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Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney (3DS) artwork

Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney (3DS) review

"The world of Labyrinthia is well worth visiting, in spite of a few missteps along the way."

The term "info dump" refers to the point in a story where instead of showing the audience what happened, the characters or narrator start lecturing. This process can take up whole paragraphs of text or, in the case of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright on the Nintendo 3DS, whole hours of play.

Mostly, info dumps are boring and should be avoided at all costs. Suppose a story calls for a thrilling ride downhill in the back of an out-of-control pickup. You don't want to hear about how exciting it was. You want to feel as if you are really there, being jostled by each bump and fearing the collision that surely awaits you at the bottom of the hill. And if the info dump instead offers its creator a chance to relay a bunch of dull technical details, you'd likely rather see that diluted by scenes that are more obviously interesting. We don't read fiction, watch movies, or play games because we fancy a lecture, most of us.

If Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright were any less compelling a game up to the point when its protracted info dump begins, I don't believe I would have kept going. Game mechanics that over the preceding 20 hours or so have become standard do a poor job of hiding the fact that the writers had a bunch of dangling threads to tie together and only so much time or budget. I found myself in the unusual (for me) position of continuing to play a game almost entirely because I wanted to see what would happen next.

So let's backtrack a bit, and acknowledge that Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is an unusual concept. Two popular franchises in Japan (and elsewhere) were brought together by their developers. One is a puzzle game series, and the other is a… court room battle sim? They don't exactly go together like peanut butter and jelly, but the teams at Capcom and Level-5 do a great job of making you forget that point. They do eventually, at any rate.

At first, you might feel like you're really just playing a new Professor Layton game with a cameo or two from Phoenix Wright and his bubbly sidekick, Maya. The story essentially begins in London, where Hershel Layton and his young friend Luke suddenly meet a girl named Espella Cantabella. The lass recently spent time in the company of a former apprentice of Layton's, a rogue named Carmine, who helped her escape from a mysterious place called Labyrinthia.

Espella was pursued by a host of characters who appear to possess supernatural powers. They track her to Layton's apartment, and crazy things happen. The professor and his young apprentice try to escape together with their new friend, but they wind up getting separated. Meanwhile, Phoenix Wright and Maya Fey are visiting town to attend a legal convention of sorts. They wind up defending Espella in court, after she is accused of assault and battery during the midst of an apparent heist.

Eventually, the action leaves London behind, and all of the characters arrive in Labyrinthia. This strange setting is where the bulk of the game takes place, and it plays host to a number of mysteries that together provide ample incentive for the player to solve dozens of puzzles and participate in several lengthy trials. There's enough intrigue here, and a sufficient number of genuinely surprising plot twists, that I would probably quite happily watch the story unfold as an anime. Instead it is a game, which sometimes works better than it does others.

Typically, the Professor Layton games cover light-hearted territory, with some serious moments thrown in for the adults in the audience. Phoenix Wright explores somewhat darker territory, and that tone is the one that pervades Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright. Most of the trials carry a death sentence for the accused, who is typically believed to be a witch who must be lowered into a pool of lava for the good of Labyrinthia. In the early going, there are some surprisingly dark moments that recall the witch trials in Europe and early North America. It's the sort of thing that could give younger players nightmares by the time the story heads in another direction. Even then, a completely happy resolution is out of the question.

As I've said, I don't often find myself caring a great deal about the plot in a video game. I tend to find that the interactive medium faces a challenge as it tries to build a setting and characters and explore ideas in the manner a novel might. That's true here, as well, but the writers accomplished a great deal just the same. Except for the info dump I mentioned near the end, which in some respects felt unavoidable, it's all first-rate stuff and more interesting to me than the past Professor Layton titles.

Unfortunately, the puzzles weren't nearly as engaging. There were a few that were repeated several times, with increased difficulty as the accompanying story unfolded, and a lot of them were one step away from action mini-games. For instance, it is necessary to guide characters through a forest that guards are patrolling, or to navigate a multi-level maze, or adjust the path a laser beam follows. There were relatively few stumpers in the mix, and very little that felt inventive.

Trials were generally more interesting, but sometimes they could drag on for quite a while. New witnesses randomly join partway through, and you often must keep track of several people at once, to see how the testimony of the individual on the stand affects those waiting in the wings. This can mean that you must shuffle through the same testimony a few times, just to trigger a new event that will then force you to go through the facts yet again before you have the option to present a damning piece of evidence. Frequently, I would know how events must have gone, but I wasn't sure how to present the evidence in a manner that the game would accept.

In spite of those flaws, I had a good time with Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright because I genuinely fell in love with the setting. The rules and lore that govern the place were masterfully introduced, in a slow drip that I found delightful. The artists did a beautiful job bringing such a fantastic place to life, as well, and some of the environments are a joy to behold with the system's 3D settings cranked up nearly to the maximum. Character portraits effectively convey emotions, with witnesses and attorneys animated beautifully (though some of those animations were used a bit too frequently for my liking). Familiar music also lends the story a welcome sense of mystery and urgency, depending on the scene.

Whether you're a fan of the Professor Layton or the Phoenix Wright games, there's something you're bound to enjoy in Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright. The mash-up is by no means perfect, but solid production values and a surprisingly substantial plot make the world of Labyrinthia one that you'll likely be sad to leave behind even after 20 or 25 hours and a monster of an info dump.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 25, 2014)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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