Review: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is an adventurous and remarkable puzzle game in a charming world
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask was my first extensive experience in the world of Professor Layton. After hearing nothing but good things about the series, I had to see what all the fuss was about. I went in with high expectations and was not disappointed. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask turned out to be a puzzle/adventure game full of charm that easily makes my 'best games of the year' list.
Miracle Mask brings the professor, his assistant Emmy and his apprentice Luke to the Vegas-esque tourism town of Monte d'Or. It's a town that is under assault by the Masked Gentleman, turning people into stone and such. He's viewed with wonder by some citizens for his daring magical feats, and with contempt and fear by others and the police. Needless to say, he's the source of the town's problems that goes hand-in-hand with the mystery surrounding Monte d'Or. Navigating Monte d'Or is all done with the stylus. You can access Layton's chest, investigate, or navigate the town with simple swipes and presses.
Investigating is done by tapping the magnifying glass with the stylus. You then look around the section of Monte d'Or that you're in. It can take a little getting used to having to move the stylus along the bottom 3DS screen while looking at where you are on the top screen, but By clicking objects, people and buildings, you uncover clues, find hint coins, advance the story and, most importantly, find puzzles! Puzzles are everywhere, which is to be expected in a Professor Layton game. There's over 100 puzzles to solve over the course of the adventure, from solving riddles and untangling balloon strings, to deducing how many people are in a picture from just looking at silhouettes. They increase in difficulty as the game advances, but it's rather forgiving. Re-attempting a puzzle either lowers the amount of Picarats you get or just prolongs the time until Layton points at you with that finger, congratulating you for solving the puzzle.
Even the game's early puzzles are no cakewalk, but it never gets to the point of being frustrating, mainly because the puzzles, look and feel of the game are so charming. In addition to these puzzles, there are mini-games that you access through Layton's chest. There's ones where you guide a robot through different levels filled with obstacles, one where you use rules and logic to stock store shelves a certain way so that customers buy all of the items, and one where you train a rabbit to perform an act for the circus. Oh, and there's also some horse riding in the game. And that's not all, as a new puzzle will be released every day for a year from launch day. Talk about replay value.
Bringing together the whole package is the use of three-dimensional graphics, which is a first for the series. It's one of the first games that I can play with the 3D slider all the way up for extended periods of time — it looks that good! Everything pops, from the hand-painted backgrounds, to the cute animation of the characters, to text boxes. Puzzles look better. Investigating and zooming in on environments look better. Simply put: the 3D makes the game pop and come to life. Add in whimsical music and voice acting that bring the characters to life, and you have quite the charming package.
The adventurous prequel story about Monte d'Or and its mysteries and chaos, as well as a young Professor Layton's friends, are quite captivating — even if it does take a while to ramp up. Combine that with the sheer amount of puzzles and mini-games, you're guaranteed at least 13 hours to complete the main story. For completionists, though, you'll be able to dump a lot more time into the game. The only negative is that at times I felt bogged down by the amount of things I can do, and I constantly felt the need to investiage and re-investigate the same area every time I entered it.
For newcomers and Professor Layton vets alike, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is a remarkable puzzle game with an adventurous story set in a charming world. Everything pops with the 3D, and while changes to world exploration might take a bit to get used to, it doesn't hamper the game in any way. All this comes together to provide one of the best experiences on the 3DS and a must-have for fans of puzzle games.