Though you may not know this, the Professor Layton series is actually a pretty big IP with a very loyal fanbase. Today, you’ll even find a Layton movie and an anime-styled TV series out in the wild. However, as when it started, the mainline games (and their various spin-offs) have always found a home on handheld devices; First, on the Nintendo DS, then the 3DS and later a jump onto Android and iOS mobile devices.
It’s a mostly-enjoyable mini-puzzle-collection game appended to a 20-hour-long story that straddles the line between charming and unnecessary.
Now, as the 3DS line slowly dies off and Nintendo tries to get that audience to make the transition to the Switch (with big moves like Switch Lite and new mainline Pokémon titles) the most recent offshoot Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy joins the party with a new lease on life. And while Deluxe Edition includes an HD-revamp, the addition of several new puzzles and all the previously-released ‘DLC’ – the package and verdict remain largely the same: It’s a mostly-enjoyable mini-puzzle-collection game appended to a 20-hour-long story that straddles the line between charming and unnecessary. It never quite feels amazing but is probably a good addition to your collection if you play it in short bursts and in handheld mode.
A Kat and dog in London
As the name implies, rather than centre on Professor Layton, his daughter Katrielle is the focus in the game. There’s a mystery related to her father’s whereabouts – but rather than lingering on that thread, the story is about Kat and her new Private Investigation practice in London. Unfortunately, I found Kat to be one of the most annoying characters in the game. Thankfully, along with Kat, you’ll be accompanied by Sherl the talking dog and a sort of butler-come-unfortunate-love-interest named Ernest on all the investigations. While Ernest is rather bland, I really enjoyed the snarky-sarcastic amnesiac canine enough that I loved reading his comments the whole way through.
I really enjoyed the snarky-sarcastic amnesiac canine enough that I loved reading his comments the whole way through my 20-hour playthrough.
As the story takes place in London, along the way you’ll not only interact with the ‘local’ characters but a few others ‘internationals’ too. And whether it is a Cockney accent or a somewhat dodgy French or Italian one it all feels playfully stereotypical. Barring a few exceptions, most of the characters are fun to meet and interact with and the punny names give a sort of anime-mystery meets Asterix and Obelix feel. The mountains of text you’ll have to get through are thankfully really well-written with nods to Londoners in general, a popular business-focussed TV-reality series and other bits of pop culture sprinkled all over the place. It never felt too heavy-handed and the accompanying voice-acting is pretty great. Plus, the music, character design and even occasional anime cutscene make this feel like a pretty polished product and with the main storyline taking just under 20 hours to complete – there’s a lot of content to look forward to.
Mysteries and Puzzles Inc.
Rather than focus on a single mystery – the game is made up of a series of shorter (loosely-linked) cases. While this may not be to everyone’s tastes, looking back I quite enjoyed the episodic breaks. Unfortunately, the variety of mysteries varied in quality and enjoyability too. The general tone is quirky and some cases are quite engaging and the ‘mystery’ felt satisfying to ‘solve’. On other occasions, the cases ventured past quirky into wildly nonsensical with logic jumps that were just too big and just not very interesting.
Within each case, you explore different areas of the map and are introduced to a variety of characters. While doing this you will earn coins which you can spend on hints and other currency which you can use to purchase a variety of different outfits to wear. These changes do not carry through within the cutscenes though so there’s a little disconnect and I found the customisable outfits to be pretty limited and honestly not something I was at all very interested in. However, I did get to dress up old Sherl to look like his famous crime-solving namesake and that did bring a smile to my face.
On the puzzle side of things, it’s really a mixed bag.
On the puzzle side of things, it’s really a mixed bag. First and foremost, there is just a ridiculous number of puzzles. They vary in difficulty and styles. Some are number puzzles, others rely on word knowledge or logic and a few function like big jigsaws or mazes. All are relatively short and I managed to tackle most within a few minutes. While some are more challenging and have some sort of relationship with the storyline of the case you are working on – others pop in out of nowhere. This wouldn’t necessarily be an issue on its own – but unfortunately, I encountered a few irritations too.
Several puzzles are explained so badly that it was just by trial and error or the purchasing of hints that I was able to figure out what I needed to solve. Also, while some puzzles require some actual pen-and-paper calculations or reasoning, several are trick questions. And while I don’t really mind the odd riddle like this every now and again and understand that it is helpful for lateral thinking, the way they were interspersed haphazardly in the game made them feel jarring. I managed to solve all the puzzles I tried so the difficulty is relatively low, and so this isn’t a massive gripe but it just felt irritating after several hours of play to get stuck on a puzzle that just felt like a trap. Also, after playing the game for a long time consecutively, I really started to notice the repetitive nature of many of the puzzles and a few of them felt some so mind-numbingly boring or badly-explained that it was quicker and easier to brute-force them.
Layton’s Mystery Journey oozes with content perfect for on-the-go gaming.
That being said, I suspect that most people won’t play the game the way I did. Sitting for a few minutes every now and again is the best way to play this title. It’s that perfect time-passer game. Not only does it feel and look great in handheld mode on the Switch (they’ve done really well to change up the dual-screen 3DS UI to single screen) but in short bursts, you’ll probably not notice the gripes I had with many of the puzzles. Plus, a really cool feature is that every time you restart the game it’ll give you a “Previously on…”-style recap of where you are in the case. And although there are a few mini-games that you unlock along the way that I didn’t particularly enjoy, they’re just further proof that Layton’s Mystery Journey oozes with content perfect for on-the-go gaming.
This mystery is history!
Admittedly, I did not love my time with this game. In fact, only during the final act (that kind of jumps out of nowhere) did I really feel that all its various components (characters, story and puzzles) came together well and really showed what could happen when it all clicked. However, it is a really good port of just the right style of game that will work on the Switch when you’re on the go, slightly distracted or have just a few minutes to kill. And despite a few lingering irritations especially around some of the puzzle design, I can see myself returning to the game and if after a review you feel that way – it’s usually a good thing.