Saturday, February 29, 2020

Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy - Deluxe Edition (NSW) Review

We arrive at the final review of the month here at SuperPhillip Central. It's Level 5's familiar Professor Layton series with a not-so-familiar new starring lead. It's Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy - Deluxe Edition for the Nintendo Switch. Here's the SPC review.

This mystery is history!

The Professor Layton series is known for having charming, zany, and kooky characters, mysteries that feature equally zany and kooky solutions, and a whole healthy heaping of brain teasers in the form of puzzles for players to solve. Every game in the Professor Layton series has featured Hershel Layton as the main star, but can the series stand on its own two feet with a brand-new protagonist? That's what Layton's daughter Katrielle hopes, and that's on top of the hope of her newly opened detective agency getting off the ground. Fortunately, Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaries' Conspiracy - Deluxe Edition shows that, like her father, no puzzle is a match for a Layton, and while the game doesn't hit the same highs as the majority of games featuring her father, Kat is no slouch when it comes to starring in a series of mysteries that are engaging to play and to mull over their sophisticated and fun puzzles.

With Professor Layton missing and mysteriously out of the picture, there are few people in London to turn to in order to solve their mysteries, so Katrielle Layton decides to open her own detective agency. Joined by a nervy assistant with an unrequited crush on Katrielle and a talking hound dog with a bout of amnesia, the Layton Detective Agency begins seeing clients to solve their various cases. 

You're in good hands with Katrielle! Wait. That's part of another company's slogan!
Cases in Layton's Mystery Journey share overarching characters in the form of a familiar batch of London citizens in addition to the Seven Dragons, self-made millionaires in their individual trades, but for the most part, the cases themselves are isolated from one another rather than being part of some grander, greater mystery like in previous Professor Layton games. This has its pros and cons, with this format being good for bite sized sessions, as most cases can be completed within an hour or two, but if you're wanting an engrossing mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end, you won't receive the fantastic payoffs found in past Professor Layton games.

Exploring London and her various sights is made as easy as ever in Layton's Mystery Journey, having players move from screen to screen via map, and move around a magnifying glass with either the JoyCon analog stick or the touch screen to investigate and examine areas of interest on screens. Specific locations on screens house anything from people to talk to for clues, hint coins, collectibles in the form of treasures from past Layton games, and the most important gameplay piece for the Layton series, puzzles. 

Get around and gad about London easily with maps such as these.
Yes, puzzles are everywhere in the world of Layton's Mystery Journey and the Professor Layton series proper. They're used to gain information from the game's charming characters, hidden in odd locations around London, and pretty much a peculiar fascination with most of the city's residents. When a puzzle is stumbled upon, the player enters an entirely separate screen where the puzzle name, number, and the amount of picarats it's worth are revealed. Then, said puzzle and description reveal themselves. For the most part, the majority of puzzles remain unchanged from Layton's Mystery Journey's arrival from the Nintendo 3DS to the Switch. However, some puzzles--about a dozen or so--have been swapped out for Switch-exclusive ones.

Aw, man... I was never good at math...
The puzzles in Layton's Mystery Journey run the gamut to test and tease your brain, offering the odd trick question every now and then. Though in Layton's Mystery Journey these trick questions seem to pop up more often than in past games. Regardless, some puzzles require you to input a number for the answer, while others are multiple choice, or request that you interact with them in unique ways for trial and error-style puzzles. If any puzzle stumps you or you find yourself stumbling on your way to discover the solution, hint coins found in the scenery of screens around London help give up to four clues to help you arrive at the correct answer. The more hint coins you spend and clues you unlock, the more apparent the solution becomes, with the super hint (costing two hint coins) basically spilling the beans on the solution altogether.

