The Professor Layton series is one that’s defined puzzling on Nintendo handhelds ever since the early days of the DS. Since 2007, we’ve received two trilogies and two spinoffs starring the eponymous professor, but declining sales and a general sense of stagnation seemed to have scared Level-5 off from greenlighting another trilogy in much the same vein.
So, the studio opted for something of a soft reboot with Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy in 2017, which put a new protagonist in the spotlight and made some small changes to the formula to freshen things up. Now, that release has come to the Switch in the form of the laboriously named Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy – Deluxe Edition, which makes small improvements on the already solid foundation of what came before.
Unlike the mainline entries in the series, Layton’s Mystery Journey follows the adventures of the esteemed professor’s daughter Katrielle, a confident and inimitable young woman who’s doing her utmost to step out of her father’s shadow and build her own legend as a respected puzzle-solver and private detective. Kat’s story doesn’t concern itself so much with enormous, world-ending threats or time-travelling shenanigans that series fans have become accustomed to. Rather, the adventure takes on a smaller, neighbourhood-sized scope as she embarks on several mostly disconnected cases that are presented in an episodic ‘monster of the week’ sort of manner.
Some may decry this step away from a grand, overarching mystery, but we rather enjoyed the diversity offered up by the episodic set up. New characters and scenarios are introduced at a blistering pace, keeping the experience constantly fresh as you bounce between varying locales and scenarios with hardly any idea of what could come next. For example, one case involves you searching for the ‘stolen’ final scene to an arthouse film while the next has you tracking down a crazy millionaire cat lady’s lost feline. As we mentioned above, the fate of the world isn’t at stake here, but that doesn’t stop the cases from being interesting in their own way.
The main factor that keeps this piecemeal approach so engaging from start to finish is the utterly stellar writing that shines through in virtually every line of dialogue. Richard Honeywood – the man who spearheaded several localization efforts on the Dragon Quest, Ni No Kuni, and Final Fantasy series – was responsible for the script here, and that characteristic charm, razor-sharp wit, and groan-inducing penchant for puns are all present and accounted for.
All the characters speak in an idealized ‘jolly good day’ sort of the Queen’s English, and it goes a long way toward infusing each dialogue scene with lots of personality. Given that you spend probably around half your time with this release mashing ‘A’ through dialogue scenes, it’s refreshing that it seldom feels like the conversations are dragging on for too long. A lot of this is down to the excellent characterization, too, whether it be a one-off character for a case or one of the main supporting characters. For example, Kat’s personal assistant, Ernest, is painfully deep in the friendzone with her, and his fumbled efforts to gain her favour are often laughed at or mocked by Sherl, their talking dog companion that they alone can understand. It’s these kinds of lighthearted interactions that keep the story so consistently endearing, and they’re almost sure to entice you to see through the narrative to its completion.
As you move through the story, gameplay takes on something of a cross between a point-and-click adventure and a more traditional puzzle game. Each case sees you moving between different areas that are made up of static screens you can scrutinize with a magnifying glass to find hidden goodies and interview characters. Though what you need to do to advance the story is usually made extremely plain and easy, it’s often worth your time to really scour every corner and make sure you’ve found everything. Hint Coins – which can be spent on helpful hints in devious puzzles – are scattered liberally through each area, alongside other collectables and even some hidden puzzles.
The bulk of your time actually ‘playing’ through Kat’s adventure will be spent on these puzzles, of which there are several hundred. These can come in a variety of forms, such as asking you to fit varying geometric shapes into a tight boundary or to move a chess piece across a board in as few moves as possible. The variety is really what keeps these puzzles so engaging, as each one introduces its own rules and unique logic that pushes you to think in new directions and out of the box.
We rather appreciated the challenge offered up by many of these as well; unlike, say, the puzzle design in your typical Legend of Zelda game, these puzzles will legitimately require you to sit and think for a while about varying approaches before finally pulling the trigger with your best guess. If you’re really stumped, the Hint Coins can offer up some helpful nudges in the right direction without giving it out away outright, and then if you still can’t figure it out, you can all but pay up enough coins to basically get the answer. Your performance will dictate how many “Picarats” are granted to you upon completing the puzzle, and these will unlock some cool bonuses at the end of the game if you can manage to collect enough of them. Most of the puzzle design is perfectly fine, then, but there are some unfortunate missteps that hold many of them back.
