Back in 2010, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was announced, a collaboration between Level-5 and Capcom. The project was meant to bring together two of the biggest properties in each company's stable: Professor Layton's adventure-driven puzzle-solving and Phoenix Wright's courtroom interrogations. Both games cater to a similar niche in the gaming industry and the respective franchises have always found a home on Nintendo's handheld platforms.
I only have a passing understanding of both games. I've played a Professor Layton game briefly once; I believe it was Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Phoenix Wright I've only recently delved into. My significant other owns every game in the series and after playing Ace Attorney Trilogy at E3, I was driven to start from the beginning. I'm probably halfway through Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, but other reviews and previews keep getting in the way. So, I'm approaching this crossover through rather fresh eyes.
Despite the title, there's not much versus action in Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. In fact, Layton and Phoenix have an amazingly strong bromance over the course of the title. (The fanfic will be strong with this one.) Layton is joined by his protege Luke Triton, while the plucky Maya Fey accompanies Phoenix on the case. Outside of those core characters, the rest of the supporting cast is brand-new; this is a crossover in the sense that two styles are coming together, not a romp through the fan-favorites in the back catalog.
In setting, the game has more in common with the Layton games, taking place in the mysterious city of Labyrinthia. Both halves of the crossover end up in Labyrinthia due to a magical book, finding the town under the control of a group of witches. Witches, magic, knights, and an inquisition take center stage here, which may throw off some players who are used to less-fantastical settings.
Each lead character carries half of the gameplay, but in practice it feels like a Phoenix Wright game with an expanded investigation side. Layton does the footwork, exploring the town, talking to the citizens, solving puzzles, and finding hint coins. The Hint Coins give you helpful tips when you're stuck on a particular puzzle's solution and there's enough lying around that you don't have to hold onto them like a miser.
Logic puzzles, mazes, math problems, and other brain teasers are scattered about Labyrinthia to challenge you. Solving the puzzles quickly earns you more "Picarats," a currency taken from the Professor Layton series. Each puzzle has a Picarats score: you're rewarded Picarats for success, and the game subtracts some from the total when you fail. The Picarats allow players to unlock additional content in the game, including artwork and music.
The other side of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright's gameplay are the actual trials, named Witch Trials in the game's setting. (You actually won't start this half until around an hour into the game, as Layton vs. Wright is heavy on the hand-holding.) Like other Ace Attorney games, you'll listen to testimony, push witnesses on lies, and present evidence. The classic "Objection" and "Hold It" moments are all here, but there's a bit of a twist to the formula with multiple witnesses taking the stand simultaneously. This allows you to play witnesses against each other; you can actually see non-testifying witnesses' body language change during testimony. It makes Wright's side of things a bit more complex, but it's actually a lot of fun. You can use the Hint Coins from Layton's side to narrow down options in the courtroom and the new Grand Grimoire has magic spells to help you through the trials.
You'll flip-flop between both modes pretty evenly for most of the game, but at some point you'll get a lengthy run of Layton puzzles before ending the whole shebang in the courtroom. Wright's sequences feel longer than what I've played of the series, but I'm unsure is that's just the norm for the latter games or something specific to this title. Finishing the game on Wright's side definitely makes Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright feel more like a Wright game; something that's helped by the fact that the plot was written by Ace Attorney director Shu Takami.
Speaking of story, the presentation and plot of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is a cut-above some other 3DS titles. There's extensive animation produced by Bones, the studio behind shows like Fullmetal Alchemist, Soul Eater, and Space Dandy, backed by some great English voice work. Layton, Wright, and crew get some excellent 3D models to work with, even if one of Wright's faces has dead eyes. Level-5 and Capcom went above and beyond on this game and probably set a new bar for future games in each franchise. The story itself has all the twists and turns you'd expect from the Wright side and the dialog crackles with humor and wit.
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is an wonderful mash-up that illustrates the strengths of each franchise, even if it favors the Phoenix Wright side of things. The puzzles and trials are on the easy side, though you'll occasionally find yourself completely stuck on a puzzle or two. Phoenix Wright fans are in for a treat, but Layton fans will still find something to enjoy. Best-case scenario, there will be new fans for each franchise. That's probably a benefit to Level-5 and Capcom, with Layton 7 and Dai Gyakuten Saiban on the horizon.
Personally, I enjoyed the light romp through Layton and Wright's magical adventure. It's good to have a bit of change from the deadly serious or overly-involved games I usually play; outside of the lengthy Witch Trials, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is the kind of game you can pop into for 5-10 minutes to make yourself feel smarter.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Level-5 and Capcom outdid themselves on the 3DS. Great animation is backed up by good 3D models.
- Sound: The soundtrack to Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is an absolute treat.
- Interface: Layton's side felt a bit clunky at time, but overall the interface works.
- Lasting appeal: Once you're done with the story, you can jump back in to unlock the extras.
What could've been a simple cash-grab is a great mash-up of two great franchises. Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright does its best to bring both sides together in a brand-new setting. More importantly, the game feels like it stays true to the core of both series while also setting a new high bar in presentation. The game favors Wright more than Layton, but fans of both will find something fun here.
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