Nintendo / Level-5
3DS, iOS, Android (3DS version reviewed)
The DS was massively successful at the time, partly thanks to the likes of Brain Training and partly thanks to the fact the Wii was doing similar degrees of gangbusters.
As such, following a TV ad campaign, the first Professor Layton game sold out all over the UK and became nigh-on impossible to buy until well after Christmas.
Now, here we are nearly a decade later and it’s fair to say the situation has changed. Nintendo is once again massively popular thanks to the Switch and 3DS, but the Layton series doesn’t appear to have enjoyed the same continued success.
Instead, Layton’s Mystery Journey is out tomorrow and it’s fair to say social media isn’t exactly white hot with hype surrounding it.
It’s strange. Despite being the seventh game in the series (eighth if you count the Phoenix Wright crossover), it’s still the same formula.
You could argue it should be just as popular for that reason, but it’s more realistic to argue the opposite: a lack of evolution has meant all but the most dedicated Layton fans have had their fill by now.
Layton’s Mystery Journey is an attempt to mix things up: if not in terms of general game mechanics, at least in terms of plot.
For the first time in the series, players won’t be following the adventures of Professor Herschel Layton. Instead, his daughter Katrielle takes over the spotlight.
The prof’s disappeared, you see, and Katrielle is keen to find out what’s happened to him. In the meantime, she’s set up her own detective agency… sounds like she’d rather she was Phoenix Wright’s daughter instead.
Katrielle is joined by her assistant Ernest – a wee sap who fills the Luke role perfectly – and a talking dog called Sherl O. C. Kholmes (ugh) who has amnesia and tags along in the hope that Katrielle can find out more about his past.
Rather than one lengthy adventure split into chapters as in the previous games, Layton’s Mystery Journey instead consists of a bunch of smaller cases – look, are we sure she isn’t Phoenix Wright’s lassie? – all with an overarching theme, one involving the seven most influential people in London.
The structure may be different, but the actual process is the same: you travel from area to area speaking to people and solving puzzles while trying to crack the mystery you’re currently working on.
As ever, puzzles are introduced in the most tenuous ways imaginable (“what a fine day we’re having, young Miss: by the way, here’s a fucking puzzle for no reason”), and as ever these puzzles are the meat of the game.
While there are a few more of these puzzles than there usually are in Layton games, it also feels like there’s a higher proportion of poor ones.
It seems to overdo it a little with the ‘trick question’ types of puzzle, where you have to think of an answer but it’s actually – nudge, wink – something a lot simpler than you were expecting.
That’s all well and good once or twice but the “fool me once” rule comes into effect here: they pull the trick so often that it starts to become the first thing you expect.
The story’s also a little disappointing. While Katrielle is a likeable character and I look forward to her hopefully appearing in more games, the general plot’s still underwhelming.
As the credits roll you get the feeling you’ve just played through a big prologue for a follow-up game, and the post-credits sequence only cements that belief.
One other addition you may or may not be happy with, depending on your opinion on this sort of thing, is the presence of paid DLC.
There are five downloadable outfits at launch, each of which costs £1.79 (or £7.19 for all five) and come with a new puzzle.
Not to worry, though: if you’re a cheapskate like me the usual daily puzzles will still be available throughout the game’s first year and should be free.
In all, Layton’s Mystery Journey is a mixed bag. Fans of the series who are happy to just get more puzzles and plot should be content with this: by no means is it the best game in the series, but it should do the trick if you’ve played all the other entries.
If you haven’t, you might want to try older Layton games like The Lost Future first, because they do a far better job when it comes to storytelling.
Layton’s Mystery Journey is out now, priced £34.99 / $39.99 on the 3DS eShop. You can also buy the physical version from Amazon UK.
In order that I could write this review, I received a free copy of the game from a PR. The content of my review and the opinions therein were in no way positively influenced by this.
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