Nintendo's Professor Layton series of charming puzzle games is on its fifth go-around with Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask -- the first of the series to be rendered entirely in glasses-free 3D on the 3DS.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask may be the fifth game in the series, but it's only the second in what's known as the "prequel trilogy" which sheds light on the backstory of Hershel Layton and his acquaintances. Like previous Layton games, the story is fairly strong in Miracle Mask and centers around the mysterious Masked Gentleman who is terrorizing the locals and tourists within the oasis that is Monte d'Or. Going along with above-average dialogue and voice acting are a number of hand-drawn anime sequences that look just as good in 2D as they do in 3D. Sure, the puzzles are the main draw in this game, but these cut scenes alone are worth playing the game for. The game's visual presentation isn't without a slight tarnish, however, as there are sequences in which Layton and his comrades are disappointingly rendered as 3D models rather than the charming hand-drawn animated characters they appear as in the cut scenes.
If variety is the spice of life, then Miracle Mask is quite the spicy puzzler. Its numerous brain teasers vary nicely, and very few are too easy or too difficult (though when they're hard, they're hard). Luckily, there are hints that can be unlocked using hint coins. Going hog-wild with the hints early on, though, will hurt players in the end because there is a finite number of the coins available (assuming the player can even find them all). As far as the puzzles themselves, they range from logic-testers to observation to mathematics and back again. Not all of the puzzles are winners (this reviewer found the ladybug puzzle unappealing and thought the robot side-puzzles unnecessary), but most are good for this game.
Outside of the puzzles, which thankfully aren't stacked one after another, are other elements of Layton gameplay. Investigation makes up the backbone of these where the player uses the stylus on the 3DS' lower screen to look around a specific area. When an object of interest is within view of the Professor's magnifying glass (a.k.a. cursor), it turns from blue to orange. This is not only how players find helpful hint coins, but also where the majority of the game sees its advancement through interactions with an area's objects and people. Players should also find mild-to-moderate enjoyment with venturing around Monte d'Or's various areas -- an action also performed on the touchscreen.
With its unmistakable charm, beautifully-compiled anime CG sequences, brain-feeding puzzles, and fun non-puzzle gameplay, Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask is quite a good game on the Nintendo 3DS. Not only is it entertaining on its own accord, it does a good job at continuing the storyline of the previous game and sets up anticipation towards the tentatively titles Professor Layton and the Azran Legacies. This game should appeal to the majority of gamers, even if they don't particularly have a taste for puzzle-centric video games.
Final Game Guys grade: A-
(Nintendo provided a copy of this game for review.)