Reviews

Professor Layton and The Miracle Mask Review

by William Schwartz on November 29, 2012

    Basic reading ability is needed to fully enjoy this game. That is a direct quote from the back of the box for Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, but that’s not the only thing you’ll need to play Layton’s latest adventure. Of course you’ll need a Nintendo 3DS, but then you’ll also need a good set of puzzle solving skills to get to the bottom of a series of mysterious events taking place in the fictional city of Monte d’Or. The fifth game in the long running handheld franchise which started on the DS, Miracle Mask stays true to the established popular formula of this puzzle solving series, with some tweaks made for the transition to 3D.

    The premise for Miracle Mask is familiar to previous games. Layton, Luke, and Emmy find themselves at the heart of a new mystery in the city of Monte d’Or with their objective being to uncover the roots of a string of seemingly supernatural events. The Masked Gentleman, who is thought to be behind these occurrences, has stolen what’s said to be a mask of power. As Layton adventures through the town and its outskirts, he’ll work with police, friends, and other townsfolk to piece together clues to unravel the mystery. In the process, you’ll also get a look at a younger Layton, when the game flashes back to his teenage years and fleshes out some of the back-story for the game’s many colorful characters.

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    Like other Professor Layton titles, Miracle Mask is all about solving puzzles. Sure, these puzzles are wound into a over-arching mystery that Layton and his accomplices must figure out, but bare bones, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is an excuse (and a good one) to kick your feet up and do some light critical thinking in small chunks. For newcomers to the series, you’ll be inundated with new and interesting puzzles around every corner of the game. Speaking with citizens in Monte d’Or they’ll frequently ask you to help them solve a puzzle, which may, or may not have anything to do with your current task at hand. Level 5 uses a variety of tricks to keep you on your toes, but also integrates hints to help you if you are stuck. Puzzle types are wide ranging in Miracle Mask, but not wholly different from anything you’ve seen in previous Layton games. Aside from the ones that were explicitly designed to utilize the 3D technology in the handheld, which there are a handful of.

    Professor Layton games are best described as interactive storybooks. Their look and feel have a distinctly whimsical quality and Miracle Mask is no different. That said, this is a charming title that’s hard not to appreciate. With so many games these days consisting of pointing, shooting, and explosions, the light-hearted nature and well tailored presentation of Miracle Mask is a breath of fresh air on the handheld. The delicate balance between the simple tapping of the 3DS screen to uncover the secrets of each finely drawn area, and the brain racking that some puzzles will induce, is a good one. Housed in a beautiful presentation which has been overhauled for the 3DS, Miracle Mask has some new tricks up its sleeve in the visual department. The game still has that hand drawn feel, eventhough the characters have now been put together as the polygonal imagery. With the 3D cranked up, each area you uncover in Miracle Mask is an even more interesting treat to explore, because of the level of depth that the visual eye trickery provides.

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    During your time hunting down the mysterious Masked Gentelman, you’ll also be unlocking mini-games, collectibles, and video journals that you can watch at any time. While the journals add color to the cast of characters that you’ll encounter, the mini-games are time wasting affairs that will have you unlocking increasingly difficult variations of three specific puzzle types. There’s a shelf stocking simulation puzzle, where you’ll need to place items in a logical order to make people buy them all. There’s a pet-simulator, where you’ll train a cast away rabbit to perform tricks. And there’s also a robot guiding puzzle where you’ll need to navigate a treacherous environments. All of these are actually more fun than they appear, as they get increasingly complex as the game wears on. None of these are quite as difficult as the story puzzles, but are equally fun time fillers. As you progress through the game’s main storyline and talk to people around the city, you’ll unlock new variations of these puzzles along your way.

    Alongside the hunt for every puzzle and answer to it, hidden collectibles are also strewn throughout Monte d’Or, and offer another reason to examine each and every pixel of every area. You can also access puzzles that you may have rushed through previously via a puzzle library in the game’s menu. Or access a character that will point you to puzzles you may have missed along your way. This is particularly helpful if you don’t have the necessary time to commit to talking to townsfolk or wandering about. Once the mystery is solved, Miracle Mask does have some end game content in the form of daily downloadable puzzles. These are accessible via the Nintendo Network which can be used once the main game is completed.

    Being the first Layton game on 3DS, Miracle Mask is definitely a must have on the handheld. That goes double for those that like a good puzzle, or a hundred of them. Level 5 doesn’t deviate from the successful formula in any meaningful ways from a gameplay standpoint, but they don’t really need to at this point. This franchise has got a good blueprint going for it on the handhelds. It’s perfect for bite-sized gaming on the go, or equally engaging for lengthier gaming sessions. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask casts a wide net. While its whimsical nature may scream kiddie title, the puzzles you’ll encounter while unraveling this mystery are anything but childish.

    The Verdict
    Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask casts a wide net. While it's whimsical nature may scream kiddie title, the puzzles you'll encounter while unraveling this mystery are anything but childish.
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