It may be a bit of a hackneyed phrase, but settling down with Layton's Mystery Journey really does feeling slipping into an old, comfortable pair of slippers. Sure, the protagonist may have changed (and that's not necessarily for the better), but with everything that made the Layton games such a smash hit still present and correct, it doesn't take long for a warm, nostalgic glow to rush over you. As soon as the intro starts playing, with its charming accordion music in the background, you'll be hard pushed not to raise a smile - not to mention when you get chatting to the typically quirky residents, who won't tell you anything without having you solve an unusual, and heavily logic based brain bender first first.
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In fact, perhaps the only really major difference between this and the classic Layton games of old, is that Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy's story is structured in a bit of a different way. While the more recent Layton games have had you piecing together one big, overarching mystery, solving plenty of puzzles as you go, the plot here is instead divided up into 12 separate, mini-cases. And while that does mean there's a lot more variety to the puzzles you'll be solving - you'll start off being tasked with the mystery of Big Ben's missing hand, before moving on to a potential murder/suicide at a festival of romance by the Thames (although needless to say, with this being a Layton game, it's not as violent as it sounds) - you can't help but feel the game's lost something by not having a bit more of an integrated plot, that ties everything together.
Still, while the story may be a bit different, the way you approach each case is still the same as always. A mixture of puzzle solving and point-and-click style investigation, it's up to you to examine the scenes, chat to folk who are loitering nearby, and solve puzzles galore as you go. In the same way as the earlier games, you'll use the Touch Screen as a kind of mouse pad to move a cursor across the top screen, letting you highlight and interact with objects. And you'll want to pore over each scene carefully, too - with people to talk to, and clues to find, there's many a hidden puzzle waiting to be discovered too, often just lurking in the scenery (clicking a bush, or a chimney when the cursor turns orange may reveal a bonus puzzle) - along with the all important hint coins to collect, just in case you should get too stuck.
It doesn't take too much exploring/investigating before a puzzle gets thrown your way, with the residents of London seemingly totally happy with the idea of obstructing the law unless the detective in question (that's you) can solve the puzzle they set. According to Nintendo, Layton's Mystery Journey has the highest number of puzzles of any Layton game so far released - although the difficulty level does feel slightly lower here than in previous games. Still heavily logic based, and requiring a very specific, analytical way of thinking, there's a huge amount of variety here, from using a collection of shapes to form the letter K for a shop sign, to wordy logic puzzles ("The second eldest boy is four years younger then me. The second eldest girl, who I get on with really well, is three years younger than the eldest girl, how old am I", etc), to shape based conundrums (can you use a square, circle and a triangle to fence off some sheep?), logic puzzles, and many a sort-of trick question.
What makes the puzzles here so great is that no matter how complicated they seem, there's usually a simple answer - it's just a question of finding it. If you're ever looking at a puzzle and thinking "man, that requires some pretty complex maths", the chances are, you're probably looking at it the wrong way. While a few may require some secondary school level addition and multiplication, puzzles that require any sort of specialist knowledge are few and far between, as every puzzle has an answer, and almost every single one can be solved with logic alone. Those who've played a Layton game before will know the trick is usually to pay very close attention to how each question's worded - if the question reads in an unusual way, that's usually a clue to how you'll need to approach the puzzle in order to solve it.
As the puzzles are the main part of any Layton game, we'd be remiss if we didn't give you a few more examples of the logic based brain teasers you'll be getting to sink your teeth into - so here's a few of the cleverer ones. One shows you a poster with three cells, one that says "5", one that says "+" and one that says "1", which makes six. The question is, can you rearrange/rotate the cells to make six another way? Another gives you a set of digital scales, which can each show only one digit. Unfortunately, the bottom left part of the screen has broken, so 6 ends up looking like a 5, for example. All you're then told is that, due to this issue, one scale is reading 1g lower than the real weight, the other is reading 1g higher. In total, how much sugar are you weighing?
Needless to say, there's a lot of really clever puzzles here, and plenty of traditional brain teasers that'll have you staying up until the early hours of the morning trying to figure them out. If you get really stuck, though, you can always spend one of the hint coins you've collected during your journey around London's point and click scenes, in order to unlock one of a number of increasingly helpful hints for the puzzle. With each puzzle having five hints on offer, the tips will get progressively more obvious the more hints you buy - meaning if you just want a little nudge in the right direction, you can buy just the one hint, but if you're really stumped and need some heavy duty hinting, you can buy all five.
However, while the game may tick a lot of the right boxes, there are still a handful of issues here that players should be aware of. The first is that the solutions for some of the puzzles are sometimes a little bit daft, requiring you to read things a little bit too cryptically, or make leaps of logic that don't really make all that much sense. While for the vast majority of puzzles, the solution can be reached through logic alone, there's that one too many odd one that leaves you tutting to your 3DS under your breath.
One of the potentially bigger issues, though, is that it often ends up feeling like there's too much talking, and not enough puzzles. With more puzzles than any other Professor Layton game to date, it's not that Layton's Mystery Journey is lacking in brain teasers - instead, it's that the story actually hides them from you, and doesn't let you play them your first time through. When you first play through a case, you'll only be able to find a portion of the total puzzles in that area. Clearing the third case will then unlock the ability to revisit areas you've been to before, and play through brand new puzzles that have appeared since. It's a strange way of doing things, and one that hasn't really helped the game at all, as you often end up feeling like you're going far too long between puzzles.
But as mentioned at the beginning, it's perhaps the story that seems to leave the most room for improvement here. Without the overarching plot tying things together, there's no big payoff to speak of at the end of each case - no massive plot twists, no jaw dropping surprises, and nothing to really make you keep playing. In previous Layton games, the story was every bit as good as the puzzles themselves, but here it seems to have taken a disappointing back seat. Katrielle herself is a poor replacement for Professor Layton too, often appearing harsh or brash when talking to people in game, while regularly sounding full of herself and aloof - a far cry from the puzzling professor, who was never anything less than a gentleman. You do have to question the motive of any game that thinks its main selling point, and the main bullet point it should use in its description is the fact it has a "modern, female protagonist" - because men like poor old Professor Layton are clearly so last year, dahling. Similarly, her simpering sidekick Ernest, who's ever diligent and helpful, but perhaps only because he has the hots for the oblivious Katrielle, isn't a patch on the old Luke and Layton dynamic duo.
Still, with plenty of puzzles to get stuck into, a great cast of supporting characters, some gorgeous areas to explore, and many a brain teaser to keep you pondering until the small hours of the morning, Layton's Mystery Journey is a game that comes highly recommended, even if it can't quite live up to the incredible precedent set by its forbears. While you do have to question why the game ended up being released three months earlier (and for £13 less) on iOS and Android than it has on its 3DS home (especially as there's still flipping paid downloadable content here - several costume and single puzzle packs for Katrielle, at a stupid £1.79 each), it's still good to have a Layton game back.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS