Review: Layton’s Mystery Journey

Puzzlingly disappointing?

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Image courtesy of Aalma Zelmra via Flickr

Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy is a successor to the Professor Layton series of games that follow the veritably puzzle-encrusted exploits of Katrielle’s father. As much as I wanted to, I didn’t find this game’s cast to be half as funny or engaging as the Professor and his entourage, and I soon found myself avoiding additional investigation dialogue once it became clear how dull and rudimentary their observations were.

For example, Sherl the talking dog is a character so annoying that in ten years time there will be thinkpieces asking if we were too hard on him, and the answer will still be no. He serves three purposes: mercilessly judging every character he perceives as weird, having a vocabulary that comprises nothing but dog puns and stock catchphrases such as ‘here goes nothing,’ and doing pratfalls with his anus aimed at the camera whenever he fails a puzzle. Fortunately there is a Sherl minigame allowing you to send him into bottomless pits and harmlessly hit him with boulders until your battery runs dry.

Mystery Journey boasts hundreds of puzzles, but unfortunately the solution to almost every one is to exploit a quirk in how it’s phrased. It’s especially heart breaking given that the brainteasers from the first game were marketed as having a degree of educational value. The novelty of these trick puzzles is already lost by the time you find yourself answering every one with an obnoxious technicality before you even begin doing any mathematical thinking. Even the mysteries are obvious – with the exception of the final one, which annoyingly revolves around information Katrielle receives but hides from the player. This reduces the following clue hunt to thumb aching busywork. One particularly offensive case concerning the identity of a masked superhero begins with a mild-mannered newspaper editor stuttering if there is any need to investigate it. No Picarats for guessing who the hero is revealed to be in the end.

Compare with 2013’s Layton Brothers Mystery Room. The biggest twist of Room is that it is not about a Layton at all, but rather the authentically written Yorkshire heroine DC Lucy Baker, whose arc takes her from being impetuous but submissive to tackling impossible cold cases on her own. Katrielle’s personality is an unsatisfying compromise between her traditional ‘gentlewoman’ heritage, and her more divergent uncouth manners. I would have preferred one extreme or the other. Show me a Katrielle who hates all things polite because her gentleman father abandoned her. One of the few characters in Journey with a non-London English accent is, frustratingly, a Scouse mugger. There is also an odd trend of the gang describing dark-skinned characters as ‘suspicious looking’ and ‘intimidating’ despite no on-screen evidence to support it.

The soundtrack is also disappointing, ditching Azran Legacy’s live orchestra for a synthetic one. Listen out for the catchy J-pop opening theme, though. Redeeming qualities include a nifty interior design minigame, a handful of fun new NPCs (we all know a couple like Bess and Benjy) and more links to real world English culture – I certainly didn’t expect so many Brexit jokes. This gives me hope for a better sequel to Mystery Journey, but until then this instalment is a puzzling entry.

 

Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy is available now on iOS, and Android, and is released on Nintendo 3DS on October 6th.