For the last five years or so, the Professor Layton series has been one of the best things in gaming. It combined charming story and characters with terrific, brain breaking puzzles for some of the best handheld games ever made. Each of the first four games were great. The previous success us why my expectations were so high for Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, and why I was so crushed when it failed to get even near those expectations.
While the core gameplay remains what is always was, a myriad of small problems almost render this latest Layton game unplayable. First are the new 3D graphics. The charming characters do not make the jump from two to three dimensions very well. Some, like Emmy, look just fine. More, like the now creepily beady-eyed Layton, look horrifying. While there are some advantages to the great range of animations available, but they lose all of their charm in the translation. This is a small problem, and one that is easy to get past, but it does lessen my enjoyment a little bit.
Then there is the new looking around mechanics. Instead of using the stylus to poke around the bottom screen, the player uses the styles on the bottom screen to poke around to top screen. This causes an unforgivable disconnect. While it does highlight the places where there is something interesting to see and let the environments be in 3D, it is imprecise enough be annoying.
Last, and worst, is that the balance between puzzles and story has tipped to the story. And that is bad. Over the first 4 hours of this game I got to less than 40 puzzles. It was too much talking and not enough puzzle solving. There are as many, or more, puzzles in this game as there have been in previous games, but they are spread out over nearly half again as much game. Most of the Layton games take about 10-12 hours to beat. Miracle Mask took me nearly 20. By the end I was really ready to be done with Layton. The game was slightly less fun to play but it lasted much longer. It became tiresome. The story here is actually not bad, but there seems to be less happening in it than in previous games. There really isn’t enough story to last the extra 5 hours this game does.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is still a solid game. It isn’t as good as the previous Layton games, but the basics of the gameplay are still here and are still entertaining. It just hurts that this series has been so much better in the past. I hope the next, and reportedly last, Layton game gets things back on track.