No gentleman leaves a Professor Layton game unsolved.
By now, you should know what you're getting with a Professor Layton title. You'll jump from panel to panel solving puzzles for picarats, scouring the background for hint coins and hidden puzzles, and pleasantly flipping through a heartfelt story as Layton solves yet another mystery. Miracle Mask is no different.
One year following his adventure in Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, the ever busy Hershel Layton must revisit his past to fulfill the request of his childhood friend, Angela Ledore, who asks him to save the Las Vegas-inspired city of Monte d'Or from an enigmatic figure named the Masked Gentleman. Curiously, though he terrorizes the city with "dark miracles" and nasty illusions, the mask he wears bears an exact resemblance to the same mask that Layton's childhood friend, Randall Ascad, found buried in his hometown. You'll need to flip between Layton's past and present, admirably noting how his signature top hat hides a once brown, shaggy bushel of hair, to unravel this uncommonly personal mystery.
The point of all this, of course, is to provide a framework around the 135 puzzles that can be discovered while exploring the environment. Instead of tapping the screen repeatedly, you can now pan the entire area by skimming the stylus across the entire screen. Occasionally, you can zoom in to find secret areas that hide additional hint coins and collectibles.
The full range of brainteasers Miracle Mask offers is among the most difficult of the Layton series yet, with a health number of puzzles worth between 35 and 50 picarats starting at around the one-third mark. Longtime fans will be familiar with some of the gimmicks, like having to turn the handheld upside-down or recognizing calendar dates, but those soon fall by the wayside to more complex thinking. Midway, you'll even need to tackle some rock pushing and enemy evasion through third-person platforming. That said, veterans (like myself) will have no trouble solving every puzzle thrown their way.
As usual, several mini-games accompany the common stream of puzzles. There's a robot mini-game where you must move him three spaces at a time on a square grid, a shop mini-game where you arrange similar colored and similar themed objects on shelves, and a bunny mini-game that's just about the most adorable thing on the 3DS this side of Nintendogs. Layton's ever precocious apprentice, Luke, who has the uncanny ability to speak with animals, then must teach the bunny to perform tricks for a theatrical play. If you remain unaffected by the cuteness, check your soul: It's probably dead.
Miracle Mask isn't able to escape the franchise's disconnection between the storyline and the necessary math and logic behind its puzzles. The game tries to mend this with multiple-choice plot questions, but there are no penalties for getting something wrong. This is why I'm so excited by the announced Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney, which will hopefully resolve this issue and make investigations something that the player solves and not the game itself. Also, for this game in particular, the twist behind the Masked Gentleman is hardly a surprise; in fact, you can probably already make an educated guess as to who he really is.
Still, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask doesn't pretend to be anything else. It's exactly what you expect it to be. No picarats required to understand why.