As the favorite uncle who exerts a pretty strong influence on my young niece, I consider my inability to prevent her from going gaga over the likes of Justin Bieber and Max Schneider as one of my biggest failures as a card-carrying member of male-dom. Despite this abject failure on my part, however, there is one thing I’m quite proud of. That would be her taste in games, which I’ve carefully cultivated through years and years of gift giving. In addition to more obvious stuff like Pokemon, Mario and Kirby games, the list of precious gaming nuggets that I have given my niece include more intellectual fare such as Portal 2, Scribblenauts, the Ace Attorney games and her beloved Professor Layton series.
Now it’s time yet again to open up the old wallet and do an uncle’s No. 1 job — spoil his niece rotten — with the release of the latest offering in the series, “Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask.” As Professor Layton’s first entry on the 3DS console, Miracle Mask benefits greatly from the transition to an extra plane. The added dimension definitely helps presentation-wise. The character models look excellent in 3D while retaining the charm of the Layton series’ art style (turn the 3D effect off and the game still looks nice in good, old 2D). Production values also remain quite solid, from the excellent voice acting to the charming music selection.
The story itself is standard Layton fare that involves yet another puzzling mystery. The case this time revolves around a masked character with seemingly mysterious powers who is terrorizing the city of Monte d'Or. The tale is made even more interesting by insights into a young — and follically fabulous — Layton’s past.
As with any Layton game, puzzles play an integral role and Magic Mask doesn’t hold back in that regard. Some are based on previous Layton games but there’s still enough new stuff here to satisfy series fans. Puzzle lovers will be especially happy with the amount of brain teasers available in Layton. In addition to the more than 200 puzzles you get right off the bat, free daily puzzles for a year mean that you’ll have 365 additional opportunities for mental calisthenics as well. These include visual puzzles where you have to accurately match images or items that look similar but actually have subtle differences. Then you have logic puzzles where you have to guess patterns involving numbers. There are spatial puzzles as well that involve moving virtual blocks to clear paths to a goal.
As with recent games in the series, the biggest challenge in enjoying the game is the been-there-done-that feeling that veterans to the series might get when playing through Miracle Mask. The presentation changes and shift to 3D helps add a sense of freshness to the old formula. But if you’re looking for something groundbreakingly different, then the additions to Miracle Mask may not be enough to satisfy that thirst for something totally new. The good news is that the traditional Layton formula is still quite solid. There’s a reason, after all, why the series has earned such a loyal following. The formula may be getting a bit old after five games but Magic Mask still manages to generate that sense of wonder that make Professor Layton games such a treat. Meanwhile, on a personal note, any time my niece spends exercising her brain with Layton puzzles and away from watching some infernal teenybopper strumming a tiny ukulele is a productively good time in my book.