The Professor Layton series has an amazing history, filled with timeless adventures for players to experience. From Pandora’s Box, to Miracle Mask, to the phenomenal Unwound Future, this series has been the pinnacle of grand stories and brain teasing challenges. For Nintendo fans, however, this series is well-known and respected. But, how does Level-5 choose to bring this franchise to a new generation with the Switch? Do they create a brand new adventure? Remaster a classic entry? None of the above. Instead, they bring 2017’s Layton Mystery Journey over as a deluxe edition, for better or worse.
Layton’s Mystery Journey is an oddity for the mainline series, as this is the first game to do without Professor Layton and his assistant, Luke. Layton’s Mystery Journey is a passing of the torch, with Layton's daughter, Katrielle, taking the spotlight. Layton's Mystery Journey follows Katrielle Layton as she starts her own detective agency and sets out to solve the mysteries that pop up around London. Joining Katrielle is her assistant Ernest, who really comes across more as a lovelorn stalker only around because of his feelings for our protagonist. There's also Sherl, an amnesiac and talking dog, who assists Katrielle on cases while trying to uncover the mystery of his own unique ability.
Generally speaking, Layton’s Mystery Journey is a much smaller scale adventure then the grand tales that came before, but that isn’t a bad thing. Rather than a globe-trotting archeologist following the next big mystery, Katrielle finds her niche as a detective in a more down-to-earth and realistic setting. This works better with the characters and their more unique personalities.
Each of the central characters are brilliant, as they quickly allow you to forget about the prior adventures with Professor Layton as you deal with their quirky personalities and hilarious stories. The Professor Layton series certainly had some entertaining dialogue, but it rarely made you laugh as much as this adventure does. Sherl’s often sarcastic comments were fun, and Katrielle’s air-headed personality, simply driven by her stomach and sheer dumb luck, was nothing but charming. You can’t help but anticipate the next conversation thanks to character reactions and the excellent dialogue.
The more realistic narrative might be seen as a negative to some. The previous Layton games were excellent at portraying endearing overarching narratives, which were convoluted but entertaining to the end. Layton’s Mystery Journey is told on a case-by-case basis, as each chapter brings a new mystery for Katrielle and her cohorts to solve. Granted, much of the plot does come together at the end as individual plotlines intersect, but the game is at its strongest when focused on these singular cases.
These singular cases act as vignettes and allow the game to shine, with stronger storytelling that never feels dragged out. This in turn allowed each case to be interesting from start to finish, as opposed to having slower moments, as could be the case in the previous games. One moment you are investigating a missing arm from one of the clocks on Big Ben, while in another, you are investigating ghosts for a lonely woman. Another case even has you discovering what happened to a solid gold statue. Each mystery is well handled with mostly believable plots that are fun to solve yourself ahead of the game; however, some of these do leave you scratching your head for some time, while others you can work out in seconds. This never stops the story being fun to go through as you find information for the next big plot twist.
That being said, despite the strengths of the narratives the general mysteries which can be fun to work through, it does little for the player’s agency. You feel more like a passive viewer who is disconnected from the journey, rather than being a master detective. While having no control over the mystery, you can search the screens to find puzzles, hint coins, and even interact with people to start a conversation. It’s fine gathering clues and finding the key information alongside Katrielle, but it is disappointing how little we actually matter in solving the cases.
It would be nice if the game allowed us to find all the clues but never directly told us the key details. As the player, we would be forced to pay attention and consider all critical points. Sure, the characters could remind us of notable points, but leave it more in the control of the player. Previous Layton games did this to great effect, as we were quizzed to ensure we were paying attention put key points together. It’s an omission that was made to make the game more accessible, but alienating series fans who like to feel smart.
The other element where Layton’s Mystery Journey falters is in its puzzle design. This is probably the worst puzzle design the series has had to date, even beating out many of the underwhelming puzzles from Curious Village. Many are simply too easy, even around the mid-game, and can be completed with a simple guess. There are even many with no chance at failure, so you can mess around for the entirety of the puzzle. Take, for instance, one puzzle involving a giant robot: you are asked to find the place where it can be shut down, but even if you’re wrong, you can just press another spot.
This isn’t true for all puzzles, as there are some devious ones and even some clever ones, but these are still few and far between and don’t exhibit the quality seen in the rest of the series. Furthermore, there are some with solutions that don’t seem to make sense, and you need extreme amounts of luck to complete. They are passable at best, which isn’t good for a series of this caliber, because it has done so much better. Granted, the original puzzle master for the series passed away, which does show reason for the fall in quality.
Additionally, Layton’s Mystery Journey brings the series to the Switch to the first time, and with it does come a question: How do the controls work? With the 3DS, much of the game was handled via the system's touch screen, which as always was effectively done. The Nintendo Switch, on the other hand, lacks a second screen. To handle this, Level-5 chose to employ a multitude of new options for players to find a way to play that suits them. The worst of these is easily the motion controls for the Joy-Con.
These are passable, since an on-screen cursor moves with the motion of your Joy-Con but this was annoyingly finicky at times. The joy-stick is also an option, and this works fine in the puzzle screen for the most part, but it is painful during investigation screens. Many of the environment's cameras move to allow views of higher locations, and the use of the joy-stick is disorienting in these moments.
For those wishing to play this game undocked, the Switch’s touch screen is a valid option for some players. Although this does bring an issue with your fingers covering up things and becoming a little annoying, this still this worked well enough to handle investigation scenes. Directional buttons can also be used to interact with characters, which is easier.
The final question that may be asked is, what is so deluxe about this version? Honestly, nothing significant is added into this version of the game. All paid content for Layton's Mystery Journey is here, which means costumes for Katrielle. New puzzles are added for those wanting more, and some of these can be a little more challenging. Overall though, it isn’t really worth it for those who previously played the game, and there isn’t even new story elements, which would have been appreciated. As a deluxe edition, you might have thought that Level-5 have opted to fix the noted issues, but instead they add content that is mostly meaningless rather than fix the game.
At the end of the day, Layton’s Mystery Journey for the Switch is the same game that came out in 2017. Nothing of note is added to this version that makes it worth the time for former players, and newcomers are better off playing the original version for its better control scheme. Nonetheless, if you enjoyed playing it the first time, you will still love Layton’s Mystery Journey. While it may be weak in terms of puzzle design and player agency for its mysteries, the storytelling and characters are still charming and a lot of fun. This may not be the best version of this game, but ironically, this next generation of Layton adventures is the perfect start for the next generation of Nintendo systems.
Simon reviewed Layton Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires Conspiracy – Deluxe Edition on the Nintendo Switch with a personally purchased copy.