A Slow Burn
The Layton games don’t really need to be played in any particular order. For the most part. Other than a new character introduced here and there, each installment is pretty much its own standalone adventure. Which is lucky for me. After playing through the original DS trilogy out of order, I’ve now started the next trilogy right where you might have guessed: smack in the middle! Having skipped The Last Specter on the DS – for now – I’ve jumped ahead right to the 3DS’s premiere Layton title, Miracle Mask.
My initial thoughts, until at least halfway through the game or further, were that this was by far the dullest Layton game I’d played so far.
A later reevaluation shed a little more favorable light on the game, however. Though I maintain that it is the slowest game in the franchise to grow into its plot (and in the process proves to be quite dull and long-winded for a good stretch of time), it ultimately evolves into quite an emotional tale worthy of the series’ roots.
Professor Layton, Luke, and Emmy (whose introduction in the previous I missed out on) are called by an old friend of Layton’s to the oasis town of Monte d’Or, in the middle of the desert. A mysterious stranger, known only as the Masked Gentleman, has been performing various “Dark Miracles” each night in Monte d’Or, ranging from making paintings come to life to turning people to stone. The local (inept) police force is baffled, and Layton must lend a hand in securing the masked trickster before anyone else is seriously injured.
If you’ve played a Layton game before, you’ll be 100% familiar with the gameplay and how the game unfolds. The trio wander around Monte d’Or, talking to citizens, solving a myriad of puzzles, and participating in various minigames. Though Miracle Mask was a launch game for the 3DS, there is really nothing in this game that utilizes the new hardware in a way unique from its predecessors – it plays identically to each of the last four Layton games.
There is, however, one section near the end of the game that is a departure from the traditional formula. The game takes place in two distinct time periods, eighteen years apart; the modern-day time period regularly switches to a flashback of Layton’s past, recounting events that feature him as a young man, which will ultimately tie into the events of the present. During one such flashback section, the game switches to an overhead dungeon exploration scenario for a bit, reminiscent of the handheld Zelda titles, minus the combat. It was an unexpected, if not altogether unpleasant, departure that still felt a little out-of-place in a Layton game.
There’s a pretty limited amount still left to say about these games at this point in their history. I recently played a Layton knockoff (read my 9 Elefants review for more), and I’m continuously amazed at how the development team consistently implements such a large number of quality puzzles that are engaging, varied, and, above all, challenging. But they’ve come through again, and with flying colors at that! Apart from that, the last remaining thing still sticking in my craw is Emmy…she just feels like too much of a bitch toward Luke, and not a very likable addition to the team.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask may start off slow, but the time the credits roll it has earned itself a well-deserved place in the canon. Oh, and it ends on a very juicy cliffhanger, meaning the days of randomly jumping from game to game may be behind me – a first for the series! Guess I’ll need to make sure to get my hands on a copy of The Azran Legacy the next time I get an itch for some puzzle solvin’.