One franchise that arguably helped the original Nintendo DS reach the heights of popularity that it did was the Professor Layton series. The combination of challenging puzzles with a charismatic Brit and witty script quickly became the new Tetris for the handheld.
Surely you can’t put all the glory at the feet of one man? The Ace Attorney franchise has had a huge following also, combined with critical acclaim and a character and script full of humor and charm. It also spanned more console generations than your so called Professor!
OK, OK Internet: there’s no denying that both franchises are jewels in the portable console’s crown. Both have huge followings individually and have generated considerable revenue for Level-5 and Capcom. They have both had their own foray into the world of cinema and have been the subject of many a cosplay (including your’s truly).
So what would happen if London’s foremost archaeologist and Ivy University’s most prestigious alumnus were to team up? Well thankfully Level-5 and Capcom saw the potential in a cross over and gave us just that. The Legal League of Attorneys has sent Phoenix, and his partner Mya, on an exchange program to London, home of Professor Hershel Layton.
There are some references to magic and magical creatures such as witches and prophecy.
Whilst players don’t engage in violent acts themselves, there are depictions of murder and assault. Some scenes are reminiscent of witch trials, including characters being sealed in metal sarcophagi and lowered into fire, assuming they have perished.
The language used in the game is mild and lighthearted
There is no explicit sexual content within the game, however there are references to being “properly proportioned” and some suggestive costumes are present.
Drug / Alcohol Abuse
There are no drug references within the game, however one character appears to be under the influence of alcohol.
The game itself promotes positive skills such as logical and deductive reasoning as opposed to violently solving problems. This combined with the main characters’ sense of justice and modesty provide good positive role models for younger gamers. The characters also give off an air of quiet confidence in themselves and their abilities without being boastful.
Now full disclosure: I had always wanted to play an Ace Attorney game, but for a multitude of reasons I missed out. I have however been a huge fan of the Professor Layton series, even using it as a tool to help promote problem solving and logic skills. The recent eShop sales have finally given me the time and opportunity to see an Ace Attorney game in action.
The story starts simple. The prologue is split into two parts, one for each of our heroes. We begin with Professor Layton who receives a letter written by a friend who is being pursued by witches. Eventually we rush to the scene of an accident and try to unravel clues as to the whereabouts of our friend whilst accompanied by another of the games protagonists, Espella. Layton, Luke and Espella are then pursued by the same witches. To keep Espella safe, our heroic duo helps her onto a river barge before being transported to the mythical land of Labirynthia.
For Phoenix Wright, our story starts in a much more pleasurable way, sleeping on a flight from the USA to London on an exchange program from the Legal League of Attorneys to observe legal proceedings in the UK. On arrival, Phoenix is instructed to defend a client who has been found stealing from a barge of toys. Phoenix sees the trial for what it is, and uncovers the truth before he and Maya are also escorted to Labyrinthia.Both parts of the prologue serve to familiarize players with either (or both) sets of game mechanics as well as introduce some new ideas to help bridge the two together. The hint coins from the Layton games for example can be used in both segments and help in the cross examinations as well as in solving puzzles. This work well and I quickly enjoyed the playful drama behind the cross examination portion.
The game then unfolds within Labyrinthia, but for the most part tries to keep the gameplay separate. Within “Layton” levels you scan artistic scenery to find hint coins, dialogue and puzzles to help further the plot. However, this doesn’t always mean you are traveling along with Layton and his number-one apprentice, Luke Triton, but a mixture of pairings in order to aide the fan service. This also transpires in the court room scenes, producing a fantastic moment where both Layton and Phoenix point their accusatory fingers at the same time.
The game has a unique art style that tries to merge both game’s individual features while also using familiar art assets. This creates interesting sequences that, while enjoyable in 2D, doesn’t always translate to 3D. For example, there are scenes where buildings don’t appear in the right place and “ghost” above the street in front of them. However, playing in 2D eliminates this entirely and the switch between 2D and 3D sprites is almost unnoticeable for those who have played either series before.
The story is enjoyable and compares to previous Professor Layton games. There is lighthearted and well thought out humor and the inclusion of Phoenix Wright works well, adding to the comic relief at times while also letting Phoenix’s pursuit of justice and fair play shine through. In trying to make the two series meld however, the developers have clearly focused on a core group within a new, yet familiar fantasy setting. This is clearly to introduce key characters and not bog down new players with inside-jokes or unfamiliar characters or scenes.Another issue with the story is the pace. The game is divided up between four key areas; reading takes up the largest proportion, almost three quarters, and the rest is split almost equally between cutscenes, puzzles, exploration, and courtroom scenes. The speed of the game is dictated by the movement of the text and lack of ability to skip forward. While the game doesn’t become stale, there is clearly more time spent on the visual novel aspects that at times became tiresome.
As a newcomer to the Phoenix Wright sections, I really enjoyed the comic drama of the courtroom and found myself shouting “objection” and “hold it” alongside Phoenix, much to my wife’s annoyance (mental note: 3 AM is not always a great time to get engrossed in a game). I found the mechanics easy to pick up, but it was not always obvious when and to whom each item should be presented. In fact, the first time I ever played a courtroom scene I lost and had to carefully work through the process again.
The Professor Layton puzzles feel like they lost their edge. With time, it may become apparent that this is also the case for Phoenix. The puzzles are less taxing and more about sliding tiles or moving objects around. This issue is easy to explain: making sure no one franchise puts off a player in the hope that it spawns new player bases. There is also the ability to download regular puzzles in the future.
The music is a hidden gem within the games. A trained ear will notice common themes throughout the newer mixes. For example, the original theme tune from Professor Layton and the Curious Village is remixed into newer tracks, and quick research of a few of the Phoenix Wright games confirms this was the case too.The art style and music compliment an enjoyable and witty plot with characters that compliment each other well. The level of challenge promotes new fans of both series, but could be more challenging for existing fans, possibly with a difficulty slider. The game could also have increased in pace at times to prevent the visual novel segments taking over at the expense of the game play. Overall, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a beautiful tribute to two enjoyable franchises.
The Bottom Line