by Ruairi Coughlan
Instead of being rated by marks out of ten, stars out of five, grades or percentages, games reviewed are given one of three verdicts, Buy, Try or Avoid.
Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
The best thing I can say about Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is that it isn’t lazy. Going into the game I expected a simple story with elements such as visuals, locations, gameplay and the musical score copy-pasted straight from past games. What I got was a surprisingly decent story set in a well-drawn world with new touches to both the gameplay and the music. Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is not perfect, not by a long shot, but it tries and I can respect that.
The story is a classic Layton mystery; a young girl named Espella has arrived at Layton’s office with a book that contains the future of a town seemingly from the middle ages called Labyrinthia written inside it and a pack of witches on her tail. In the ensuing events both Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright, a world renown ace attorney are sucked into the book and find themselves in the town of Labyrinthia defending Espella who is on trial for being a witch. The story is as I previously said, surprisingly decent. But considering that the two series from which Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney derives, Professor Layton and Ace Attorney, have some of the best stories told in gaming, surprisingly decent just isn’t good enough. The plot is easy to predict and is nowhere near as smart as the plots of the games in which the heroes previously starred. It was disappointing to see two of the smartest characters in gaming, Layton and Wright, in a plot that is quite dumb.
And therein lies the main problem, Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney can’t quite reach the standards of its forbearers. The puzzles you must solve as Professor Layton are timid when compared to puzzles in previous Layton games and similarly the characters you meet in court as Phoenix Wright are in no way as iconic as characters we’ve seen in previous Ace Attorney games. They are either flat two dimensional characters or odd just for the sake of being odd. Their oddness is supposedly where the humour of the game lies, but to be honest the humour just falls flat. Its as if the game is poking you with a stick, pointing out where the humour is supposed to be and why it is so funny, “Oh look that old man has a really long beard and now he is flying about like a rocket, isn’t that hilarious?”
On the upside the game looks gorgeous. The 3D models of characters seem to be an improvement over the previously hand drawn and pixelated variety rather than a step down. The colour palette within the game is notably vibrant. The game could have quite easily been awash with browns and greys considering the medieval setting but instead the game is an explosion of colour. The 3D effect is also well done, finding a happy medium between subtle and strength.
The game’s soundtrack really is one of its greatest assets because it is able to tell the story to greater effect than the story itself. It made me sad when the story took a turn for the worst, excited and smug when delivering crucial evidence in court and confounded when confronted with some of the puzzles found later in the game. The music is diverse to boot, with Spanish guitars, gothic organs and French accordions belting out hits anyone would be proud to have on their iPod.
Upon finishing Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney I knew that it wasn’t a good enough game for me to deliver the Buy verdict. Simply put it was below the standards set by both the Professor Layton series and the Ace Attorney series. So the only options left were the Try verdict and the Avoid verdict. I was agonising over the choice when I realised that I simply couldn’t tell people to avoid Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, and here’s why: it defies everything that the game industry today stands for, and in the best possible way. The heroes are ordinary people who use their heads to solve problems, they aren’t grim, grey space marines who destroy the problem by using guns and muscles the size of car tyres. Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney shows us that you don’t need multiplayer to keep people playing. Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney doesn’t assume that its players are dumb like almost every other game nowadays does, in fact it gives you chances to prove your intellect and rewards you for it. Perhaps most importantly it shows us that you don’t need to stuff your game full of quick time events in order for it to qualify as a game. Solving a puzzle to save the world is ten times more intuitive and involving than pressing ‘x’ to save the world.
Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a smart game and is the perfect antidote to the endless parade of sub-par shooters clogging up the arteries of the industry. Do yourself a favour and prescribe yourself a copy. A welcome change of pace, Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a game everyone should try at least once.