So Professor Layton has a son. Or two.
One of those sons was just given his own game.
That game is Layton Brothers: Mystery Room, the latest instalment in Level-5’s incredibly popular Professor Layton franchise. The game didn’t start out this way, however, and was originally planned as an\ game in Level-5’s series of puzzle games, Atamania. The game was eventually reworked, and given the Layton name, while maintaining its core focus on the investigation of crimes.
The game follows the adventures of investigators Lucy Baker and Alfendi Layton, son of the great Professor Hershel Layton, though a series of homicide cases at “New Scotland Yard Serious Crime Division Classified Investigation Agency”, which, for obvious reasons, the characters prefer to refer to as the “Mystery Room”. Alfendi was the sole member of the Mystery Room until he was given an assistant, Lucy Baker, a young detective eager to help out. His role as her teacher and mentor leads her to give him the nickname “Prof”, of which he is not a fan, given his fathers reputation. Alfendi is a genius investigator, although somewhat passive and reclusive, who begins every case by predicting the outcome with varying degrees of confidence, usually hovering somewhere above 90%.
Pretty early on Lucy discovers the “Prof” has an alternate personality, a coarse, aggressive version of himself that comes out during moments of stress or extreme emotion. This “Potty-Prof”, as Lucy calls him, seems to have something to do with a mysterious murder case that Alfendi was involved in several years prior. Alfendi’s mysterious alter ego, and the case surrounding it, eventually become the central theme of the game which culminates in the final chapters, in which you are tasked with re-solving the case from Alfendi’s past.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward; Alfendi presents a theory, and Lucy is tasked with finding the evidence to support his claims. This is spilt into two sections: investigation and interrogation. During the investigation phase, you investigate a re-creation of the crime scene by clicking on the difference pieces of evidence, all of which are highlighted for you, in order to gain the information necessary for the interrogation. During interrogation, you interview suspects in the crime, getting their version of the events while also taking statements that can later be presented as evidence. Once you have collected enough evidence that Alfendi is 100% confident of the culprit, that person is called in, and formally accused them of the crime. At this point it is simply a matter of presenting evidence to support the proposed chain of events that culminate with the accused committing the murder.
The cases themselves are fairly interesting, and while they are all murders, they all manage to feel very different. The circumstances of the murder, and the locations at which they take place vary quite widely and this, coupled with the large variety of suspects from case to case (maids and waiters, jungle-dwelling natives and even cross-dressing radio show sound men) ensure each case has its own unique feel.
Conversations, and in particular accusations, are given weight by the words that fly across the screen, impacting the characters and breaking down their resolve, symbolized by a shield around their heart. Dialogue can be funny, and, much like in the Phoenix Wright games, most of the characters names are puns (i.e Destiny Knox the actress, or Archie O’Logie, the professor of archaeology), some of which managed to get a chuckle out of me more times than I’m willing to admit.
The game does have its flaws though. First off it’s rather short; I was able to finish all nine cases inside of seven hours and that’s probably bordering on the longer side. It is also fairly easy. There are a few difficult spots, but nothing too challenging, and there is no penalty for getting anything wrong. During the investigations, all the potential evidence is highlighted for you, so it is rather difficult to miss anything important.
Worst of all though is the accents, the horrible, horrible accents. Some of the characters in the game, mostly notably Lucy, have very heavy accents, and since the game isn’t voiced, these are represented in the text. While sometimes the accents come across as a quirky character trait, often it renders sentences almost unreadable. I, as well as many others, initially thought the game was simply full of pervasive grammar errors and poor translation, but as you progress, it becomes obvious that these are intentional. The accents are often jarring, and have the effect of distancing the player from the games characters, which, I assume, is the opposite of the intended effect. They simply serve as an unnecessary complication to otherwise well written dialogue.
Layton Brothers: Mystery Room offers a short, but entertaining ride though a series of unique murder cases. It doesn’t manage to be as gripping as either the Phoenix Wright or Professor Layton games, but proves to be a solid experience in its own right. The game is also accompanied by one of the greatest videogame sound tracks I have ever heard, composed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro, which in itself would be worth the $5 price of admission. Alfendi has big shoes to fill, and while the Layton association does come across as sort of slapped on for the purposes of brand recognition, the game still provides an entertaining experience and a cast of memorable characters.
You can pick up Layton Brothers: Mystery Room on any iOS device for $5, however the first two cases are free, so go try it out!