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What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
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Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Professor Layton built his reputation as a gentleman puzzle-solver, but his son doesn’t waste his time listening to riddles from random citizens. Instead of tackling a barrage of puzzles, Alfendi Layton examines whodunit scenarios that unfold like interactive novels. The shift in format means that Layton Brothers: Mystery Room is related to the Layton series in name only, and it doesn’t have the same kind of charm.
Players assume the role of a young detective named Lucy recently assigned to Alfendi’s “Mystery Room” division of Scotland Yard. Even without the Layton series’ signature brain-teasers, players are still presented with mysteries in the form of bizarre homicide cases. Why did the woman die with her hand in a ham sandwich? What happened to the DJ who was apparently poisoned on-air? From the comfort of their office, Lucy and Al are able to investigate crime scenes (thanks to a computer), obtain evidence, question suspects, and ultimately finger the culprits.
Because all the action happens within the confines of the Mystery Room, the gameplay is sparse. You don’t do any exploring, and no major decisions need to be made. Instead, you interact with pre-highlighted areas in the crime scenes and get shuttled from one dialogue sequence to another. You occasionally need to answer questions or make connections related to the case, but an incorrect response only results in a mild scolding and a prompt to try again. Getting invested in the tale can be difficult because of the low stakes, but the kooky characters and snappy writing are good enough to keep you interested.
As a fan of the Ace Attorney series, the linearity and focus on story don’t bother me – though Capcom’s courtroom drama does a better job. The murder cases are bizarre, and have unusual (and often unpredictable) outcomes. Some solutions are too outlandish, even for the improbable universe the game constructs, but the character interactions along the way are entertaining.
Most of your suspects’ names are plays on words, and their dialogue reflects various accents and dialects. Despite some humorous banter, the funniest jokes are puns that appear on arrows during conversation. These arrows represent unspoken thoughts that fly back and forth as Lucy and Al interrogate suspects, and provide an incentive to read thoroughly instead of rapidly skipping through text.
Even with a heavy dose of charm, Mystery Room isn’t consistent with its appeal. The lack of any consequences drains away the drama, and most cases only last an hour or less, making it tough to get attached to any of the side characters. The formulaic nature of the cases is a problem, too; most chapters follow the same sequence of events with different crime scenes and characters. Jumping through the hoops gets old, especially since no cast members are particularly memorable or amusing.
While each case is a stand-alone scenario, a common story thread runs through all of them, meaning they must be played sequentially. The prologue and first two cases are available to download for free. Beyond that, you can buy the additional seven cases for $5 (one batch for $3 and another for $2). The overarching plot revolving around Al and his split personality is cool, doled out in small pieces as you progress and culminating in the final chapter. It is a single game cut into three pieces; if you like what you see in the first cases, you should buy the remaining batches.
Mystery Room departs from the Layton series’ signature elements, and can’t measure up to the other interactive novel titles it attempts to emulate. The story and characters are interesting at times, but aren’t strong enough to keep the whole experience afloat. Mystery Room has bright spots, but the uneven execution and shoehorned-in Layton connection make the case go cold.
This review is based on version 1.0 of Layton Brothers: Mystery Room
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