Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 3DS Review: A Puzzling Turnabout

Level-5 and Capcom bring together their biggest franchises in this all-new, all-magical crossover.

Review by Mike Williams, .

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.

The animation by Bones is great.

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.

Both casts gel together rather well.

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.

4 /5

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 3DS Review: A Puzzling Turnabout Mike Williams Level-5 and Capcom bring together their biggest franchises in this all-new, all-magical crossover. 2014-08-28T21:00:00-04:00 4 5

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Comments 15

  • Avatar for Pacario #1 Pacario 3 years ago
    I'm surprised Level-5 kept the characters of each game so aesthetically distinctive. Layton still has a rectangular head and those two dots for eyes, while Wright sports a much more detailed and realistic design. I had expected more of a blending between the two styles, but perhaps this is for the best.
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #2 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    Hm, I wasn't expecting this to get such a positive review. I should check it out. But, I'm way behind on both the Layton and Ace Attorney series, so it'll go on The Pile, I'm afraid.
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  • Avatar for Pokedalt #3 Pokedalt 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish Me neither! It sounded like a fairly good combo on paper when I first heard of it in Nintendo Power, but I'm glad to see that the execution holds up. Relatedly, I'm looking forward to seeing how that Pokémon+Tekken combo works out.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #4 MHWilliams 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish I really need to catch up on both series.
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  • Avatar for Hoolo #5 Hoolo 3 years ago
    I was really expecting either Bob or Kat to get this review, but apparently not. Oh well.

    This game has been out since March in Europe, and I powerhoused through it in the first weekend I had it. The puzzles are easier than they are in the normal Layton games, for the most part. There's still some real stinkers, and "backtracking" to find them all before they show up in the puzzle pile is not always the easiest thing. The new map system really helps out with that.

    There's enough plot twists to keep the player in suspense, and when the versus part of the game really starts to shine through, it becomes both a logical and musical clash. They certainly save the best for last.

    I certainly wouldn't mind more crossovers between these characters, if both parties feel like making more. Both series are among my favourites, and their combined might makes for a great game.
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  • Avatar for hal9k #6 hal9k 3 years ago
    Sounds great! I've really enjoyed the Phoenix Wright games but never got around to Layton (any recommendations on where to start?). Judging by Mike's review, it looks like the Layton puzzles bolster the investigation sections, which were always the weaker part of the Wright games for me - sometimes they felt like pixel hunts, and the courtroom was always more fun. I'll have to check this out.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #7 MHWilliams 3 years ago
    @Hoolo "I was really expecting either Bob or Kat to get this review, but apparently not. Oh well." Damn, I'm wounded.
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  • Avatar for Hoolo #8 Hoolo 3 years ago
    @MHWilliams Don't take it too harshly. It's just that I thought the preview of the game was done by one or both of them, and they had the Ace Attorney letter thing and all that stuff.

    Let's say it was a pleasant surprise that you did this review and I really liked it, too.
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  • Avatar for Lord-Bob-Bree #9 Lord-Bob-Bree 3 years ago
    On the one hand, I'm a bit disappointed this has been made easier than previous PW and Layton games. On the other hand, that hasn't dampened my excitement for it.
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  • Avatar for renatocosta90 #10 renatocosta90 3 years ago
    Yes! Glad to hear it is good. Will be grabbing along with Gunvolt soon! (Between this and my shiny new PSVita, I think I'm not sad that my commute takes two hours anymore, I guess)
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  • Avatar for phatcorns #11 phatcorns 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish I didn't hear much when it launched in Japan, but it definitely didn't make much of a splash. Pleasantly surprised that might have been the wrong impression!
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  • Avatar for Banandango #12 Banandango 3 years ago
    Mike, the trials definitely start to get much longer over the course of the series, even in the latter end of the first game. Going back to play PW:AA from the beginning after playing the other games, those early trials seem downright short in comparison.
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  • Avatar for Exhuminator #13 Exhuminator 3 years ago
    It's in the video game ten commandments; a Shu Takumi game is a day zero purchase game.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #14 MHWilliams 3 years ago
    @Hoolo Heh. I'm just messing with you. I know they have more experience with the series.
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