For some gamers, including this writer, the DS and 3DS generations of hardware simply wouldn't be so complete without the Professor Layton series of games. Across six adventures - seven with an Ace Attorney tie-in - the puzzle solving gentleman charmed us all, had numerous cups of tea and saved villages and towns from doom. All in a normal weekend for a genteel archaeologist and academic.
As much as some of us loved it, Level-5 also saw sales gradually decline (notably in the Japanese market) and perhaps felt it was losing its freshness. Six main games was deemed enough, and the series began to spin-off onto mobile, with Layton Brothers Mystery Room starring the Professor's son solving crimes; there was also the odd saga of Layton 7, which looked odd and seemed to bite the dust.
The 3DS missed out for a number of years, but now we have Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy, starring the Professor's daughter. Level-5 has stated that it's aiming for a more light-hearted approach after the increasingly serious mainline DS / 3DS games of the past, with Katrielle setting up a detective agency to solve crimes while apparently seeking to learn more on the whereabouts of her father.
We've spent some time with the final build and, in the prologue and first mystery, the game certainly achieves a light touch. Set in an idealised and whimsical London, it's full of characters that would fit into any Layton adventure - quirky and witty to a tee. Early on Katrielle sets out with an assistant called Ernest and a amnesiac talking dog that she names Sherl in a reference to Sherlock Holmes. Like we said - whimsical.
It has a lovely tone so far, reflected in bright visuals and cheerful music, but we have one notable complaint about the presentation of this charming world - it's in 2D. The three main 3DS entries (including that Ace Attorney crossover) all used the 3DS top screen in a wonderful way, but in this case Level-5 simply hasn't bothered. It can't be due to a performance bottleneck, we'd suspect, but may have more to do with the fact this game has previously arrived on mobile. The effort has been made to use both screens and implement the feel of the previous games we loved, yet the absence of the 3D effect somewhat lets it down.
We'll get over it, of course, even if it's an unnecessary slight. Aside from that visual issue playing this game makes it seem, in a sense, like the series never went away. It's a new cast and a fresh story-telling focus, but the gameplay retains plenty of touches that are familiar. You investigate screens with a magnifying glass, focusing in on clues and unearthing hint coins, all while dragging and tapping away at the touch screen and looking at the top screen. You find puzzles of various difficulties and earn Picarats when you clear them. Much here is familiar, warm and fuzzy.
As promised by Level-5, however, there are some switches in approach for this series revival. Katrielle's 'Layton Detective Agency' seeks clients, and instead of chapters you embark upon Cases, with hints (in our initial playtime to date) of an overarching plot that will run perpendicular. Though you explore areas and solve puzzles in familiar ways, the narrative is all about solving the case. Through the course of working the case you uncover Clues, with six in the first instance - these gradually piece the mystery together, and when you've discovered all of these you can solve the case. We made sure we'd found all of the puzzles before hitting that concluding button, and then once we initiated it we had a charming set of cutscenes to wrap it up.
Cutscenes and conversations remain a key part of the experience, and puzzles are still very much to the fore. Of those we've tackled so far a few were certainly tricky, and they're very much in the same vein as those seen in past entries. Accumulating Picarats, the game informs us, is also important for unlocking details on all the mysteries at the end of the game, so a thorough approach is encouraged. We're also seeing the gradual unlocking of all the usual extras in Katrielle's case, including little story segments to fill in gaps.
So far we've had an entirely pleasant time with Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy. The Professor may be absent, but his daughter is a sharp witted and endearing protagonist, as are her quirky companions. It's too soon to say whether they'll warm our hearts as much as the Professor and Luke, but they're off to a good start.
For all that is new in this game, plenty is familiar; that's fine by us.