...But English was always a better subject for me. Wink-wink!
So, while moving about London and solving puzzles remains the same with Layton's Mystery Journey, the case formula, as we've seen, offers a new structure to the game. As Kat speaks with various characters and comes up with her own deductions, one of six unmissable case clues reveals itself. Once all six clues are collected and assembled, the case becomes solvable, which Kat does automatically without assistance from the player. Thus, it's more about the journey rather than the destination, especially since many of the cases will have you solving them before even Kat does. At least that was my experience with some of the cases, and I'm as dumb as a box of rocks.

Put together pieces of information to solve each case's mystery.
Kat's adventure through the game's 12 cases lasted me around 21 hours. This included dabbling around with the bonus mini-games and their levels that unlock through completing cases, as well as the daily puzzles that unlock in a separate menu. If you picked up the game today and downloaded all of the puzzles currently, you'd have access to every daily puzzle since the game's launch back in November. New daily puzzles appear every day as well, one each day.

Layton's Mystery Journey sports a similar but consistently charming art style for its cast of characters when compared to past Layton games. The denizens of London are just as much characterized in their appearances as they are in their dialogue, which is written remarkably well--though you might hound Sherl the dog a bit for his numerous canine-based puns. Occasionally, fully animated cutscenes appear interspersed in the game's cases, though these aren't overly abundant in quantity. Yes, a case of quality over quantity indeed. Meanwhile, the voice acting leans heavily into making sure you're hit over the head (and the ears) that you're playing a game set in London with full fledged accents, some more hammy than others. At any rate, Layton's Mystery Journey happily continues the Layton series's penchant for possessing an excellent presentation.

Overall, if you've already experienced what Layton's Mystery Journey had to offer on a previous platform it released on, then there's no real reason to play through the game again on the Switch, despite the sharper visuals, slightly altered or completely different puzzles, and new additions. While Kat and her adventure may stay in the shadow of her father's trademark top hat due to its disjointed case structure and easier puzzles, Layton's Mystery Journey is still a top notch point-and-click puzzle game that fans of the Professor Layton series will feel right at home playing. It's also a fantastic starting point for new players to take their first leap into the Layton franchise. 

[SPC Says: B]

Monday, February 24, 2020

All-Star Franchises, Underrated Entries - Part Fourteen

If you've been around SuperPhillip Central for a little while (it's still okay if you haven't, so no harm done), then you know that I like talking about underrated and overlooked games. I've done various series on the subject. However, most of the time, the games mentioned in these articles are from wholly new or overlooked franchises themselves.

There are also a multitude of series that I can think of that have one, two, or a handful of games in it that aren't viewed as highly as the others, whether just or not.

These ideas are where the concept of All-Star Franchises, Underrated Entries comes from, and since our 13th edition, I've come up with six more underrated entries to big-time franchises, some bigger than others. If you'd like to see past parts of this long-running series, check them out here:

Sonic - Team Sonic Racing (PS4, XB1, NSW, PC)

Let's strike while the iron's hot popularity-wise as the Sonic the Hedgehog movie is fresh on moviegoers' minds. Team Sonic Racing comes from the same sub-series of racing games as Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing and Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, but it's not seen in the same caliber as those titles. Part of that reason is the total absence of SEGA's all-stars, instead having Team Sonic Racing adhere exclusively to--as the title of the game would suggest--characters within the Sonic the Hedgehog series. That said, the arcade racing gameplay remains in top form despite the lack of characters like AiAi, Samba, Ulala, Nights, et. al, and the added team mechanic works well for the game. Unfortunately, many snubbed Team Sonic Racing due to being seen as a step backwards for the Sonic racing franchise, but rest assured, the game is as high of a quality as you'd expect from the racing game masters at Sumo Digital.

