Review by Megagamer1

"The Layton series' first foray into 3D maintans the charm and challenge in an improved package."

The Professor Layton series, first introduced to North American audiences in February of 2008, has always appealed to a broad audience. Humans, by nature, are inquisitive beings; for some, the task of solving academic problems presents a thrill like no other. The best puzzle games have an intrinsically addictive quality that compensate for what might be considered redundant behavior - it was no mistake that the original Nintendo Gameboy saw spectacular success with Tetris in 1998; nor is it surprising Bejeweled has sold over 225 million units. The Layton series, in contrast, has never been about singular exercises - of the four titles available to North American audiences, each includes well over one hundred puzzles, a majority of which are unique to one another. Of course, certain puzzles are repeated for each game, and some of the more popular ones see different iterations across titles. That said, the challenges of every entry remain mostly fresh; no single title is "better" or "more relevant" than another when it comes to the core attraction: puzzle solving.

For those inexperienced to the Layton series, the basics are such: every Layton game introduces a contained story, with elements carrying over between respective trilogies. The Miracle Mask is the middle entry of the second trilogy, a prequel of sorts to the first three games: The Curious Village, The Diabolical Box and The Unwound Future. The Miracle Mask wisely refrains from referencing the stories of the first trilogy, allowing players to participate in those adventures without losing the opportunity of surprise. At the time of writing this review, this author had not played The Last Specter, the first title of the prequel trilogy. Thankfully, aside from the missed introduction of a major character, Emmy, relevant elements of The Last Specter are almost entirely reserved for the end of the game. Miracle Mask easily facilitates new players into the Layton series' world without spoiling the previous four games.

At the heart of the Layton series are its puzzles; never has the series offered such variety: arithmetic problems, word associations, visual challenges, mazes, and so forth. Not every puzzle will entice players - those that are better spatial thinkers might find enjoyment in the geometric issues, whereas those that are critical-readers will excel at the linguistic propositions. Every type of genius has his or her own challenges ahead of them; Miracle Mask does an excellent job of maintaining a balanced experience for all players. It's worth mentioning that as the series has developed, so too has the fluidity of puzzle introductions; if the earlier titles have a fault, it's that conversations often awkwardly segued into puzzles. Characters are a bit more subtle this time around, which greatly helps the immersion factor.

It was difficult to predict how the Layton series would translate into 3D. The original trilogy presented an unique aesthetic with truly strong character design and gorgeous environments. Let it be clear: Layton has never looked so wonderful. The backgrounds, which engage the player by concealing goodies (hint coins, puzzles and collector items, more on those in a bit,) appear with incredible depth. The presentation is split into two types: animated movies and a 3D game world. While the former suffers from marginalized 3D effects and the lower definition of the system itself, the latter provides one of the best looking experiences seen on the console. If one criticism can be raised, it's that some of the character models appear a bit generic, in contrast to the brilliant design of characters prior.

Environments hide collectable objects, as mentioned. "Hint Coins" are the series abundant currency which may be used to purchase hints for every puzzle. Unlike in the first few games, ever puzzle offers four viable hints, many of which nearly solve the puzzle for the player; earlier series entries would refrain from providing useful hints for the final puzzles (which were not required for completing the story.) It is a bit disappointing that the safety net for players has been expanded as much, but it is still possible to complete the game without obtaining the necessary amount of "Picarats" (points awarded for getting the correct answer to a puzzle without making mistakes) to unlock all bonus content: voice clips, art work - mostly superfluous items, but interesting nonetheless.

Collectable items are another form of bonus content, in that they are not necessary to unlock anything in and of themselves. Collectables are strewn throughout the game world, and used to show off the 3D effects of the console. They're a nice addition, albeit not a particularly spectacular one.

Including in Miracle Mask are three mini-games, as is tradition for the series. The first, "Robot," is a maze-like adventure, which sees the player attempting to land on a particular grid while avoiding obstacles. The second, "Shop," requires the player to link like objects in a confined space. The last, and perhaps most interesting, is a pet simulator: in the third chapter, the player obtains their choice of rabbit, and must "train" the creature to perform in "Rabbit plays." Although "Rabbit" may seem like a poor man's Nintendogs/Nintencats, the plays themselves are interesting word puzzles and benefit from an absolutely hilarious series of dialogue. Of the three, "Robot" was the least enjoyable, as the difficulty was too reliant on specificity of movement.

This review has purposefully neglected to speak on behalf of the primary story, if only to avoid spoilers. Without revealing too much, Miracle Mask alternates between the present and Layton's youth, in an effort to expand upon the character's history. Member's of Layton's past, however, are known to be insignificant in the grand scheme of the series, but for the fact that their relevance is non-existent in the previous trilogy. And, while the first few chapters are quite deft in their handling of the eponymous mystery, Miracle Mask shows its hand too early, cheapening the ultimate reveal. That said, the plot itself holds one's attention, despite its latter failings.

Miracle Mask may not be a new experience for mainstay players, but its content-rich package is difficult to pass over. On top of the lengthy twenty plus hour run-time and bonuses gallery, Miracle Mask delivers daily puzzles via Wi-fi - totaling 365 one year from release. Although the variety of these puzzles is much more limited than those in the main game, there are still about fifteen categories of challenges. As the puzzles are free, it's difficult to complain.

Miracle Mask is a welcome entry into the series, one attractive to players of the previous entries, while still successful in integrating a new audience. It's the kind of title that players will find themselves returning to every few years, if only to experience the magic once again.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/18/13

Game Release: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (US, 10/28/12)

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