Enjoy a mystery
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is an adventure game with one over-arching mystery and many smaller mysteries to solve along the way. Players solve the mystery by controlling a handful of characters and directing their movements and interactions. Professor Layton's apprentice Luke and his assistant Emmy contribute to the sleuthing.
But the distinguishing factor of the Professor Layton series of games is the manner of getting clues. You earn clues by solving puzzles. The colorful characters you encounter are conundrum-lovers, and most won't give up their information until you solve their puzzle. Also, this time around, the developers of Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask incorporated many more puzzles into the actual story; so you will have to do things like solve a puzzle found on a lock to a gated area before you can enter it to explore.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask takes place in the small town of Monte d'Or during the town's 18th anniversary celebration. Amidst parades, carnivals, and a visiting circus, a mysterious character called the Dark Gentleman had been performing a series of "dark miracles." These appear to have made characters within paintings come alive; turned tourists into horses, statues, or sent them floating in the air; and set 13 citizens of the town on fire. Summoned by Angela Ledore, his childhood friend, Professor Layton is on the scene to discern what really happened during each of these dark miracles. With your help, Professor Layton will get to the bottom of why the Dark Gentleman is terrorizing the town and to uncover his identity.
As you get farther into the story, you discover that several of the citizens of Monte d'Or grew up with Professor Layton. His relationships to these citizens becomes important to understanding what is happening with the Dark Gentleman who appears to be wearing a famous archeological artifact called the Mask of Chaos. The story jumps between the present and Professor Layton's recalling his past high school days. Some of the story is shown in cutscenes, which make use of the Nintendo 3DS's ability to show videos in 3D.
Besides solving mysteries, players will spend much of their time thinking through a diverse set of puzzles. Players get to solve mazes; visual puzzles that require looking at obscured photos to infer information; logic challenges where you are given some but not all of the information about a situation and you must deduce the rest; and physical puzzles where you do things like line up slingshots to take out obstacles and ring a bell. The puzzles come with hints, which you purchase using hint coins found along the way. Some are crucial to the story and they can't be bypassed, whereas others can be saved to solve later. The game also allows you download a new puzzle every day for a year.
In addition to the main story, the game offers three mini-games. You unlock the mini-games (and new levels within each) as you play the main story. The mini-games reside on the Professor's trunk, accessed from the main story screen. One involves logically arranging items on a shelf so as to best catch the eye of a customer. In another, you train a circus bunny to learn tricks. And in a third, you play a board game about moving a robot through an obstacle-strewn course to reach its goal.
A Closer Look
If you or your kids enjoy mysteries and puzzles, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is the go-to game of this year. The investigation part has been improved from previous games by providing you a special mode which turns your cursor into a magnifying glass. You can even zoom in on special places.
The puzzles vary greatly. Some look harder than they are, and can be solved by thinking outside of the box. In one, the key is to turn the puzzle upside down. The hint system is brilliant, because you don't have to use it; but if you get stuck, it is there to let you finish the puzzle and move on with the story.
Why This Is a 4-Star Rather Than a 5-Star Game
The citizens of Monte d'Or are a little less puzzle-crazy than some of the previous characters found in Professor Layton games; so you meet characters in this game that don't ask you to do puzzles -- they just want to chat. And this mystery, while interesting because of the revelations of Professor Layton's teenage years, is less scary than some of the others in the series. This is a mind-bending romp that challenges your deductive-reasoning skills to solve a complex mystery and the puzzles within.
This game is available in a boxed copy or as a download from the Nintendo eShop.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.