"Layton's Gonna Tease Your Brain"
A review for a new Professor Layton game has arrived, and it isn't written by GameDynamo's very own Maria Montoro (shock!). While I lack the playing experience with the franchise that she has, my time with Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask proves that previous experience is not necessary to enjoy the series' latest installment and debut on the Nintendo 3DS.
Like the games before it, Miracle Mask throws players right into a mystery full of intrigue, this time set in the tourist town of Monte d'Or. Having come there at the request of an old friend, Layton arrives just in time to discover people who have seemingly been turned into statues, the latest of a number of apparently magical acts from a mysterious figure known as the Masked Gentleman.
Of course, as fans will probably figure out, things are not as they seem, and as Layton gets deeper into the case of the Masked Gentleman, he finds that he is more personally involved than he originally thought. As the plot thickens, we are given glimpses into Layton's university days and learn of an important event that ties into the present, one that shapes Layton into the mystery-solving professor he is to become. It all comes together to form a solid and engaging story that keeps one entertained until the end.
To solve the mystery, players will have to crack the case in the same manner as in the previous games: getting through a mountain of puzzles designed to beat your brain to mush. In this regard, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask fails to disappoint. Scattered throughout Monte d'Or are over 130 puzzles of various types. Many are key to pushing the plot forward, but most are found by snooping around the town or talking to the folks who inhabit it.
While I can't personally say how the puzzles in Miracle Mask fare when placed next to the ones in past games, I can say that they are very fun and delightfully challenging. More often than not, the solutions to puzzles are cleverly hidden and require some out-of-the-box thinking to clear them. Indeed, I would pick what seemed the natural answer to a puzzle, only to be sent back to learn that I was not paying close enough attention. Still, the puzzles never felt unforgiving. Even the most difficult can be made easier through hints which can be purchased with Hint Coins hidden around town (I know, I made more use of them than I care to admit), and even then the hints tend to only point you in the right direction instead of simply telling you how to clear the puzzles.
Solving puzzles to solve Layton's latest mystery may be the crux of the game, but that's not all you can do. Outside of the puzzles, Miracle Mask offers plenty of mini-games that have players doing things like guiding a robot through an obstacle course, arranging items on a store shelf to attract customers, and training a rabbit to perform in-stage shows. The game also includes bonus video episodes, which are basically little anecdotes between the characters that don't connect to the plot but are entertaining nonetheless.
At a little over 130 puzzles, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask may not boast the largest number of story-mode puzzles, but it more than makes up for that with the new puzzles they have been releasing since its October release date, and they will continue to do so for a full year. So far, the puzzles have been entertaining, if somewhat simpler than their main game counterparts. Also, as of this writing, the new puzzles are more challenging rehashes of the ones before, which may disappoint some, but they still provide a fun, if brief, challenge, and ought to far into the coming year.
All in all, Miracle Mask doesn't do much to revolutionize the series. It's pretty much the same gameplay that fans have enjoyed for the last few years. The only major change is the visual representation. Thanks to the enhanced graphical capabilities of the 3DS, the charming visual style of the series is bumped up even further, with 2D characters and scenery replaced with animated 3D model and vibrant settings that are a delight to look at, especially in 3D.
It may bum some out that this is pretty much the extent of the incorporation of the 3DS's tech, as the 3D or the gyro controls are never really used during actual gameplay (I came across only one puzzle that made use of the system's gyro controls, one). While the visuals have definitely improved, the same can't be said about how the game plays.
Still, that's hardly something to complain about, since Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is an incredibly solid game and another worthwhile entry in an incredibly solid series. With an excellent story, beautiful scenery, and, most importantly, fun but challenging puzzles that will strain skulls, this is yet another Layton adventure that will keep longtime fans entertained, while showing newcomers (such as myself) what a joy the series can be.
GameDynamo's Score for Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (3DS)
A writer, journalist, and aspiring storyteller, Peter Grimm has been gaming since the days of the Nintendo 64, and reporting on the goings-on in the World of Gaming since late 2011. His base of writing operations is located within the void between Here and There, or so he would have you think.
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