I have a huge soft spot for the Professor Layton games. When I heard that there would be a spinoff on iOS and that it would be free with IAPs, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, the touchscreen would work well with the puzzles and, hey, more Layton on the go is always nice. On the other hand, I was apprehensive it would turn out to be a freemium game that would be heavily dependent on microtransactions to make any progress (perhaps in the form of hint coins). Thankfully that turned out not to be the case.
1) Instead of playing as Layton (or his son, in this case), you play as the spunky female rookie sidekick, Detective Constable Lucy Baker. She’s been assigned to work as an assistant for Alfendi Layton, son of the famous Professor Hershel Layton. Although Alfendi Layton did not follow in his father’s footsteps in terms of career, Lucy still bestows him with the nickname “Prof” early on.
2) The plot and gameplay remind me more of an Ace Attorney game than a Professor Layton game (Alfendi and Lucy even get a finger pointing pose). Instead of wandering around towns and either having puzzles presented to you by other characters or finding them in random places, you’re solving murder cases. As such, the story veers into darker (though still not overly grim) territory compared to previous Professor Layton games, with few details of causes of death left to the imagination (you see bloody corpses, though they’re not really gory). There’s also more to the good Professor than initially meets the eye.
3) Characters have accents written into their dialogue. It was a bit distracting initially, but I never had a hard time understanding what was being said, and it gave the characters more distinctive voices. Some of them even have punny names, such as “Sandy Aldwich”. The highlight arrows that show up and shoot out at the character being spoken to during dialogue scenes are also amusing.
4) The game autosaves at set points. While on the one hand it ensures you don’t lose too much progress if you forget to save, it’d be nice to be able to manually save as well. If you go into another app and then return to the game, you’re booted back to the title screen, and you then have to go back through a bunch of text to get back to where you were if you didn’t stop playing right after an autosave. At the very least, the option to fast forward through text you’ve already seen would be nice.
5) The character portraits look clean and sharp, with thin black outlines and bright colors (though less so than the main Layton games). There weren’t any animated cutscenes, but there were some nice stills for key scenes. While portrait animations aren’t quite as over the top as in the Ace Attorney games, there’s still some neat effects. As you confront the real culprit, the highlight arrows or evidence to back up statements hit the mask, leaving cracks and knocking off pieces, eventually revealing a throbbing heart, for example. The 3D models in the crime scenes aren’t particularly impressive, but they do the job and you can tell what the objects are supposed to be.
6) The music is jazzy and fits the overall mood. While there wasn’t any one track that stood out as something I’d listen to outside of the game, it was nice to listen to while playing.
7) Controls are simple. You can rotate the scene by swiping. You can tap on circled areas to get a closer look at them. Objects of interest have an icon and their names on them, and tapping them nets a description of them. The icon turns yellow after you view their descriptions, so you know which items you’ve already looked at. You can zoom in using a slider on the bottom and zoom out by tapping the “Zoom Out” icon.
8) Layton has a reconstruction device that can simulate the scene of the crime. You investigate that simulation for clues as to the circumstances of the crime and the identity of the perpetrator. This reminded me of Kay’s Little Thief in Ace Attorney Investigations, which served a similar function in recreating crime scenes and using those as part of the investigation. Initial investigations have a five minute limit, which is actually generous in regards to finding everything of interest, and I never came close to running out of time. After gathering data through investigations, you enter questioning sessions with potential suspects. While questioning other characters, something that looks like a heart shaped stone mask pops up. Some statements will have arrows with words in them to accompany them, and they shoot out at the other character.
9) There are no consequences for getting anything wrong – you’re simply prompted to try again. The icon starts on the last option you picked, making the process of elimination a bit easier. However, this does take out any semblance of challenge when you could just keep picking options until you get it right. In addition, even if you see something relevant to the case or figure out the culprit’s identity, you can’t do anything with it until the game deems it relevant. If you do get stuck, you can look through character profiles, evidence, and witness statements. You can press a hint icon on the bottom right hand corner of the screen for… well, a hint about the relevance (or lack thereof) of the item to the case.
10) The prologue and first two cases are free, with the rest of the game being unlock via IAPs. Cases 003-006 cost $2.99, and cases 007-009 cost $1.99. That’s less that I was expecting cases to cost (and less than what the iOS versions of Ghost Trick and the Ace Attorney games run).
Overall, this was an interesting spinoff, even if it didn’t actually feel much like a Layton game. At the very least, it’s worth trying the first two cases if it seems like something you’re at all interested in, since they’re free and give you a good sense of what the game is like. On a small side note, while it bodes well that we’ve gotten everything Layton so far (including this game) and we’re getting Ace Attorney 5, I do wish there was any word on a Layton vs. Phoenix Wright localization…
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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