[REVIEWED] Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright

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Professor Hershel Layton is an archaeologist and a gentleman. He knows a little something about everything and uses his mental skills to solve mysteries in a series of gently-paced puzzle games. Phoenix Wright, on the other hand, is Capcom’s shouting, pointing, defence attorney. He’s the Harvey Spector of the gaming world, if you will. And the two star together in a new 3DS cross-over game.

There have been a lot of crossplay games of late – Tekken vs. Street Fighter, Marvel vs. DC Comics, the entire Mushroom Kingdom in Super Smash Bros. Brawl… and all of them work beautifully from a gameplay perspective. But I never anticipated these two well-known DS characters meeting up, primarily because their games are so unalike. They both fall into the puzzle genre… just in completely different ways.

Which witch is which? The first of many puzzles.
Which witch is which? The first of many puzzles.

If you’ve never played either, here’s a quick summary: in Layton games, you watch cutscenes, meander around environments, chat to people, collect hint coins and solve puzzles. Ace Attorney presents different court cases where Wright has to listen to testimonials, press witnesses, point out contradicting evidence and do all sorts of lawyerly things.

The Storyteller of gloom and doom.
The Storyteller of gloom and doom.

Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright tells the story of a magical and Medieval place called Labyrinthia. A fairy tale world within a book complete with knights and a creepy storyteller who predicts what will happen in Labyrinthia through his pages.

In the beginning of the game, the Prof meets a peculiar girl – Espella Cantabella– who is being chased by witches and carries a heavy book by her side. At the same time, Wright is flying to London to work on a case, one which just happens to involve the same girl. The story plays out and both the game heroes (as well as their respective sidekicks, Luke and Maya) get trapped in the book.

The Book of Labyrinthia. How very mysterious.
The Book of Labyrinthia. How very mysterious.

Please note that this is not a spoiler, but rather part of a very lengthy two-part prologue full of twisty bits. I looked to see how long I had been playing at this point in the game – four hours. That’s a long prologue.

The gameplay is equally split between walking around solving interactive puzzles and being in the courtroom. It’s the same tried-and-tested formula from previous the games with a few extra details, like being able to cross-examine multiple witnesses. You’ll also find a book of magic spells in your inventory that works as an interesting form of evidence. For example, if a spell says that one must wield a sceptre to cast it and the evidence shows otherwise… OBJECTION!

Someone read Roald Dahl's The Magic Finger one to many times as a child.
Someone read Roald Dahl’s The Magic Finger one to many times as a child.

And because it’s a crossover title, there will be fun moments where Wright (or Maya) is solving puzzles and Layton is in the court. He is, of course, more mild-mannered than Wright. I particularly liked being able to use hint coins during trials as sometimes all the shouting/ pointing/ witness blabbing can get a bit chaotic. Especially when you consider the sheer amount of text you also have to read.

That said, the dialogue is as witty as ever and the puzzles will certainly keep you thinking. And what the 3DS brings to the game is stunning animated cutscenes, although I must admit that I turned the 3DS slider right down during court as all the motion (and motioning) gave me a headache.

That Espella, always getting into trouble.
That Espella, always getting into trouble.

To me, the biggest difference between the two popular puzzle protagonists is how they are drawn. Wright has your typical anime design, complete with porcupine hair and androgynous features. Layton on the other hand is simpler looking, with dots for eyes and a drawn-on mouth. On screen together they simply look completely ridiculous.

If you like Layton games but never got your hands on Ace Attorney, this is a good handheld title to experience the best of both worlds. There’s a chance you might hate half the game, but the darker plot filled with witches and magic will keep you playing to the end.

Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright is available on 3DS and retails for around R549

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