"Miracle Mask looks to be another excellent addition to the series, albeit with a couple of odd changes."
I was chatting to a female friend of mine the other day about guys and how to tell whether or not they're really a gentleman. As soon as she asked, my mouth responded before my brain: "If they're like Professor Layton! He is a true gentleman!" Luckily, she had played the first game in the series, so I didn't sound like a complete idiot.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask (previously titled Mask of Miracle) is the next release in the series for those of us outside Japan. More importantly, it's the first title on 3DS. I had a chance to play it during the EB Games Expo in Australia, and was quite surprised (in both good and bad ways) at the changes that had been made.
On this adventure, Professor Layton and Luke are in Monte d'Or, the City of Miracles, during a festival. They arrive after Layton received a letter from an old friend requesting his help to solve a dangerous mystery plaguing the beautiful city. The game plays out just like previous titles: explore the city, solve puzzles, put a stop to the bad guy. It's a great formula, it works well, and there are all the usual twists and tricks to keep you guessing.
During the demo, I only had a small taste of the story, but I did get to try out a lot of the new and updated features. Most notably, Layton and Luke (along with other characters) now sport proper 3D models. It's quite a charming look, but one I'm not sure all players will prefer. Backgrounds and scenery are still 2D (and as beautiful as always) and you can navigate and examine them with a few taps.
Interestingly, investigating the environment works a little differently now. Instead of simply tapping on the screen to assess a particular object, you now need to touch a magnifying glass icon and then drag it across the screen, stopping on whatever you want to check out. It feels a little awkward and unintuitive compared to the simple point and click of past titles. Another strange change is puzzle layout. Many puzzles (at least in the demo) took place solely on the bottom screen, while you could see a character or other event on the top screen. In some ways this was a refreshing change, but it also meant text and other explanations were overlayed on top of the puzzle.
I only had a chance to try out a few of the puzzles, but they were refreshingly unique from those in past games. For example, the first puzzle in the game involved untying a man wrapped up in string. Using the touch screen I had to slide the strings around until they were no longer tangled. It was far more difficult than it sounds (and only a 20 Picarat difficulty too!), but quite unlike any other puzzles I had played in the series before. It felt more interactive than the static puzzles of the past.
Those beautifully animated cutscenes are still around and still drawn stunningly in 2D. The sound was solid, and the voice acting just as good as usual. The 3D effects were impressive and quite immersive, though they didn't really add anything in terms of gameplay. Miracle Mask looks to be another excellent addition to the series, albeit with a couple of odd changes.