Crossovers can be an interesting beast to tackle. Just because two things are well-received on their own, it doesn’t always mean that they will translate well when mixed together. While this was undoubtedly the fear when Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was first announced, these puzzling contemporaries prove to be quite a strong match despite some clear growing pains.
On one side of Professor Laytton vs. Phoenix Wright‘s coin, Level-5’s Hershel Layton is a top hat-wearing archaeology professor who – along with his apprentice Luke Triton – has a penchant for solving puzzles. Counter to the good professor and representing the Capcom side of things is everybody’s favorite Ace Attorney, Phoenix Wright and his assistant Maya Fey. Together, they find themselves trapped in the mysterious land of Labyrinthia where there is no shortage of mystery and magic to contend with.
This gives way to the very real threat that witches present to this storybook-like take on the Middle Ages. Layton and Wright must work together to uncover the truth about the prophetic Story Teller who seems to govern Labyrinthia while also taking part in the Witch Trials that permeate this world. As one would expect from both of these colorful characters, the story manages to casually bounces between lighthearted, comedic beats and surprisingly heavy and emotional moments.
Herein lies both the game’s biggest weakness and its biggest strength. Both sides of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright feel like competent wholes. It is when these characters are given the freedom to interact and bounce their individual ideologies off of one another that the game is at its strongest, providing some truly enjoyable narrative sequences. The issue instead comes in the mixing – or lack thereof – of the characters’ unique styles of play.
In true Layton fashion, the professor’s sequences allow the player to explore the beautifully-rendered landscapes of Labyrinthia, interacting with its denizens using simple point-and-click interaction. Given the town’s wealth of mysteries, it is only natural that Professor Layton should tackle these conundrums in the form of puzzles solved on the 3DS’ touch screen.
For a series that prides itself almost exclusively on its brain-teasers, it’s disappointing that Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright boasts some of the series’ more uninspired entries. Whereas Azran Legacy’s puzzles made beautiful use of the game’s varied locales (check out our review), the puzzles in this latest entry not only feel like they are restricted by the game’s setting, but the sheer number of titles in the series has begun lending itself to a diminishing number of inventive new puzzles.
This is not to say that Professor Layton’s side of the game is weak by any stretch of the imagination. The puzzles serve their purpose and there are some that are sure to stump even the most perspicuous of players. It’s simply becoming clear that the series’ age has begun to take a toll on its form. Counter to this though, Phoenix Wright’s courtroom drama represents what could be considered a series high point.
Lending to the theme of Witch Trials, Mr. Wright will periodically make his way to the defendant stand in order to unleash his own brand of yelling and finger-pointing justice. Witnesses are interviewed and contradictions are highlighted through the use of evidence as per the series’ legacy, but Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright also includes numerous improvements and distillations of the formula.
The first of the game’s new introductions is that of the Grand Grimoire. This hefty tome contains all of Labyrinthia’s magical knowledge and can be called upon as a form of evidence should cases devolve into disputes of the arcane. In addition to this, cross-examining witnesses has been beefed up thanks to the ability to have multiple witnesses on the block at the same time, often speaking up to provide commentary – and potential contradictions – to their fellow witnesses’ accounts.
Arguably the most notable change though, is the fact that Labyrinthia’s take on justice is very different from what players might be used to. Finger prints and photos are a foreign concept here and suspects of witchcraft are assumed to be guilty until proven otherwise. This means that the player must instead rely on careful examination of artist renderings and witness testimonies to talk the court into a corner rather than relying on technology to do the work for them.
In this way, it makes for a very chaotic courtroom experience that sometimes feels lacking in concrete logic. While this could easily become frustrating, the feeling of grasping at straws to try and appease an angry mob feels right at home in the context of the narrative and is only strengthened by the wonderfully diverse cast of characters in these sequences.
Mixing in both characters’ styles of play, the game comes out to about the length of two such adventures – about 30 hours. Despite this, for the majority of the game these two wholes rarely feel like they truly mesh. The interactions between the series’ characters are such a joy to watch unfold, so it is disappointing that more was not done to bring the two forms of gameplay together before the game’s latter portion.
This is only a minor issue in the grand scheme of things though. Despite the narrative dragging at times thanks to its length, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is an incredibly enjoyable experience for fans of both sides of this coin. The visuals, music and cinematics are incredibly strong as one would expect from both games, drawing influence from both and combining them in a way that feels endearing rather than jarring.
Being that the game is almost a complete rendition of both characters’ titles, it even stands to reason that this would be the perfect way for a new player to try their hand at both series’ at once. Level-5 and Capcom may have played it safe in regards to the combining of Layton and Wright‘s gameplay, but there’s no denying that this is a crossover worth diving into.
Will you be picking up Professor Laytton vs. Phoenix Wright? What other crossovers would you like to see in the world of gaming?
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is out now for the Nintendo 3DS.
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