The Professor Layton adventures for me have always been a delightful sidestep from the more traditional style of video games doing away with long combos, killstreaks or precision timing. Instead, it’s you, a charming tale and some brain-bending puzzles to solve. Sure these games have often had me questioning just how “clever” I actually am but with every case solved I’ve always walked away having had a joyous time and feeling a great sense of achievement.
With the series now having taken us on six adventures (not including spin-offs) beside the Professor and his young sidekick Luke, you’d think there’d be no puzzles left to crack. Evidently not though as we now move on to LEVEL-5’s first 3DS Professor Layton title without our favourite puzzle solver Hershel Layton at the wheel. Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy instead shifts focus over to his daughter Katrielle, a young woman with her own detective agency along with her helpful assistant called Ernest and a talking dog named Sherl.
Despite a new lead character though, the game itself still feels very much like a Layton experience. You’re still moving from location to location, tapping the environment using the touchscreen in the hope of finding hidden hint coins. You’re also talking to locals who might be able to offer you key information on your quest. Being a Professor Layton game though it’s the puzzles that make up the bulk of the journey, popping up throughout in the most unexpected of places. This could be by talking to the fine folks of London or even just one of the main team being reminded of a riddle through something they just happen to come across. Every case you tackle though follows this same general pattern where exploring the city and solving puzzles will always further your progress and in turn unravel each mystery.
A game focusing on puzzles is only as strong as their collective quality though, so how does Layton’s Mystery Journey fare in this area? My friend perhaps puts it into words best when discussing the series, claiming that when solving puzzles in any Professor Layton title you have to always go in assuming you are going to be outsmarted. Whether it’s through clever wording or merely just a case of ignoring the obvious answer, the game will try to trip you up. And he’s not wrong, my previous experiences are littered with moments where I’ve been kicking myself for trying a roundabout method to get the wrong answer when the right one was staring me in the face the whole time. You know what though? It’s these flashes of “I’ve got it” that show the series at its revelatory best. Where you feel like a real detective – as cheesy as it sounds.
And while Layton’s Mystery Journey boasts the largest pool of puzzles in the series so far, these personal moments of “genius” are unfortunately also bogged down with some rather less inspiring examples. A few too many come down to simple trial and error where the answer feels more stumbled upon than figured out while some even had me rolling my eyes at how silly or unsatisfying the solution actually ended up being. You’ll even revisit puzzle ideas you’ve not long ago tackled, and sadly these tend to be the less interesting ones. Even the way they’re worded lazily use the same tricks to catch you off guard. The selection is by no means bad, in fact, that same Layton magic can still be found in here, but it’s one of the weaker groupings we’ve seen from the series so far.
One notable difference from previous Layton titles is in the game’s storytelling which this time opts for a more bite-sized episodic feel instead of the usual overarching narrative the series is known for. This can feel like a bit of a double-edged sword though. While splitting the game into eleven or twelve smaller cases does allow for some snappy, tightly written, self-contained mini-adventures, it also results in an endgame that lacks stakes. Sure each smaller case Katrielle solves does eventually tie together toward the finale, however, the conclusion lacks real impact. At best it feels like a handful of jigsaw pieces being forced together despite not wanting to fit. Furthermore, some of the bigger and more interesting mysteries the game throws at you do not get any significant resolution clearly setting up for an inevitable sequel.
Characters are full of charm and personality whether it’s the main cast or secondary players. Though Katrielle might lack the depth and complexities of her father, she makes for a likeable lead always cheerful and highly energetic. Sherl meanwhile acts as a nice contrast offering sarcastic and snappy remarks along the way. Every conversation you have with random members of the public is brought to life through excellent dialogue (though sadly a majority not voiced) that will often raise a smile thanks to its humorous use of British accents. You will come across some situations where characters can drone on a little, not helped by the fact that what they’re saying adds little to the plot. Overall though Layton’s Mystery Journey continues the series’ high level of quality when it comes to its new cast.
Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy may have a new detective on its cover but it still delivers the same experience we’ve come to know and love of the series. The puzzles may not be as strong, nor the story as satisfying, but there’s still fun to be had here for any problem solver out there looking for another chance to test their brain once more.