Review: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
It's always a pleasure to play a Professor Layton game and Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is no exception. In fact, being the first in a 3DS exclusive allows Miracle Mask to shine more brightly than ever before. Full to the brim with intriguing new mysteries, brain teasing puzzles and a delightfully charming cast of characters, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask impresses at every turn.
Not unlike its predecessors, Miracle Mask sees Layton, his assistant Emmy and his apprentice Luke heading to an exotic location -- Monte d'Or -- to crack a mystery that's befuddling the locals and police alike. This time around, Monte d'Or -- also known as the city of miracles -- is under threat from the Masked Gentleman. Claiming to wield the power of the Mask of Chaos, the Masked Gentleman has been performing extraordinary feats, terrorising residents and tourists alike. This is the most personal mystery for the Professor yet as the mask is firmly rooted in his past and that of the city's founder, wife and chief rival.
In a first for the series, we are taken back into Layton's past -- as a young schoolboy uninterested in puzzles and archaeology alike -- which sets the scene for the present day mysteries. The way the narrative weaves the past and present together is magical, each contributing to and furthering the mysteries in clever and unexpected ways. The sections set in the past provide a fascinating glimpse into the Professor's past and reveal more about his character and motivations than ever before. For a puzzle solving hand-held game Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is surprisingly moving and emotionally charged -- even more so than previous entries.
Gameplay should be familiar to any veterans of the series. You move through the city, interacting with the colourful characters inhabiting it, in an attempt to solve over-arching mysteries. More often than not, you'll be asked to solve a puzzle in return for assistance, and as ever, the puzzles are frequent, plentiful and (mostly) a real joy to solve. On occasion, you will come across a puzzle that feels cheap. You're sure you have the correct answer and are instead presented with a defeated looking Layton voicing his disappointment at failing. When you finally do solve the puzzle it's revealed that instead of relating to the clues you're given it's actually sneakily worded and the real puzzle is in discovering that fact. These puzzles are not uncommon throughout the Professor Layton series and whilst I expected them, they remain -- in my eyes -- cheap and much less engaging than the "real" puzzles.
The remainder of the puzzles are as delightful as ever and really benefit from the presentation allowed by the 3DS top screen. Many puzzles are presented with 3D graphics but, with the stereoscopic 3D enabled, they really pop from the screen in a subtle but slick way. There's no overpowering or awkwardly wedged in 3D, here. The same goes for the environments; whilst they look gorgeous without the 3D turned on, Monte d'Or somehow seems even more alive with it on. The visuals aren't the only thing to benefit from the transition to the 3DS, as the game's soundtrack is truly wondrous. If you play handheld games without sound, Miracle Mask is one you should definitely invest in some earphones for. The tunes are catchy and jaunty, and perfectly set the tone. More than once, I was humming along and bobbing my head with a big smile on my face. In fact, Miracle Mask's greatest strength lies in its ability to make you grin. From the often funny dialogue, to the charming and cute characters and the puzzles themselves Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask should leaves your cheeks sore from the smile plastered on your face.
I have only two complaints about Miracle Mask -- both of which are fairly minor. The first of which relates to the game's memo system. When solving puzzles, you are able to bring up a memo screen -- not unlike a notepad -- and make notes to help solve the puzzle. But, since the memo screen overlays the answers, I found myself having to switch back and forth between memos and clues. The whole point of the memo system was to make it easier to remember clues and eliminate possibilities and in this game it's a little too cumbersome and clunky for my liking. It may be that I need to work on my short term memory, but I preferred the memo system employed by previous games in the series. The second complain I have is that once the story is complete there is no real incentive to play through it again. The joy and wonder in the story is to be found in the discovery and knowing the outcome diminishes the fun. All the puzzles found in the main game are available to play whenever you like upon completion however and a puzzle a day for a full year will be available to download, which should keep fans going.
Aside from the story and puzzles there is (of course) the hunt for hidden Hint Coins and Collection items. A few mini games also add to the proceedings, proving the occasional much needed distraction from particularly devious puzzles.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is a fantastic addition to the series and will provide hours - or perhaps an entire year - of entertainment. It makes brilliant use of the 3DS' stereoscopic display and sound capabilities. Perfectly suited for playing on the go, I can't recommend it enough. Bring on the next mystery and the next set of puzzles.