Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask: A delightful, lazy-Sunday sort of romp, where you can put your twitch reflexes, strategizing, grinding and upgrading aside. It’s a very good game, held back by the intrinsic formula by which it operates. Like I got at in my preview, it’s a pleasant title that is presented with tip-top flair and execution. While it is not perfect, it is a quaint, slowed-down game from the dev team at Level 5 that is comfortable in its own skin and well-versed in the role.
The Professor’s Presentation
Miracle Mask, like its titular protagonist, benefits from and is defined by its high standards. When you view the game as another entry into the Professor Layton canon, it stands out because of the shine and refinement tacked on to the visuals. The scenery and characters all inhabit a completely cohesive world, colorfully painted in by the immensely artists.
It is also great to see the namesake of the system — y’know, the 3D — getting some work done. The settings really benefit from the simple-yet-effective use, turning a pretty picture into a pretty diorama. It’s not shoved in your face and it’s not gimmicky, just a clear benefit to the already-impressive scenes the new hardware can pump out.
The audio, too, has received a hefty amount of care. The pumping accordion music that accompanies moments of intrigue is reminiscent of a haunted house, while the cheery town music lets you concentrate on the game. Voices, when delivered, are superb, making me wish more of the game was properly voice acted. While the quality of the game’s sound is splendid, it is the quantity that lacks. There simply needs to be more musical variety and more voice acting. The gaps in between music changes or fully-voiced sections become too long and too noticeable after a while.
A Sneaky, Sly, Semi-Serious Story
The narrative of Miracle Mask is a keeper but not a game-changer. It begins with the Professor, Luke and Emmy arriving in Monte d’Or while a masked man — The Masked Gentleman, simply enough — turns a whole bunch of people into stone during a parade. From there you’re off to solve the billowing mystery around him and his “dark miracles”. As you can deduce, it’s not that simple.
The world soon becomes populated with a varied and captivating assemblage of bit players and suspects. Some are past acquaintances and some are red herrings, all thrown beneath the unscrupulous light of Layton’s interrogation. Soon enough, some of your favorite characters from past games show up fresh from London (Grosky, FTW). You’ll even play a few flashbacks as young Hershel Layton, which shed light on the current mysteries. Again, the real draw of the story is the writing and the lack of any “Get to the choppah!” hurriedness moments. Clean and simple.
There are a ton of puzzles in this game. Acting as the second of the two pillars holding up the series, the puzzles serve as a complement to the story. Right there with the plot, the mind-benders are relatively easy to solve. Yes, some will require a moment of pause and others will kinda-sorta lie outside the framework established and some will be worded poorly. But, in the end, the majority of them are fun, quick and satisfying.
Here is the best part: While there are about 150-ish puzzles in the main game, there are 365 for you to solve in the form of daily puzzles. Taking advantage of this thing called the Internet, Miracle Mask delivers a new (not completely fresh, though) puzzle every day. And, on top of that, there are three multi-pieced mini-games in the menu of the story for you, too. There’s finally a reason to pick up your 3DS every day.
Everyone knows that these games are pretty two-note. You get a story and you get puzzles. In between, you’ll be clicking where you are told to click and that’s it. While it is nice to play a game that isn’t so demanding or self-serious, others will probably disagree. The content is there, the initiative is not. This is not a hardcore test of skill, be advised.
While the puzzles are mostly of the low-intensity variety, some are absolutely tedious and dreadful. Some are poorly explained (“What am I actually trying to solve here?”) and some are plainly misleading (like asking you where to hang a photo; wrapped around a pole, of course). Much like an extended cut or double-disc, there are times when cutting back would have been beneficial.
Certain players will be flatly turned off by the fact that you are not influencing a darn thing in Miracle Mask. Plain and simple, you are not playing a story, you are being told one. It would be unfair to expect a series to upend its core mechanic. However, new players should not expect anything beyond text bubbles and cutscenes (all well-written and animated, mind you).
So, what did I think about Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask? It’s a good game. Not great, but greatly made. It gives reason to keep playing and makes noticeable strides regarding production. Even if my few complaints were absolved it would still not be a perfect game, though. But, hey, that’s some of the charm. Miracle Mask is perfectly suited and perfectly content to exist in the place it’s carved out between game and story.