Adding and subtracting a couple of details here and there, the combination of Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright was always an appetising proposition. These two characters, cot brothers on Nintendo DS, now join forces on the 3DS for the first time in a co-operative investigation. How well do these two universes meld? That's what we sought to find out during our first contact with the European version of the game.
From the outset, Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney stands out for the huge amount of text and video that the player has to go through in order to get to the different parts of the game. No surprise as it's a game from Level-5, but in this case the amount of cutscenes is nonetheless noteworthy. Most welcome is that after the fiasco of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies (that only saw limited digital release in Europe and with only limited localisation), the characters have been dubbed into English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Dutch (in addition to translated texts) by voice actors of the highest calibre, well in line with the last episodes of the archaeologist's series. This is crucial for a lot of European countries when it comes to a title such as this one. British gamers are typically much better off in this regard than other European gamers.
The game starts with a car chase. There are Italian accents and one-eyed witches. Everything ends up in a crash, resulting in one girl running away and escaping before the police arrives (you can see part of the sequence in the trailer below).
We're taken to Hershel Layton's home in London. As he and Luke chat, the girl from the crash knocks on door, clearly shaken up and hands over a letter. This is the beginning of the adventure we are about embark on. The professor is a man of words rather than action, and he's unable to protect the girl as a witch enters through a window.
There is much dialogue, and it isn't all captivating. To avoid monotony, the creators have chosen to jump from straight cinematic scenes, letting the player take over and decides when to move by pressing the play button on the touch screen, similar to Capcom's past court titles.
The graphical style is also familiar. It's the style of Level-5, but straight away your eyes will realise that something is different. The character design and environment is simpler than ever - at least as far as the universe of Professor Layton goes. Phoenix Wright and Maya Fey would find themselves more at home here, despite being transported outside of their usual locales.
But as long as Layton is the main character, it's a familiar setup. Situations are represented by fixed scenes to be investigated - you find someone to talk to, solve puzzles and find coins. To make the task a little easier, when there's a hidden coin a magnifying glass glitters to signal the find.
The puzzles have not changed drastically, but their presentation is less detailed. The first one is a classic that has been elaborated on. Two witches have to get to their castle, and you have to build their way by adding and removing coloured bars that move in unison. The sooner you figure it out, the better your reward.
Tea time is over, and it's time to leave Hershel Layton's and stroll through London in search of information. The first parts run through such famous landmarks as London Bridge. Map traversal is from overhead, jumping from point to point by way of a simple press on the area you want to go. Another element has been added to streamline gameplay here: each location has an info box that will tell if you have collected all the coins or if you've left any puzzle unsolved.
The second puzzle is very interesting. Similar to the Luigi's Ghost Mansion mini-game in Nintendo Land, we must enter an office unnoticed, avoiding the beams from the guards' flashlights. The top-down camera shows the position of each character and takes floor tiles as a grid to note positions. Layton moves in the four main directions by pressing the touch screen arrows (not with the joystick or D-Pad) as in some recent puzzles seen in Azran Legacy.
Later, around the first hour of gameplay, you get to the third challenge. It's just a puzzle about a plate of food, a fairly simple one. How many of them will there be in total? Not as many as a normal Professor Layton title, as the counter only gets to double digits.
The most disappointing part of the session is that after an hour playing the game we didn't even get to try the Phoenix Wright parts. Due to some space-time distortion, the lawyer ends up in Professor Layton's ageless London.
This is all you (we) get from Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney's first hour. A lot of audio with perfect voice acting, a handful of puzzles and a short walk along London Bridge. But the number one mystery remains -how does Phoenix Wright fits into all of this? We'll find out next month.