With five videogames, a movie, and a future crossover title with everyoneâ€™s favourite defence lawyer, Professor Layton just keeps growing as a household name. While heâ€™s no Mario yet, heâ€™s almost become a mascot for the Nintendo DS; it was only natural, then, for his next outing to be on the 3DS.
With the extra power and 3D capabilities of Nintendo's new handheld, itâ€™s good to see the series being pushed a little further graphically, and taking full advantage of the downloadable content (DLC) abilities Nintendo now offer.
Like every other Professor Layton title, the Miracle Mask is essentially a story book filled with puzzles (or, possibly, a puzzle book filled with story.) In the second game of the prequel trilogy, Professor Layton, Luke, and Emma have been invited to Monte dâ€™Or by one of Laytonâ€™s old school friends. The letter states that a series of terrifying incidents have caused a disturbance in the town and that it all seems to be connected to an archaeological artifact: the Mask of Chaos.
When Layton arrives he sees first hand one of the â€śterrifying incidentsâ€ť as a Masked Gentleman -- adorned with the Mask of Chaos -- turns people to stone and then flies off into the night. After losing sight of the perpetrator Layton and colleagues turn to question the town and uncover the mysteries surrounding the whos and whys of the incidents.
In a series first, the game jumps back and forth between current time and 18 years ago, when Hershel Laytonâ€™s friend Randall first believes he has uncovered the whereabouts of the legendary Mask of Chaos. Itâ€™s a nice side-story that ties together the main mystery and a welcome addition to the series.
As always, itâ€™s the story, and the amazingly well crafted animated sequences, that will push gamers to finish the title itself. Thatâ€™s not to say the meat of the game is boring, in fact itâ€™s quite the opposite, but for those that are maybe a little tired of what is effectively the fifth game of reskinned puzzles, youâ€™ll be excused if youâ€™re not overly excited to find and complete each one.
Because the game essentially only has one game mechanic, youâ€™ll find that every new character you meet is either stumped and needs help with a puzzle, is eager to test Laytonâ€™s puzzle solving skills, or has placed one somewhere in the environment in the hopes that it would catch your eye. The majority of the puzzles do nothing to progress the story and usually have nothing at all to do with whatâ€™s happening in Monte dâ€™Or, and some can be downright boring or frustrating, but they can be skipped for later or ignored altogether.
In the same vein as the other Professor Layton titles, developers Level 5 have included some mini-games to help break up what can end up feeling like non-stop puzzle solving. In The Miracle Mask, youâ€™ll find yourself in horse races, helping a bunny rehearse for stage plays, in an amazingly fun and addictive item selling mini-game, and a â€śget robot from A to Bâ€ť puzzle, each with numerous stages that can be unlocked. While they are essentially just more puzzles to complete, they are the most fleshed out and exciting ones of the lot.
If thereâ€™s one thing Level 5 know, itâ€™s presentation. The game looks and feels perfect and the animated cutscenes -- with 3D layers -- really help push the gamer through the story. For a series first, each of the characters have been crafted in 3D models that manage to completely capture the character and style of the previously hand-drawn bunch. The only real downside of the way Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is presented, and therefore controls, is in the way the map works. Instead of just being able to quick travel to points on the map, youâ€™re forced to get there screen by screen.
While this is used to ensure you find every puzzle that pops up during the story, it ends up causing a lot of backtracking and looking over and searching areas youâ€™ve already searched just in-case a new puzzle has reared its head.
In-case the 150 puzzles found in The Miracle Mask just arenâ€™t enough to quench your puzzle-solving thirst, thereâ€™s a flood of puzzles new puzzles planned for the title too. Ever since launch, Nintendo have released one downloadable puzzle a day, and will be continuing to do so for a full year. Itâ€™s a great way to keep the series alive and in your 3DS until the next Professor Layton arrives.
If youâ€™ve never played a Professor Layton title, youâ€™re missing out, and now is a good a place as any to jump right in. You donâ€™t need to know anything about the characters or the story to enjoy this iteration, and fans of the series will be able to learn a little more about the Professorâ€™s past. Those looking for the series to evolve, however, might want to leave this one alone in favour of the upcoming Level 5 / Capcom crossover Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney.