Status: Finished except for one puzzle hiding somewhere.
Most Intriguing Idea: Trying to integrate puzzles into the playing field.
Best Design Decision: The map revamp, though it’s a mixed bag.
Worst Design Decision: The horse, I mean seriously.
The Professor Layton series has generally felt like it’s on a long, slow decline since Mysterious Village, and Miracle Mask does nothing to alter that impression. The series has never been particularly interested in refining its core mechanics, and even the execution has started to feel a little off. Miracle Mask had more errors in recognizing my written numbers than previous Layton games, and I found the puzzles that required moving and rotating pieces to be frustratingly inconsistent about what gestures would produce which result. The mechanics for moving between screens have changed in a positive way thanks to a navigable map on the lower screen of the 3DS, but I was less pleased with having to use the lower screen to move a magnifying glass on the upper screen.
The puzzles themselves were not particularly memorable for the most part, but with the exception of the tile-layering puzzles there weren’t any that I really hated. Miracle Mask featured a number of ball-and-hole puzzles in an extensive “archaeological expedition” which was at least an interesting way to shake up the formula, though the lack of variety in these puzzles and the fact that they were all crammed into one chapter made them less enjoyable than they could have been. As always, the main game includes three minigame suites. It is traditional for at least one of them to be terrible; this time it is the bunny theater, which was dull from a puzzle perspective and had lousy gesture recognition. There is also a completely superfluous horse-riding bit that has nothing at all to do with the series’ core values and represents the nadir of its design.
Much the same can be said for the game’s aesthetics. The 2D drawings that popped up for conversations in previous games have been replaced by cel-shaded 3D models in order to take advantage of the 3DS’ display capabilities, but these animated figures generally have less character and expressiveness than the pictures they replaced. The game follows the pattern of Unwound Future by trying to draw its dramatic core from the Professor’s past, but with much less success. The underlying tragedy is not movingly presented — it does not help that the game fails to establish Randall’s better qualities until very late — and showing that his interest in puzzles and archaeology are inherited from a friend rather than arising in himself diminishes Layton as a character. As for the ongoing plot concerning the Azran, Descole, and Targent, I suppose it would be possible for me to care less about it, but I’m not sure how I would accomplish that.
Verdict: Not recommended.