The game's still a mixture of smaller puzzle tasks packed into a exciting crime story. And even if all the Layton games work independently, there's still a continuation of character, as Mask of Miracles digs further into the lead's personality, though as a result assistants Luke and Emmy rather fade into the background this time.
In the new adventure nothing is as it seems again. Layton's childhood friend Angela asks us to come to Monte d'Or, a colorful tourist paradise in a desert. While there's much thrill and excitement there, a masked mystery man has plagued the city and performed nasty miracles: people turned into stone and paintings come alive.
In order to solve the case, we travel back into the past to a very dark chapter in the life of the professor. In playable flashbacks we get to know a young Hershel Layton and find out how he discovered his passion for archeology. And we discover the tragedy that took place at that time - and how that impacts recent events.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is the fifth game in the series. But from a chronological point of view this is only the second. The series is created as six games divided into two trilogies. Each of them tells a comprehensive story. The first three actually deal with the end of the series, while the more recent games explain the back story.
The professor has become a character rich with strengths and weaknesses. And even if Professor Layton and the Unwound Future already has already shown a very vulnerable side of the gentleman, this new adventure doesn't shy away from that either.
Despite the fact that the style of the series, of course, has hardly changed, this adventure is told better. There are always little things and Level 5 has learned to play with to bring more depth and excitement to the action.
On the more powerful Nintendo 3DS, the graphics were slightly revised. The figures in dialogue scenes are now animated in true 3D. At first sight it doesn't stand out because the style is similar. But in comparison it is a pretty big leap. And the sense of depth in the 3D effects of the top screen is very good - not just in the regular game, but also in the short anime sequences.
The controls have also been adjusted and they aren't rigid as before. We use the touch screen as a navigational surface for the upper screen to look around a room. Although the field of view is still restricted to a small section and we aren't allowed move around freely, it's much more freedom and fun to search for hidden clues and secrets. There are even points where we can look deeper into the scenery to discover more details.
A bit of experimentation means the secondary tasks are a little more action-driven, so there's more than just puzzle-solving on offer. In addition, there is a chapter with a new game mode in which we solve puzzles from a bird's eye view. We explore ruins, and deal with puzzles that change as we play, with Layton's life at stake. While we can't really lose, it's still a bit tricky.
Otherwise Level 5's workmanship remains solid. There are some puzzles that are poorly explained, which can lead to misunderstandings. But thanks to hints even complicated tasks are always solvable.
This game is interesting for all ages. The amount of content is, as usual, very generous and completists can look forward to new puzzles to download for free over the coming year.
So we get pretty much exactly what we expect from a title of the series. It would have been marvelous if Level 5 would have used more of the abilities of the handheld - Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracles offers nice ideas for the 3DS, but most feel contrived.
However, the formula's still a winning one, and as the title has already been released in Japan for the launch of the Nintendo 3DS, we're already eagerly awaiting the next instalment, the concluding chapter - the grand finale - next year.