Review by Matt S.
My experience with Layton’s Mystery Journey was soured very early on, thanks to a “puzzle” that demonstrated that finally, after over a decade of offering a delectable blend of point-and-click adventure and puzzle book-style gameplay, the series was running out of steam. It picks up from there, but never hits the heights of its predecessors, and is ultimately a disappointing first chapter for the professor’s daughter.
The puzzle I’m talking about wasn’t even a puzzle. Within the first four or five “puzzles” a question pops up, asking players to figure out how many times a clock needs to be “tapped” to make the hands move to midnight. That was all the information that I was provided. I thought I had somehow missed some critical information in the conversation that led up to the question, which would tell me how far the hands would move on each tap of the clock. But no, nothing. I ended up using four precious hint coins (which Layton fans will know are a rare supply) pulling up obscure hints with the end answer being “0” taps. Why? Because the clock hands would eventually reach midnight on their own.
In hindsight is that logical? Of course. Did I feel rather stupid that I didn’t figure that out for myself? Yes. But that “puzzle” was actually a riddle, and riddles are not the same kinds of puzzles as 99 per cent of what you find in a Layton game. I wasn’t expecting to be hit by the logic required for riddles, and while I’m sure the thought of catching so many players out with something so obvious was hilarious to the development team, it was a very intellectually dishonest way of doing things.
Every so often another of these highly questionable “puzzles” pops up. At other times those puzzles – that are actually puzzles – just aren’t up to the standard of what we’ve come to expect from the series. The sliding blocks are just a little too rote, the logic tricks just a little too obvious. If you hadn’t played a Layton title previously, then you’re not likely to notice this… but chances are if you’re picking this one up, you’re well familiar with the series. There are more puzzles then in any previous Layton title, sure, but quality is so much more important than quantity, especially when you’re going to ask players to slow right down and really look at what they’re playing.
It’s just as well that the game is so charming in every other way. Every Layton title has been well known for the quality of its art, but seeing that play out on the bigger and better quality screens of the Switch (and TV) is truly a cartoonish delight pulled direct from the best animations that have come out of Europe.
Even more impressive is the characterisation. I hadn’t played the original release of this for whatever reason, so this is my first experience of a Layton without the professor playing the leading role. Katrielle is wonderful, and she’s so effectively supported by both her sidekick, and the talking dog tag-along. Each of the three have distinct personalities, and they all bounce off one another in a way that provides a lot of great, witty banter, which never gets dull, even 15 hours in. Back this up with a wildly eclectic cast of extras, and this is one of those rare titles where you’ll look to interact with every person you can, just to see what kind of nonsense they have in store for you.
Continuing the Agatha Christie-like approach to narrative, Layton’s Mystery Journey loves its red herrings and delayed reveals. Done well it’s a timeless approach to mystery storytelling, and while Katrielle and co seem to be taking it all far less seriously than the situation should require, it’s still a fun mental puzzle to put aside the humour and also try and figure out the mysteries. You’ll need to, because otherwise there isn’t a huge sense of reward that comes from Layton’s Mystery Journey. There are unlockable trinkets, which don’t do much other than have an amusing description, and there are alternative costumes to unlock for Katrielle but… well, this game isn’t really Dead or Alive or a Hatsune Miku title. Playing dress-up isn’t the right way to use these particular characters.
There are daily puzzles to test yourself with, though, and that adds enough incentive to keep coming back for more Katrielle. Part of the reason that I’ve had such an abiding love for this series is that through my whole life, one of my favourite activities on a Sunday morning is to sit down with a coffee and puzzle book and spend an hour just testing myself. Each time I play one of these, it replaces the puzzle book for a couple of weeks, and while Katrielle’s puzzles aren’t quite up to scratch, most of them are riffs on old favourites and classics which, paired up with the vintage aesthetic, makes for a luxurious Sunday morning wake-up.
Initially I was worried that Layton sans the titular professor would be a problem. In the end that wasn’t where the issues lay with Layton’s Mystery Journey. I’m certainly on board with Katrielle taking over and having the kind of long career that her father did, but Level-5 does need to get some fresh new puzzle-designers in, because with this game they dropped the ball too frequently for a series of this calibre.
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld