Game Review: Layton Bros. Mystery Room

Those of you who have been hanging around for a while know that I am badly addicted to the Professor Layton games. Every time I get a new one, I sit down in the evening to start the story and then whoops! It's dawn. The main series of games have all been for Nintendo handhelds, but the spinoffs all seem to be coming out for Android/iOS, and I have a Kindle Fire, so...

To be fair, Layton Brothers: Mystery Room is not really a Layton game. Also to be fair, the Layton name got me to buy it (well, "buy" it -- unlocking all the episodes costs about $5 total, which is the kind of credit I can rack up on Google Opinion Rewards). What it is, is a rebranded Atamania game, which is how all of the Layton games started.

Atamania is a portmanteau of atama (lit, "head"; atama ga ii, or "head is good", is the colloquial phrase for "intelligent" or "clever") and the English word "mania", and is the title of a series of puzzle games based on the work of Tago Akira, who was sort of the Japanese equivalent of Martin Gardner. Nominally a professor of psychology, he spent his five-decade career mostly publishing books of brain teasers called Atama no Taisou ("Head Gymmastics"). The Atamania games proper are a lot like Nintendo's Brain Age games, a collection of puzzles grouped at best by a casual theme; the Professor Layton series grew out of the idea of linking the brain teasers by a simple story.

It's mushroomed a bit from there. So far we've been through robots, ghost trains, lost worlds, time travel, and mysterious ancient civilizations. The main series -- starring Professor Hershel Layton, and his assistants Luke Triton and Emmy Altava -- seems to be pretty well over, so they've begun looking for similar properties to brand as spin-offs.

If you're looking for the same sort of vintage English storybook art style as the main series, you're going to be disappointed. Mystery Room has a much more modern Flash-animation look to it, probably because it fares better on mobile platforms. Lucy has an extremely heavy northern accent; I couldn't tell you if it's accurate to what you'd actually get in rural Norfolk, but it's certainly accurate to British media depictions thereof. They may have learned something from having to re-dub Luke for the European release of the main series -- apparently the American voice actress who did his voice had an offensively bad idea of an English accent. (Yes. She did. Christopher Robin Miller, on the other hand, did a brilliant job as Layton.)

The game is also pretty short, although on the other hand it is only five bucks, and the first three cases are free to play. The mysteries are reasonably clever, although it does the usual hand-holding about which questions to answer. You can brute force it without penalty by asking about every single piece of evidence in turn if you really have no idea what the hell it wants. It's a little unusual in that the game asks you to guess who the culprit is right up front, after a(n optional!) cursory look at the crime scene. Guessing right doesn't get you any points, but guessing wrong doesn't lose you any either.

I have absolutely no idea why it's branded "Layton Brothers". There's only one Layton in it, Alfendi, and no mention of any siblings. (He evidently has one; the upcoming Layton's Mystery Journey is set to star Layton's daughter Katrielle.) This has no bearing on the plot whatsoever, other than he's a clever fellow who solves mysteries for a living.

Overall, I thought it was worth $5 in Google Play credit, but I probably would not have bothered if it hadn't been made by Level-5, who have an established reputation in the point-and-click puzzle genre. Based on this one, I am slightly "meh" about whether I will run out and get Layton's Mystery Journey when the mobile version comes out on July 20th. I most certainly will not be waiting months to cough up $45 for the 3DS version, as the autostereoscopic 3D is not worth that much to me, and I may wait to cough up the $15-ish they plan to charge for the Android version until I see some reviews.

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