As a fan of top hats and the ever eloquent Professor Layton, I was thrilled to learn of another game release; after what I understood was the end of the series. Layton vs. Wright seemed, to someone who has never played an Ace Attorney game before, like an obvious pairing. Two characters whose sole purpose is seeking out the truth, whether it is through puzzles and mysteries, or within the court room. Throw in a title which clearly says they will be opposing each other over the same mystery, and it doesn’t just sound like an interesting concept, but like a game that will test your wits in a clever cross-over, right? OBJECTION! This title has left me with a continued fondness for Layton that supersedes my dislike for Maria Darling’s voice acting for Luke, however, as a crossover title and new venture for Level 5? Well, I’ll just have to present my testimony with evidence to justify the verdict.
The Layton series has always been beautifully presented with a strong style that has been faithfully carried across into this title. While later entries in the series may have introduced intermittent cell shading, Layton vs. Wright has remained true to Layton’s roots; which I think suits the game perfectly. In turn, the overall look felt natural to a Layton fan as the characters were exactly what you’d anticipate, but with smoother animations. Instead of the typical lifeless talking heads, Level 5 instead utilizes more expression which is very effective. The cut-scenes are entertaining and gripping enough to appear straight from an anime and quietly assist the connection of the story.
As always strong voice acting and what I feel is a really positive example of the enduring music that has weaved through these titles helped to forge a dynamic and gratifying presentation. Once Phoenix is introduced, I had nothing to previously compare it with, but Level 5 meshed the two worlds without any obvious chasms; if you don’t count the fact that Layton remains equivalent to a walking smiley face compared to the fully personalized characters surrounding him. The obligatory town-scapes were nothing new, but followed in the successful realm of being nice to look at without overpowering your vision. On a 3DS, too much bustle too often makes for an uncomfortable experience. As always, I enjoyed the imagination and unexpected locations, with art that begged more time in certain areas, such as the ancient chambers and the court room; which was a new experience for me.
Not all was well within the courtroom, though. From the moment we meet Phoenix, I wondered more than once if I was going to have a stroke. While it’s natural for game design to assist the player to avoid inadvertently missing keys points needed to help progress, what’s UNNATURAL, however, is the apparent requirement to jolt the screen and have white flashes every few seconds. As an example, I was Phoenix in a discussion with my companion, and throughout the four minute dialogue, I counted eight white flashes and jolts. If this is normal for an Ace Attorney game, then I sincerely hope they amend the frequency of blinding revelations -literally- or if there are future titles planned, I hope this aspect of the design vanishes like the accused on bail. Vision impairment aside, the rest of the game design was beautiful while ensuring it retained an air of mystery and impending doom, or the “G-Rated” equivalent, at least. Often, I found it hard to tell who the game was aimed at; some puzzles and connections could have been solved by my eight year old, but some scenes included themes and suggestions that would frighten a child. Considering the “versus” in the title, I had been hopeful for something targeted at an older audience, with a slightly more mature design, and a feeling of competition between the two greats. Sadly, this was not the case.
The gameplay is mostly “point-and-click,” with the courtroom antics using a handy catalogue system; both of which operated well. However, I can’t help but be a bit disappointed with the way the game played. Granted there was an epic amount of information to push onto the player, but the puzzles felt few and far between, and almost as if they were a last minute add-on to justify Layton and Luke’s presence. The puzzles in a Layton game are always visually enticing, and over the years, I hate to admit some have not only forced me to buy hints, but also to slam shut the DS and declare that I hated the stupid archaeologist and his hat anyway! This time around, Phoenix and several companions had some minor inclusions in the puzzle nature of the game, but not once in 60+ puzzles, not ONCE, was I challenged. I’d like to declare I’m older and wiser, but let’s be honest; put a sliding puzzle in front of me now and I’ll still probably cry. The brainteasers were basically pretty to look at, and a way to break up the walls of text and flashing screens. This really disappointed me, so I looked to the court drama for a contest, but in turn, I found I was only challenged by the logic lapse; namely, never being on the same page as the “Sonic-haired” Phoenix. Trial and error prevailed, but it didn’t have the satisfying feeling that solving a mysteries yourself offers.
The story itself piqued my interest early, and had me constructing conclusions and considering outlandish explanations throughout. As the game developed, though, I couldn’t help but check the play time frequently; besides map traversing, and the mad screen bash for coins and hidden puzzles, all I did was read. This in itself isn’t an issue, but a game with 24 hour play time, incessant talking heads and flashing, jolting affects during most of the script became a recipe for just wanting to hurry up and finish the game. Being accustom to Layton narratives turning on their heads, I was pretty confident in most of my assumptions when I reached the climatic reveals. Honestly I wasn’t far off, that is until Level 5 introduced what I can only describe as intoxicated anime: random, unnecessary twists, last second declarations, implausible truths and for some reason, a final cut scene of talking heads that did nothing but reiterate the oddest plot points over and over in forced, awkward conversation.
I sincerely wish I could say the jury is out on the final decision, but I was all but forcing myself to get through this game and with much less satisfaction than I expected. If the narrative was less focused on the unrealistic drama, and offered more than one very tiny portion where you actually had the titular characters on opposing benches, then I believe it would have been a more rewarding experience; enjoying the same gusto managed by the other games in the Layton series. In saying that, if another title is planned, I don’t think I would even buy it for my Layton loyalty; mostly in fear of another seizure-sparking text-fest. I missed the simple pleasure and nonsensical premises of the Layton games, and hope that any other cross-overs do the series justice, or that Level 5 creates another title in the same vein, but with older players in mind, as well. To those of you who are avid Phoenix Wright fans, might I suggest you have an eye examination – I believe mine are still twitching every time I see the colour white.