Professor Layton and The Miracle Mask review for 3DS

Platform: 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Level-5
Medium: Cartridge/Digital
Players: 1
Online: Yes

When you start to approach the fifth entry in anything, whether it?s a movie, book, or video game, it?s easy to think that there?s going to be a drop off in quality coming, especially if that thing is produced on a constant basis with little in the way of breaks in between. But this game, Professor Layton and The Miracle Mask, manages to avoid that pitfall. In fact, it?s become my favorite game in the series, and I have a feeling that a lot of long-time Professor Layton fans will feel the same way.

Professor Layton and The Miracle Mask is the second game in a new trilogy for the gentlemanly puzzle solver and his friends, Luke and Emmy. Like the previous game, The Last Specter, this game looks back on Layton?s past, reaching as far back as his high school years. The main plot, which the majority of is set in the current timeline for the Layton series, revolves around a mysterious Masked Gentleman who is terrorizing the resort town of Monte d?Or. A prominent resident there, Angela Ledore, is an old high school friend of Layton?s, and calls on him to solve the mystery of the Masked Gentleman and his terrifying ?miracles? in the hopes of restoring peace to Monte d?Or.

This storyline unveils some pertinent info about Layton?s formative years, including what happened to his best friend and how Layton bears some responsibility for his disappearance. You get a whole lot of story packed into The Miracle Mask which is well worth treading through for Layton fans. It also helps to propel the series forward, featuring a really intriguing end sequence that looks to push the inevitable sixth game in the series into an interesting situation.

Also, since this is the first game in the series to make the leap from DS to 3DS, there are a number of changes and improvements present as well. One of these changes comes in the form of transitioning from 2D sprites to full-on 3D models for characters. While some folks might be a bit wary on this change, the 3D work done here is actually quite good. The art style lends itself well to the transition, and keeping a cel-shaded look to the models was a step in the right direction. There?s not a massive amount of animation or expression work given to the new models, but it certainly helps to capitalize on the system?s unique 3D effect. And enabling 3D with this game is certainly worthwhile, as puzzles and environments can both benefit from an increased depth of field.

Besides the obvious benefits provided by the increased horsepower of the 3DS, the new Layton adventure also features some slight changes to exploring your environments. There?s still the whole tracing the screen with a magnifying glass to locate persons of note, environmental clues, and new puzzles, but you can also now zoom in on particular areas, essentially doubling up the space on certain locations for you to search through. Hint coins are also found easily enough, so much so that even if you rely on the occasional hint coin to get you through a puzzle or two, you?ll most likely still be left with an abundance of coins by the time the end credits roll.

And while that might sound like it could make a Layton game a bit too easy, the puzzles are still devilishly difficult at times. There?s a definite flow and progression to the puzzle layout that doesn?t allow you to get overwhelmed or frustrated early, like previous games, but some of the end game puzzles can be downright infuriating, while still maintaining an addictive quality. It does seem like they?ve changed the amount of certain puzzles in favor of others, I noticed a sharp decline in the amount of slide puzzles, for instance, which is also a step in the right direction.

Outside of the basic puzzle solving, there?s another host of mini-games to check out and distract you from the core game. While there?s nothing present here on the level of London Life from The Last Specter, the additional content in The Miracle Mask is still fun to check out. I didn?t care too much for the rabbit themed mini-game, but the robot and shop puzzles were great diversions. There are also a promised number of additional puzzles downloaded via SpotPass every week, giving you an additional 365 puzzles over the course of a year, which nearly triples what you?ll find throughout the story. Provided you enjoy the puzzles as much as the story, that?s a whole lot of added, free content for Layton fans.

So is Professor Layton and The Miracle Mask worth checking out? Absolutely! While it might not be a great jumping on point for new players unfamiliar with the story up to this point, its gameplay is as accessible as ever. And it provides enough of a challenge, and puzzle variety, to continue feeling fresh for those of us that have stuck with the series since its inception. Combine the new 3D effect and art style with an intriguing look at Layton?s history, along with a story that manages to propel the series forward, and you?re left with what I believe to be the best in the series so far.

Grade: A