"For anyone who is deeply invested in the Layton series and jumps at any chance to experience a new Layton game, Miracle Mask is not a game to be missed."
The Professor Layton series has been one of my favorite franchises since I played the first game when it was released on the DS years ago. Its unique blend of point and click adventure and a wide collection of logic puzzles has kept me captivated for four games now, but the formula has barely changed with each iteration. Now that the eponymous Layton has made the jump to Nintendo's 3DS system with his fifth entry, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, will the perspicacious PhD find new life on a new handheld?
The story of Miracle Mask begins with Professor Layton being invited to the remote town of Monte d'Or by an old acquaintance due to bizarre occurrences happening in the town. There, Layton and his companions encounter a masked man who has been performing supernatural "miracles" that amaze and terrify the townsfolk. Layton himself is witness to the masked man's latest feat when dozens of the town's citizens are turned to stone by the masked man's power. Layton, never one to turn down the chance to solve a mystery, attempts to find out the truth behind the masked man's sudden appearance.
Chapters switch between present-day Layton, flanked by his assistant Emmy and apprentice Luke, and past Layton, who is accompanied by his best friend Randall. The player follows both story lines in parallel, and as the present Layton inches closer to solving the mystery of the masked man, so too does the younger Layton reveal his past connections to the present-day story and how he embarked on his passion in archaeology.
As the first game in the series on the 3DS, Miracle Mask makes the transition from 2D to 3D – characters are no longer sprites, but 3D models. They lack some of the charm the 2D sprites had, and they suffer from some oddities like visible polygons in their awkward looking hands, but all things considered, the new models keep what makes the characters unique and grant an animated quality that they didn't have before. The backgrounds are beautifully done, with 3D models that look distinctly hand-drawn, with vibrant colors and excellent design. Voicework and music remain the same as in previous entries – well done, but nothing exceptional.
If you've never played a Professor Layton game before, it is mainly comprised of two separate parts. The first part is point-and-click adventure. Professor Layton, driven to solve the mystery of the masked man, traverses through Monte d'Or, gathering information and speaking to suspects in his quest to crack the case. The environments are shown in the top screen now, with the bottom screen being used as a map and to interact with the environment. The interaction with the game is helped by the fact that the cursor will alert the player when there's something of interest, making exploration and investigation much more user friendly.
When talking to different residents of the town, Layton is often beset with random puzzles that the townspeople bring up, and they require him to solve those puzzles before they are willing to spill their guts. This transition can be confusing for first time players, since it appears that a suspect is forcing Layton to do his math homework before allowing himself to be interrogated, but the mix of adventure and logic puzzles really works to the game's advantage, as story intensive sections are often split up by brain-taxing logic puzzles.
The problem is that after five games, the developers are obviously running out of ideas for logic puzzles, and a good number of Miracle Mask's puzzles are visual or verbal tricks rather than honest-to-goodness logic puzzles that require creative thinking. For every honestly brain-taxing logic puzzle, there are two or three puzzles that just rely on subtle wordplay or visual trickery that will be old hat for anyone who's played a Layton game before. They are still interesting, and by no means does this issue diminish enjoyment of the game, but the Layton formula is starting to show its age. Overall, the puzzles are a joy to play through, if a bit by-the-numbers – few other things compare to the feeling of besting a puzzle that has stumped you for hours (or even days).
Outside of the main story and 150 in-game puzzles, Miracle Mask also has three unlockable mini-games, all of which are incredibly enjoyable and add more mind-bending puzzles; the later stages on some of these mini-games can be downright cruel. Miracle Mask also has downloadable puzzles that are updated rather consistently, and each of those are also very well-designed and impressive. One can easily wring 20 to 25 hours out of the game, not just solving its various puzzles but also exploring the myriad locations in Monte d'Or and searching for treasures.
The Layton series' formulaic approach to gameplay is a double-edged sword – it's still engaging and fun, but at the same time, the premise has begun to show some weathering. Still, the mix of point-and-click adventure and logic puzzles is something that few other games can offer, and Miracle Mask still does it well. For anyone who is deeply invested in the Layton series and jumps at any chance to experience a new Layton game, Miracle Mask is not a game to be missed.