The puzzle-loving Professor Layton first appeared on the Nintendo DS in 2007, where he unraveled the mystery behind a curious village. Since then, Level-5 released new installments on an almost yearly basis before coming to a halt after the sixth game. At last, the time has come to pass the mantle to Katrielle Layton, the peppy daughter of the esteemed professor who has since been missing in action. Although Katrielle’s tenure launched as a budget priced mobile game (with the Nintendo 3DS version coming later), Layton’s Mystery Journey is every bit a full Layton game with a few caveats.
The stories in the Layton series are notorious for having outlandish premises that culminate into unbelievable conclusions. Unlike Professor Layton’s lengthy adventures, Layton’s Mystery Journey is broken up into multiple episodic cases, some of which can be played in any order. They follow the budding detective Katrielle, a delightful and lovable character who shares her father's love for puzzles, her assistant Ernest, and talking dog, Sherl O.C. Kholmes (get it?). Yes, there is a talking dog but surprisingly, that's the most preposterous part of the story. The individual cases are dull and trade the crazy finales of the earlier games for more humdrum conclusions. The plot twists are still contrived, but they don’t have the satisfying payoffs that the original games had.
In each case, you'll interact with the environment by tapping on a screen designed after the 3DS' split-screen interface. Occasionally, you’ll uncover clues related to the mystery, whether robbery, murder, or other standard crimes which are a far cry from Professor Layton’s deadly Pandora’s Boxes and time travel shenanigans. When you collect clues, they are placed into a six-piece jigsaw puzzle which feels like an underwhelming mechanic considering that this franchise is known for its devious brain teasers. Once you collect all six clues, Katrielle solves the case. It would have been nice to complete the puzzle myself or play through a sequence to reveal the perpetrator. Instead, a short cutscene features Kat providing the player with all the answers. There is an overarching plot but you wouldn’t know it until the final hour. The threads that were supposed to tie the game together came too little too late to make an impact.
The Layton games, however, thrive on their puzzles and this game is no exception as it is full of mindbenders to solve. Despite the individual cases being shorter, they offer an abundance of puzzles – nearly 200, which is well above the standard count. Due to the sad passing of previous puzzle master Akira Tago, Layton’s Mystery Journey has a new designer Kuniaki Iwanami. As a result, the brain teasers feel different, with an uneven emphasis on wordplay and deceitful riddles over block puzzles and spatial reasoning.
There remains a variety of question types, but I quickly grew tired of anything that asked “what is the minimum number of ____?” or “who is lying?” Otherwise, I found most puzzles clever, without being overly frustrating. Aside from a select few awkwardly written questions that purposefully leave out key information, I had little issue solving most brain teasers. For the more difficult problems, you can use hint coins, which you can find while searching for story clues. The only penalty for getting a wrong solution is the loss of Picarats, essentially your puzzle points that do nothing other than unlock goodies postgame.
Each of the dozen cases took me roughly an hour, and most of that time was spent on deciphering difficult puzzles. As is tradition, there are daily downloadable puzzles and harder puzzles that increase the game's replay value. New to the series is paid DLC, which nets you new costumes and puzzles, neither of which I found necessary. There are also some extra minigames, including meal prep based on a client's personal preferences, placing jewelry on display to convince customers to purchase it, and moving Sherl the dog through a block maze. Out of the three, I didn’t enjoy the meal game and only moderately liked the other two.
Layton games are also known for sporting beautiful artwork and a soundtrack made up with a rich flavor of accordion and violin music.
Layton’s Mystery Journey may have a new protagonist and mobile interface, but it keeps the series’ trademark style alive. The episodic cases are hardly compelling, but the puzzles reign supreme, even if some of them are awkwardly worded. Fans will feel right at home with this fully-featured installment. If you haven’t yet experienced a Layton game, however, I would sooner recommend any of the six original Professor Layton entries or even the Phoenix Wright crossover. I want to see more of the delightful Katrielle but I hope her next game either gives us something new or at least gives us more compelling cases in the future.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!