Level-5 has proudly stated that Layton’s Mystery Journey contains the most puzzles in the series and while that certainly is true, we’d argue that some of the quality found in past entries’ puzzle designs has been lost in the process. Though many of the several-hundred puzzles on offer adequately reward deduction and logical thought, we came across far too many that have the sort of ‘gotcha’ design that feels like it runs counter to the spirit of what these puzzles are supposed to represent.
For example, an early puzzle asks you the minimum number of times you’d have to touch a clock to get it to read a specific time. The answer is zero, because the clock will eventually reach that time on its own. It’s puzzles with solutions like this that prove to be all too frustrating, as they feel less like you’re solving a puzzle and more like you’re arguing semantics due to how ‘loose’ the unspoken rules were for that specific puzzle. In the case above, it’s assumed that you would have to touch the clock – especially when other, similar puzzles would require that of you – but the goalposts are silently moved in this instance so that it’s not strictly necessary. It’s not too often that puzzles pop up with such irritating answers, but they nonetheless pop up more often than we’d like and cheapen the experience to a certain extent.
From start to finish, the main story will run you between fifteen to twenty hours to complete, but there’s plenty of extra content on offer for those who are willing to go for the 100%. For one thing, you can go back to cases after solving them to weed out any hidden puzzles you may have missed and to find new ones that are added after you’ve seen the end of that arc. In addition to this, there’s also a daily puzzle mode where you can download a new, logic-based puzzle each day and earn some museum points for completing it that can then be spent on unlocking screens and art from past games in the Layton series.
Also, for the more cosmetically-minded players, Kat and company have a deep wardrobe of costumes that you can unlock by getting daily allowances of “Fashion Farthings” and you can similarly furnish Kat’s office with all manner of furniture by trading in vouchers that are given to you for every four completed puzzles. All told, you could probably squeeze up to forty hours out of this release when all is said and done, which is nothing to sneeze at for a game in this rather niche genre.
From a presentation standpoint, Kat’s adventure could most succinctly be summed up in one word: pleasant. Bright colours, smiling passersby, neatly-manicured lawns and friendly bicycle bell rings are the norm here, making for a world that feels friendly and unthreatening no matter what the esteemed detective happens to be investigating. Of particular note are the nicely-animated anime-style cutscenes that usually bookend each case, giving the characters and environments the kind of lively energy that they lack as you move from static screen to screen. This is hardly the release to showcase the hardware strengths of the Switch – its roots as a 3DS game make themselves evident from time to time – but the art and character models have all cleaned up quite well in HD and make for a smooth experience that’s as easy to slip into as one would a comfortable pair of slippers.
Those of you looking for why that “Deluxe Edition” has been added to the title may be a little disappointed to learn that not a whole lot has been added for this release. Aside from the remastered visuals, a little over forty new puzzles have been added into the mix, along with a host of outfits – some of which were paid DLC in the original version. We would’ve rather enjoyed it if something a little more substantial, such as an extra case, could’ve been present to add a little more value to this re-release, but it’s tough to complain too much for what is effectively the definitive version of this game. Still, those of you that already gave this one a go on either the 3DS or a smartphone may want to pause and think just how much you want it on your Switch; paying almost full retail price for effectively the same experience again is something that’s difficult to justify.
Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy – Deluxe Edition proves itself to be a strong puzzle game in its own right, although compared to the highs of its predecessors, it doesn’t nearly hold up as well. Even so, the pleasant visuals, wonderful writing, and (mostly) strong puzzle design make this an easy sell, even if the occasional missteps in some of the puzzle answers and the lack of compelling new features for this re-release prove to be drawbacks. We’d give this a recommendation to anybody looking for a slower-paced game that still demands lots of attention. It’s an excellent ‘winding down before bed’ sort of game, and though it might not fully live up to the series legacy, we’re still excited for whatever Level-5 is planning next for Kat.