Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
When I first heard about Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, I was beyond excited. As a fan of both series, which combine for a total of around a dozen games, I couldn’t wait to see how these similar-yet-different worlds would mix. Most gaming crossovers uproot the characters from their respective genres and place them in fighting games or (shudder) Olympic sports competitions. After playing Layton vs. Wright, I can’t recall another case in which the core gameplay and tone of both franchises stays so true to both originals.
Level-5 and Capcom go with their most quintessential lineups. Professor Layton and Luke appear as they did in the first DS trilogy, and Phoenix Wright dons his classic blue suit with Maya Fey returning to his side. Both teams start in their respective specialties, Layton solving puzzles around town and Phoenix working the courtroom in London. Both are teleported to a strange town via a magic book owned by mysterious young girl, Espella Cantabella.
Nintendo invested no resources in bringing the game over to North America. Luke is voiced by his British counterpart, which may delight some hardcore fans, but it’s a little jarring at first when you’re used to the American voice. One thing that never goes away is the alternate spellings of words like “Your Honour,” “defence,” and the particularly odd “manoeuvre.” On the plus side, most of the voices don’t have an accent and we get to hear Phoenix and Maya pipe up regularly. I know these games don’t rake in Mario money, so I’m just thankful that Nintendo even bothered to bring it over at all.
The peculiar medieval fantasy town of Labyrinthia leans more toward a Layton backdrop than a modern and relatively realistic Phoenix city. It’s not long before all four are trudging around town together. These sequences play almost exactly like a Layton game. You explore, gather information, and run a magnifying-glass cursor over every square foot, hoping for hint coins and hidden puzzles. The puzzles collected here feel familiar, but not detrimentally so. You do some classic liquid pouring between glasses, figure out which rope to break, and other brain teasers. I like how more puzzles are tied to obstacles in the world, with chibi versions of our heroes running around inside them.
Fans of Phoenix Wright might be disappointed to learn that there are few crime-scene investigations, and the ones included are brief. Unlike the most recent Ace Attorney entry, there are no 3D rotatable rooms, just the Layton-style dioramas.
The courtroom returns things to Phoenix’s domain. Finger pointing, extreme expressions, and a bearded judge all capture the feel. The new multi-witness system shakes things up; several characters offer testimony one after another, and you have to call out contradictions in their statements. This allows a nice mix of personality on the stand instead of pecking away at a single character. Just because someone makes a noise to signal a contradiction doesn’t always mean that pressing will move the case forward. Plenty of these lead to dead ends, so you have to use discernment to determine the useful leads. It works as a new wrinkle, and if you find yourself getting stuck, Layton’s hint coins can be used in court to point the way. It can be a smooth way to avoid losing Phoenix’s “credibility” by turning in the wrong pieces of evidence so you can receive the full picarat payout at the end of the case.
Primary inquisitor Zacharias Barnham looks more like a Fire Emblem knight than a traditional Ace Attorney prosecutor – and isn’t as antagonistic as Wright’s other opponents. Most of the conflict stems from our heroes’ fish-out-of-water experience in a medieval world rather than unbridled venom. Instead of relying on fingerprints and forensics, Phoenix must leverage the logic of the world he’s in, which frequently includes the laws of magic spells.
The story is about as good as you’re going to get when it comes to a crossover. All four leads receive relatively equal face time and they’re all mixed and matched in different ways to pay fan service and play out how they all would get along. The ratio of courtroom scenes to puzzles is relatively even for most of the game until the court takes over at the end. Prepare yourself for several hours of over-explanation of the fantastically implausible plot. Both series have closed out on some doozies, but this one feels extra outrageous.
I can’t say what fans of only one franchise or the other think of the unfamiliar sections, but I think they will be a breath of fresh air for two series that have become bolted down to the same mechanics for years. As a fan of both, I didn't get all the bells and whistles I expect from both sides, but I’m pleased with how the strongest elements from the Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright games came through in the end.
I can’t recall another case in which the core gameplay and tone of both franchises stays so true to both originals.