Review: Professor Layton VS Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney
Crossovers. We all love them. And the famous combination of Professor Layton and the Ace Attorney franchise has been a remarkably successful one, having been enjoyed in Japan and Europe for some time now. But with the game touching down Stateside, Nintendo, Capcom and Level-5 have been affording the title extra attention — and, as we return to the title to peruse its brilliance once again, it seems such attention is extended with good cause.
You’re likely familiar with the concept by now. Professor Layton VS Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney cannily blends characters, concepts and gameplay mechanics from both of its namesake franchises, resulting in a fusion of brain-fuddling puzzles and wittily-written courtroom japes. Although commencing in London, in some thoroughly enjoyable opening gambits that fling both Wright and Layton into the depths of Level-5’s endearing — if misguided — perception of London as a Spire-less, Eye-less, twee Victorian city of bumble-kooks and gadabouts, the gleeful plot twists soon fling the hapless brainiacs — and their respective plucky assistants — into the depths of Labyrinthia.
It’s a premise that takes the characters out of their respective worlds, yet proves an ingenious twist — the folk of Labyrinthia are a suspicious bunch, explaining any and all odd circumstances as witchcraft. Wright and Layton, united in their drive to protect wide-eyed waif Espella from such accusations, soon find themselves engaged in a plot filled with twists and turns that will have players sputtering at the screen with incredulity. There are some surprisingly grim and harrowing moments, and the writing and voice acting is uniformly excellent (although we’re not thoroughly convinced by Maya Fey’s vocal performance — not quite ‘maniacal-hyper-bohemian-chick-on-espresso’ enough).
To spill further beans on the plot would be to do our readership a grave dissservice, for its joys and foibles are best explored personally — but it’s among the most compelling plotlines exprienced by your humble writer this year, with plenty for fans and newcomers. The intelligent blend of gameplay mechanics — such as how Phoenix Wright’s performance in court adds to his ‘Credibility’ score, which translates into the universal Layton currency of Picarats — is a treat. We also love the combination of musical themes, although the theme when wandering the streets of Labyrinthia can feel a tad overused.
Visually, the game stacks up well. The colours are not as vibrant as Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies — which we also thoroughly enjoyed — although they blend the disparate art-styles of the worlds that have been mashed together to form this gaming gem with great effect. Characters from both the Layton and Ace Attorney franchises are known for their unique demeanours and wild dispositions, and you can expect no less here — yet character depth remains humbling and strong, which in itself is a fine feat, given the art-style. You don’t need to see every pore in a game character’s face to feel their plight, after all.
Overall, gameplay is paced more effectively than Dual Destinies, and by the strength of the combined gameplay styles, and the opportunities this creates — you can use Layton‘s Hint Coins in court, for example, which is a real boon but still makes you do some mental legwork — are stellar.
Overall, Professor Layton Vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney is an absolute treat, for old hands and new fans alike. We’re hoping it paves the way for more from both of these respected franchises, however often each may be hinted to be fading into obscurity — videogames need these thoughtful, humorous, charming diversions in the growing sea of po-faced serious stroppy grump-fests that define much of the modern medium. From Maya Fey’s irrepressible optimism to Phoenix Wright’s ever-harrowed inner monologue, from Layton’s affable smugness to to Luke’s beady-eyed curiosity, this is a game packed with characters you’ll love. Inquisitor Barnham, Labyrinthia’s version of a Chief Prosecutor, is a beast to overcome — and the denizens of Labyrinthia themselves are burgeoning with brain-teasers that ensure that the good Professor can nary walk the streets without being hassled to solve an ingenious skull-scratcher.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way — it’s a fusion of franchises so perfect, that we almost feel it would be a crime to now play either a Layton or Wright game separately. But the real crime would be not to play this 3DS fan-pleaser at all — indeed, more than just fanservice, it’s a viable addition to both respective characters’ libraries, and will keep you fixated at your stereoscopic screen for hours, brain engaged, eyes wide and the plot, once more, about to ingeniously contort again before your very vision. Utterly enjoyable.
Version reviewed: 3DS
Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney is out on 3DS now.