When the time came to buy Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask last Sunday, I literally said the following to the GameStop guy:
“Hi, I need a copy of Sticker Star and the new Layton game, whatever it is called. The newest one.”
He laughed. I laughed in return, and we had a brief comment or two about how it is pretty hard to keep these games in line, seeing as they’ve come out almost yearly since that first magical gem of Curious Village hit the Nintendo DS and kind of blur together in the end. Granted, I still need to experience the other two titles from the original trilogy–Diabolical Box and Unwound Future–but I absolutely loved The Last Specter and its built-in mini-game, and so I was highly interested in seeing how Layton’s first foray into the 3D realm would go. So far, it’s been strange.
First, the song that plays on the main menu screen is pretty dang close to “Time’s Scar” from Chrono Cross. I mean, all it is basically missing is some sharp violin action and a kick to the pants about a minute in, but that soft, slow build sounds the same in both tunes. Pretty weird. Not sure who did the music for Miracle Mask, but either they are the same person from Chrono Cross or just a big fan that doesn’t know the meaning of encroaching.
After that, it’s a lackadaisical climb up as the story starts, with very few puzzles and an odd action element to boot. Professor Layton, Emmy, and Luke have just arrived at the fictional city of Monte d’Or, sometimes referred to as the City of Miracles, driven there by a vague letter requesting their help. They arrive just at the same time a carnival of sorts is happening. Alas, that bit of pomp and parade gets ruined when the Masked Gentlemen shows up and turns people into stone before vanishing. Who is this Masked Gentleman? No idea. Through the usual investigation methods and a dip back in time, Professor Layton and company will try to unravel it all.
The Professor Layton games have always been about two things–story and puzzles–and balancing them properly. That said, the beginning of Miracle Mask fails hard, giving us one puzzle over a stretch of twenty-five to thirty minutes, and then throwing a decidedly odd chase segment at us. Okay, let me gripe about that part. You are chasing after the winged Masked Gentleman, riding horseback below. The game switches from a cutscene to a third-person perspective, with Layton on a horse, charging forward down Monte d’Or’s streets “on rails.” You can select a new path now and then by sliding the stylus left or right, and picking up carrots allows your horse to have the strength to straight up bust through barrels. This goes on for a minute or two, and then it just ends. It’s a bizarre gameplay section that I’ve never seen before, at least not in Curious Village or Last Specter. It felt out of place and rightly so–also, a revealed plot point later makes this whole happening quite disturbing, especially for those of you with horse fetishes.
And lastly, some comments on the part that truly doesn’t matter–but at the same time, totally does: the graphics. We’re on the Nintendo 3DS here, and that means 3D models. More depth and layers and effects to hit you between the eyes, like Layton pointing at you when you do a good job. Though, seeing how nice the diorama look turns out for Paper Mario: Sticker Star, it seems unnecessary for Level 5 to switch everyone over from that wonderful Studio Ghibli 2D art to full polygons. They look creepy, and maybe for reasons I can’t say; it’s possible I’m just not used to seeing these characters defined like so, but something about Luke’s wide-eyed expressions really bothers me. You too, probably. But yeah, it’s a little hard to swallow at first, especially the way some of the characters animate, like the clowns and Nanna Gram.
Otherwise, I’m enjoying it mildly. Tara and I are playing this together slowly as I juggle Sticker Star and Pokemon White 2, and working out puzzle solutions together is fun, and the second brainpower is sometimes needed. The mini-games from the trunk look okay, though I’m not really interested in raising a talking bunny, but the shop and moving robot are good brainteasers. Plus, by hopping onto WiFi, one can download a bonus puzzle a day for the next year, which will definitely keep us busy long after this Masked Gentleman is unmasked. Will report back if there’s any more odd gameplay elements; I really hope not.