Professor Layton’s daughter is the star of the latest portable puzzler, which makes its debut on smartphones instead of 3DS.>The man behind the emoticon: Josh 'Kappa' DeSeno on becoming Twitch's biggest icon
The New 2DS XL is released this week, and with it comes what is likely to be one of Nintendo’s last big pushes for the format. What they’ll move onto afterwards remains a mystery, whether it’ll be another dedicated handheld or just sticking with the Switch. Nintendo has no need to rush such a decision, but the uncertainty does leave third party 3DS franchises in an awkward position. The obvious answer is to move to other mobile devices, and that’s just what Professor Layton and his offspring has done.
Publisher Level-5 has not been slow to realise the problem, and were experimenting with spin-off game Layton Brothers: Mystery Room as early as 2012. But this is the first time a mainline entry has appeared on a smart device, and not only that but it’s done so before the 3DS release this autumn. Which seems to make perfect sense, since the 3DS offers no real advantage to playing the game and the casual audience which enjoys the series’ gentle logic puzzles is far more likely to own a smartphone than a video game console.
But the problem is how to pay for it. Layton’s Mystery Journey is £16 (£18 on Android), which is likely to be more than half the price of the 3DS version when it’s finally released. But mobile pricing lives in its own strange universe, where anything more expensive than free is considered not only a rip-off but an affront to the player’s dignity. A fact Nintendo themselves know only too well, given the relative failure of Super Mario Run and the success of Fire Emblem Heroes.
The politics of paying for things on smartphones is fascinating, not least because it has a direct impact on the nature of the games themselves. But as it stands Layton’s Mystery Journey is a pretty straightforward sequel to the first two trilogies of games. The last one, Azran Legacy, came out as long ago as 2013 now, but this keeps continuity with it and the series’ complicated mythos. What it doesn’t do though is star Professor Layton. Instead you play as his daughter Katrielle, with the game’s elephantine subtitle being Katrielle And The Millionaires’ Conspiracy.
If you’re wondering what happened to the Prof that’s the gist of the overarching plot, that involves Kat, her wussy assistant Ernest, and talking dog Sherl trying to locate him. But while the characters, and hardware, have changed the rest of the game is still largely the same as it ever was. The Layton games are at heart nothing more than puzzle collections. And not necessarily in the video game sense, as many feature little or no onscreen interactivity and some take the form of riddles or other text-based brainteasers.
The original inspiration was a series of Japanese puzzle books and the original DS games weren’t much more than a straight recreation of this. Over time the games’ presentation has become more elaborate (while still maintaining an art style that looks like a lost episode of Around the World with Willy Fog) and many of the puzzles more interactive and video-gamey. Although sadly Akira Tago, the man behind many of the puzzles in the original games, has passed away and there is a sense that his successors sometimes lack the same level of inspiration and logic-based slight of hand.
The overall standard of the puzzles is still very good though and Layton’s Mystery Journey has hundreds in total. These encompass the usual range of maths conundrums, logic puzzles, sliding block games, board game variants, pattern-matching brainteasers, word games, and optical illusions. Some are just minor variations on each other, particularly the optional ones outside of the main story path, but the amount of variety is still impressive.
Despite a very witty script though, the storytelling is kept very much in the background for the majority of the time. This seems to be the one compromise towards smart devices, with the game preferring to split the narrative up into seven seemingly unconnected cases. Otherwise though, Layton’s Mystery Journey seems to have all the other traditional elements of the series, including side activities like decorating Kat’s detective agency offices.
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There’s also a dress-up game for Kat herself, which relies heavily on paid-for DLC – as do some other extra puzzles. But what you get for your money still seems good value to us. Although in keeping parity with the 3DS version the game does, slightly absurdly, only let you interact with the bottom half of the screen, in mimicry of the 3DS’ touchscreen. You also have to switch to landscape mode to watch the cut scenes, which is a bit odd.
Even the oldest of smartphones has a higher resolution than a 3DS (or 2DS) so in many ways this may end up being the definitive version of the game. It’ll also be by far the cheapest, which makes it ironic that the biggest problem most casual fans will have with this is the price. But the puzzle of smartphone pricing is likely to be one that not even the Laytons can solve.
Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy
In Short: The Layton legacy works perfectly well on mobile, with an endearing new lead and what by all rights should be regarded as a great value-for-money download.
Pros: Kat is very likeable and the writing in general is very good, with some fun animated scenes. Huge number and variety of puzzles, plus plenty of secrets and side quests.
Cons: Trying to mimic the 3DS touchscreen is weird and unnecessary. No fundamental changes to the formula and the puzzles aren’t quite as good as previous games.
Formats: iOS (reviewed), 3DS, and Android
Release Date: 20th July 2017 (3DS in October)
Age Rating: 4+