Yoshi - Yoshi's Crafted World (NSW)

We're going to change from the fast, high octane realm of Team Sonic Racing to the more slow, plodding, and methodical pace of Yoshi's Crafted World. Most still believe that the original Yoshi's Island is the pinnacle of the Yoshi platforming series, but if you ask me, Yoshi's Woolly World surpassed it. As for its followup from Woolly World's developer Good Feel, Yoshi's Crafted World may have part of its charm removed from the lackluster soundtrack included (a massive step down from Yoshi's Woolly World, moreover Yoshi's Island), but everywhere else, charm pours out like water from a sugary sweet fountain. The multi-tiered level design, offering oodles of activity in the foregrounds and backgrounds, as well as constantly delivering new platforming gimmicks and challenges within each stage, made for some marvelously happy memories for me through playing Crafted World. Just how well Good Feel--for lack of a better word--"crafted" its levels from real life household objects much like a child would make for an elementary school diorama just oozed with creativity. Yoshi's Crafted World may not have been the best the Yoshi series has seen, but it's hardly a weak effort.

Animal Crossing - Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer (3DS)

Moving on from one mellow franchise to another, we have Animal Crossing, which recently saw a full blowout for its newest entry which launches on March 20th. Part of the customization features seen in New Horizons can be traced back to the options available in a spin-off entry in the franchise: Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer for the Nintendo 3DS. Now, perhaps this is damning the game with faint praise, but first and foremost, Happy Home Designer is by far a better game than the sickly and quite frankly, insulting Wii U spin-off, Amiibo Festival. To give better praise to Happy Home Designer, the amount of customization  was massive with placing furniture and channeling your inner Property Brother to make a magnificent floor plan for each and every animal that asks for your interior design services. While one could easily do the minimal amount of effort to satisfy a given animal's request, it was more enjoyable to put in the work and the effort to create a gorgeous happy home both on the inside and the outside for every animal that came your academy's way.

Professor Layton - Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy - Deluxe Edition (NSW)

Professor Layton may be missing, but his daughter Katrielle is more than capable of following in his footsteps to solve (decidedly more menial) mysteries! The game with such a long title that I will just shorten it to "Layton's Mystery Journey" features a dozen or so short, self-contained cases to solve instead of one major overarching one. This is better for short, bite-sized portable playing sessions, but it can also put off those hoping for something more complicated and convoluted that was previously the Professor Layton series's penchant. Still, you do get a multitude of brain teasers and puzzles to solve from a plethora of personality-rich characters to enjoy. The original Layton's Mystery Journey released on the Nintendo 3DS, and this Nintendo Switch version altered some of the puzzles around, even replacing several that required some of the 3DS's hardware capabilities. Despite removing several fan-favorite features and characters from the franchise, Layton's latest in the series is one not to miss.

Frogger - Frogger: Helmet Chaos (PSP)

Frogger is well known as a franchise that has players controlling the titular frog, hopping across hazard-filled rivers and streets, hoping not to fall in or get flatten, as the locale may permit. Frogger: Helmet Chaos on the PlayStation Portable took the franchise into familiar territory while also adding a whole new adventure element to the series. It was a mix of new and old while not straying too far away from the series's arcade roots like the home console iterations of the time for the Frogger franchise found themselves doing. Instead, Frogger: Helmet Chaos featured a top-down view with exploration elements, adventuring parts, and a unique level-based system that affected which level you'd stumble on to next depending on route choices made in the adventure. The latter offered an abundant amount of replay value for the game, and made it more than worthy of a second or even third play, depending on how much one enjoyed the chaos of Frogger's helmet-related adventure.

Soul Calibur - Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny (PSP)

Speaking of the PSP, let's turn to a well known fighting game franchise that didn't really have any favors done to it for being placed on Sony's handheld system. Being stuck on the PlayStation Portable meant that Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny languished in sales, but those that did get the privilege to play it found a meaty game worthy of the Soul Calibur name. It was essentially a well made version of the arcade and home console games put to a portable format, and it worked insanely great. You had a full fledged fighter that you could place in your pocket. The addition of Kratos as Broken Destiny's exclusive guest character was just the cherry on top of this sweet sundae of weapons-based combat goodness that was Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny.