Rating: Everyone 10+
Genre: Puzzle, Adventure
Publisher: Level-5, Nintendo
Release Date: October 28, 2012
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is the 5th Layton adventure to become available on the Nintendo handheld, and the first for the Nintendo 3DS. Once again, Professor Layton and his young apprentice Luke set off to help solve a mystery that the police can never seem to get a handle on. This time they are also accompanied by Layton’s assistant, Emmy. As the game begins, you are in the beautiful tourist city of Monte d’Or, which has seen incredibly quick success in growing to become a hotspot for vacations, gambling, and as of late, mysterious “dark miracles performed by a Masked Gentlemen. Layton is on the case, as he was drawn to visit the town upon receiving a letter from an old friend Angela with a cry for help. She and her husband Henry, another person from Herschel’s past, were the owners of this mysterious mask before it went missing and the Masked Gentleman appeared. Layton witnesses the latest of these attacks, as the Masked Gentleman turns many tourists and residents in the main square to stone.
There is an interesting dichotomy in the game between a storyline centered on Layton in the past and Layton in the future: bouncing back and forth between the two you learn about how Layton came to know Angela and Henry, where his archaeological roots began from, and how that relates to his interactions with Angela, Henry, and other members of the Monte d’Or in the present. This is one of the first opportunities to see Layton in his younger years, and while it does break up the story a little bit, it does help add to the mystery as it unfolds, and helps you to better appreciate and love the relationship between Herschel and Angela.
The game itself is exactly what you would expect from a Layton game, and that is definitely not a bad thing. The challenge level is manageable; some puzzles may stump you more than others, but by using your grey matter and the occasional hint coin you will be challenged yet not discouraged in progressing through the story. The difficulty progression is well paced, and the puzzle variety keeps you entertained and does not make the game feel repetitive. Even when a “part two” version of the same puzzle appears, it steps up the difficulty and is different enough to not feel drawn out or lazy.
The main storyline took me only about 12 hours, but the number of extras, mini-games, and bonus puzzles means you can spend many more hours with Layton, Luke and Emmy, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. There are three new mini-games to enjoy. The first is helping a little bunny named Nibbles become the actor he has always wanted to be, by helping him train tricks and then putting them together to tell a story and impress the grumpy man who had no faith in him. The second is a shelf stacking puzzle, which has you maximize shelving layouts in order to make your customers buy everything off the shelves. The third is helping guide a robot through a series of mazes, avoiding mice and smashing through walls to help him land on one specific square. The closer you get to solving the mystery of the Masked Gentleman, the more content you’ll unlock for each mini-game.
There are also all the collectibles and hint coins to discover, which are scattered in the highest of windows and smallest of shrubs in every explorable surface of the map. Like before, you need to explore every nook and cranny of your environment to discover both hint coins and collectibles, but the method in which you do this has changed from previous games. Instead of feverishly tapping in every space, you now zoom into the map, and scan with a magnifying glass to uncover orange colored areas – this could depict a hint coin, a collectible, a puzzle, or a conversation for you to enjoy between your party. Once you find one, clicking on it will reveal which one you have found. I really enjoy this exploration style better than the predecessor – it feels more controlled and less like I might poke a whole through the touch pad on my handheld.
The newest addition to Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is bonus puzzles, which Level-5 will be releasing for free every day for a year, beginning on the release day. Fear not if you have yet to pick up a copy; you can download any bonus puzzles you miss each time you check for them through the “bonus” selection on the game main menu. This guarantees that even after completing the story, the mini games, and finding all the hidden items, you still will have a reason to turn this game on often throughout the year.
There is a new art style to meet the 3D capabilities of the 3DS, and they really utilize the 3D elements well. I typically keep my 3D settings off, but this Layton adventure has me keeping the 3D on almost all the time. The graphic that pops up at the beginning of each puzzle looks great in 3D, as does the dialogue between characters and the environment. There is a strange discrepancy between the 2D cut scenes and the 3D scrolling dialogue, but nothing that takes away from the beautiful art design and the charming characters and story.
The Layton series of puzzle games have become a staple in the Nintendo handheld line up, and the newest installment does not disappoint the expectations of fans. It is more of the same in terms of experience and gameplay, yet presents the player with even more new puzzles, mini-games, and mysteries to solve. The new addition of daily unlockable puzzles means this game will be in your handheld day after day, and the beautiful art design utilizes the 3D capabilities of the Nintendo 3DS in one of the best ways I have seen so far. This series has been one of my favorites since Professor Layton and the Curious Village in 2007, and it remains dear to my heart still. This is worth a purchase, whether you’ve been there since the beginning, or are new to the charming world of Professor Herschel Layton.