. It doesn’t change anything about the puzzles and just serves to freshen the story aspect up a bit. There are also a few new sidequest-style activities that add even more depth to the proceedings, though you’ll want to make sure you don’t get too caught up in them (which is easy to do) lest you forget about the main campaign. One particularly quirky one involves teaching a rabbit how to be a proper circus bunny. It makes no sense in context to the rest of what’s going on, and yet, it somehow just works.
Overall, you can’t really complain about value. Beyond all the little side distractions and the main story, the more than 120 included puzzles are as they always are, and that is very good. As a nice bonus, Nintendo are also providing lots of downloadable puzzles for you to try to add extra value to the title. Some of the puzzles take a bit of advantage of the 3D screen, but for the most part they’re just the same solid brainteasers you’ve come to expect from this series. Of course, the level of difficulty of them keeps them out of the realm of younger kids, and while the content itself is E10+ worthy, I would imagine there are some 10-year-olds who will struggle with a lot of the puzzles. But for the kids who get it, Miracle Mask does a great job with exercising their brains not only with the puzzles, but also thinking about the mysteries going on.
The GamerPops Recommendation
Like the ones that came before it, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is a quality title with lots of great puzzles to keep your brain working. The story frames things nicely, and the jump to the 3DS did not disappoint at all. The rub, of course, is that the niche nature of these titles give it a limited appeal, and the basic formula doesn’t change much, so it makes it more difficult to bring in non-fans with flashy new ideas. Still, every gamer should really try at least one Professor Layton game in their lifetime. If you’ve got a 3DS and haven’t tried one yet, Miracle Mask is as good a jumping in point as any. If you’re a Layton fan still on the fence for some reason, don’t be, it’s as good as it ever was.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops.
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ESRB Rating Summary
Rating: Everyone 10+
Content descriptors: Mild Violence
Rating summary: This is a puzzle-adventure game in which players follow Professor Layton and his young assistants as they investigate mysterious events in the fictional city of Monte d’Or. As players solve puzzles and interact with characters, they can trigger various cutscenes, some of which depict brief acts of violence (e.g., armed guards firing guns at a character; characters sword-fighting against mechanical creatures; townspeople crying out and running from falling debris). One still-frame sequence depicts silhouettes—surrounded by fire, describes citizens “engulfed in flames” on a platform (e.g., “That’s not a miracle. That’s a public execution.”).