Some combinations just work; peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and chocolate, peanut butter and bananas. OK, maybe peanut butter just works with everything. Nevertheless, my point still stands. Occasionally two great things combine to create something greater than the sum of their parts.
In the world of gaming, Capcom’s colourful cast of characters are metaphorical peanut butter. From Street Fighter Vs X-men to last year’s Project X Zone, pretty much every Capcom crossover no matter how ludicrous or unlikely just seem to work.
Enter stage left a pairing so obvious I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner, Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright. The stars of arguably the two finest series of games on the DS (yes I know that most of the ace attorney games are re-releases of GBA games but they were never officially released in the west.) are teaming up to crack a case that sounds like something out of The Twilight Zone.
Submitted for your approval: After chance encounters with a mysterious girl, Misters Layton and Wright, a professor and a lawyer, two men of logic and reason are transported to a place where neither exist. Labyrinthia: a land of imagination conceived and controlled by the machinations of a single man. A place where magic not only exists, but where its practitioners are tried and burned, persecuted for an unfortunate and improbable birthright. Tried and condemned to die in a pit of fire in the name of justice.
By transporting the duo to an all new setting Phoenix Wright scribe Shu Takami is able to take Layton and Luke to much darker places than their usual Hergé inspired adventures entail, but also allows him to considerably up the stakes for Phoenix and Maya too. Sure The Ace Attorney games revolve around defending people accused of murder in a country that has the death penalty but the defendant isn’t executed right in the court as soon as they’re found guilty.
Sadly, for fans of both series it means that we don’t get to see the kind of Clusoesque antics a joint investigation by Detective Gumshoe and Inspector Chelmey would produce, although the grumpy Scotland Yard sleuth does make a brief appearance early in the game. But to be honest, seeing Layton and Wright together is more than enough fan service and the pair play off against each other rather well. The calm, collected and restrained Layton and everyone’s favourite woefully under prepared and erratic defence attorney are very much the traditional odd couple.
For the best part the game is divided between Layton’s puzzle based exploration and Wright’s court room capers. However, neither out stay their welcome and complement each other rather well. Layton’s sections in particular provide the perfect palate cleanser after saving another young Lady from immediate immolation.
It might be my own personal bias but of the two disparate halves, Phoenix’s Witch Trials were by far the stronger half. Thanks to some clever twists such as cross examining multiple witnesses and being able to play them off against each other to find those juicy contradictions. As well as the ability to reference a grimoire full of spells to help find probable cause and poke more holes in the prosecutions arguments.
In comparison, Layton’s sections don’t fare so well. Bringing nothing new to the table, once again comprising solely of the Professor and his insufferable pet chimney sweep wandering around town doing everyone’s critical thinking homework whilst collecting any loose change they find along the way. There’s also only 70 puzzles included, about half there usually is in a full-blown Layton adventure. Whilst Wright still has the same amount of court dates as usual and each one is several hours long.
Although Layton’s logic puzzles do eventually make their way into the courtroom, this doesn’t happen until quite late in the game. I understand the need to get everyone up to speed with all the game’s mechanics, but it does it so slowly that by the time everything finally comes together in a meaningful way, the game is almost over.
As well as Layton’s puzzles being present in later cases hint coins are also available for use during all of the witch trials. The problem is they don’t merely give you a hint or a clue. They tell you exactly what to do, This means that by manipulating save states you can easily cheat your way through the trials without having to figure out anything or spend a single hint coin.
Obviously this isn’t what the designers intended, instead probably hoping that it would alleviate the one problem that has plagued every Ace Attorney game in the series to date: the game demanding that players follow a single line of logic and use the ‘right’ piece of evidence to prove their point.
The problem being that occasionally players will find themselves several steps ahead of the game. Knowing exactly what the contradiction is and believe they know how to prove it, only for the game to completely agree with them but come to the same conclusion in a very different and obtuse way, using completely different and baffling leaps of logic and most importantly, completely different evidence. There’s only one thing worse than being wrong in Ace Attorney: being right but not having a clue how to prove it.
Despite these issues, I found it impossible not to fall for its charms. Takami’s talent for mixing in high comedy and melodrama never fails to impress and the witty courtroom banter never fails to raise a smile, Whether watching the antics of the games crazed testimonies from the village drink, angry school teachers and a bard that sings every response unless pressed. Seeing how Layton deals with Maya’s over enthusiasm to Luke putting himself on the witness stand whilst Maya is accused of witchcraft. Each new chapter bringing with it another twist, another innocent girl to defend in court or another set of devious puzzles to solve. Brining our four heroes on step closer to unravelling the over arching mystery of Labyrinthia and its megalomaniacal ruler.
Charming, challenging, fun and thoroughly thought provoking; Professor Layton Vs Phoenix Wright is one of the finest crossovers I’ve ever played and one of the best entries in either series to date. If you own a 3DS and have ever played any of Layton or Wright’s previous adventures, you need to play this. HOLD IT! scratch that. If you own a 3DS you need to add this game to your collection.