Layton’s Mystery Journey on Mobile
Level-5 has made a rather bold move in releasing a brand new mainline Professor Layton game on mobile devices. Granted, the game will still be coming to the Nintendo 3DS in the west later this year, but given that this is a start of a new story arc in the beloved series, starting the adventure on a smartphone seems a bit like a risky move. After all, there’s the question of price and quality. The mobile gaming market is a curious one; a smartphone game that’s priced at anything other than ‘Free’ would raise a lot of eyebrows, especially one with an asking price of $15.99.
That said, after spending several hours with Layton’s Mystery Journey and seeing its story all the way through to the end, I’ve realized that it’s important to think of this as a port of a fully-fledged 3DS game rather than an expensive mobile title. From the downright gorgeous and romantic soundtrack to the voice acting and 3D animations, this is a Layton game through and through. Hershel would bet his top hat on it.
Our story begins years after the events of the original Professor Layton trilogies. Instead of having the titular professor as our protagonist, though, we’ve got his daughter Katrielle. Unlike the professor, Katrielle isn’t an archaeologist with a penchant for solving brain teasers and puzzles; she’s a private detective with a penchant for solving brain teasers and puzzles. Whereas Hershel was always depicted as the classy gentleman, Kat’s sharp tongue and sometimes overly girlish demeanor serves as quite the refreshing change here. After opening her own agency in London, Kat begins to take on a series of disparate cases that come her way, and she tackles them with her hapless assistant Ernest, who’s also very much enthralled with her. There’s also a talking dog named Sherl O.C. Kholmes. That’s a tribute to the famous detective Sherlock Holmes by the way, in case that wasn’t already painfully obvious.
This is where Layton’s Mystery Journey falls a bit short, especially in comparison to its predecessors. Instead of working towards solving one giant mystery from the beginning of the game, Journey opts for a more Phoenix Wright-like approach where the player is tasked with solving various cases, with little bearing on the main story, before we reach the final chapters that present us with a high stakes mystery of emotional investment. The cases in the game aren’t terrible, and they’re all very charming, as you’d expect from your typical Layton game, but I would’ve vastly preferred a more connected story overall than what we got in the end.
Still, the game’s script is delightfully witty, even if it does go a little overboard with its puns at times. The game does a good job of introducing new regular faces to the series, and setting Katrielle up as a solid successor to her intelligent father. Ever since the series made the jump to the 3DS with Miracle Mask, all of the Layton games have featured lovely 3D model animations that perfectly suit the characters’ distinct traits and tells. That trend continues in Layton’s Mystery Journey. As longtime fans have come to expect from the series, Layton’s Mystery Journey also features a very beautiful musical score to suit the whimsical tone of the game. It’s easy to forget that you’re playing a ‘mobile’ game when everything about its presentation and production quality is simply top-notch.
Of course, puzzles are a mainstay of the Layton series, and there’s over a hundred of them to solve in this entry. The puzzles aren’t really anything new that we haven’t already encountered before, ranging from logical plays on words to minor mathematical problem-solving and sliding mini games. The quality of puzzles is still on point in this entry, and some will leave even the most seasoned veterans stunned for a minute or two. The hint coin system also makes a return, so the game never feels impossible to get through, as you can always ask for clues that will help you out.
When playing on mobile, the game is split into a top screen and a bottom screen, much like you’d expect to see on a 3DS. You’ll still be using a magnifying glass cursor to examine your surroundings and find hidden puzzles or hint coins, and there’s also a proper save system for you to record your progression. Kat and her crew will get to travel to different areas around London, and you can even backtrack to previous locations to see if anything’s changed as the story develops. Layton’s Mystery Journey even comes with collectible items to discover and decorate your office with. The ‘mobile game’ part of the title only rears its ugly head when you’re informed that you’ll have to pay real money to unlock different costumes and outfits for Kat. But then again, these are purely cosmetic, and it’s important to remember that you’re pretty much getting a full Layton experience on your smart device for a fraction of its 3DS price.
Layton’s Mystery Journey marks Level-5’s glorious return to this criminally underrated puzzler series, and it paves the way for brighter adventures ahead for Kat and her friends. While the case and story structure feels a little weaker because of the lack of a ‘main’ mystery or hook at the beginning of the game, this is still very much a strong point-and-click narrative adventure that fans of the genre should not miss out on.
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Score: 4/5 – Great