Review: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney for Nintendo 3DS

Hold it! This reminds me of a puzzle…

Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney marks an interesting time in both titular characters’ stellar video game careers for the pair to meet. For Layton, it comes following Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, the third title in a prequel trilogy which developer Level 5’s Chief Executive Officer Akihiro Hino has said marks the last time Layton himself will star as the protagonist.

On the other side of the coin, we have Phoenix Wright, who is in the midst of something of a career resurrection. The Ace Attorney returned to his lead role in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, following a brief sabbatical as one Apollo Justice attempted to take up the lead role.

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Fortunately, you don’t really need to be caught up on all of that in order to get into this crossover adventure. Don’t be mistaken; foreknowledge certainly benefits fans who can pick up on certain references or recognize certain characters, but for the most part, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney works to remove the protagonists of both series from their normal surroundings for an adventure which is welcoming to fans and newcomers of either, both, or even neither series alike.

Both series are extremely story-centric, and this meeting is no exception. Without giving too much away, an unusual set of circumstances brings our heroes together in such a way that almost feels a little more Layton-leaning, which makes sense as Level-5 were the ones to develop this title. Even so, those familiar enough with the more bizarre elements of the Ace Attorney series would be hard pressed to say that the forces Capcom’s heroes are faced with here are completely out of place.

Those familiar with the Layton games will come to find the gameplay largely separated in a generally familiar manner, with Professor Layton and his apprentice, Luke, going around town talking to people, looking for clues, talking to people, and solving puzzles to progress the story. More familiar to fans of Ace Attorney are the courtroom proceedings, which are Phoenix and his assistant, Maya Fey, defending those accused of wrongdoing in a court of law. Of course, as befits any good crossover, there are a few “fish out of water” scenarios which allow our protagonists to see how the “other half” lives, so to speak.

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While Layton‘s mysteries are familiar but as good as ever, the trials are where things really get interesting– even to those who are fairly familiar with how things go in Ace Attorney titles. Without giving too much away, the new setting turns things on its head by throwing out such concepts as “logic,” thus keeping our heroes (and the player) on their toes even more than normal. Raising the stakes even more are witnesses who can be summoned up in groups, able to confer, react, interject, and so on. It’s a chaotic new element which introduces further new concepts to the normal Ace Attorney trial gameplay, helping this crossover to stand as more than merely the sum of its parts.

Some other subtle Layton elements are incorporated here, and actually help to further enhance the Ace Attorney experience as well, even if indirectly. Fully-voiced animated cutscenes are one example (normal gameplay uses 3D models, as seen in both series’ prior Nintendo 3DS installments), while having Layton‘s customary three save files to Ace Attorney‘s single lone file are welcome, particularly if you’re going to be sharing the game with someone else.

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One less subtle overlap is one that I can only hope Wright and company bring back to his home series: As you perform investigations in the customary Layton fashion, you’ll of course find Hint Coins, which are generally useful for helping narrow down solutions to puzzles. Here, however, you can also use them during trials to help give you an idea of when to press someone, present evidence, or even narrow down which evidence to present– very helpful, as Ace Attorney can be very particular about this sort of thing, and this game is no exception.

Of course, the customary strikes during trials also return. You can still save at most any time, thus allowing you to cheese the system and apply trial-and-error when backed into a corner, but at least using Hint Coins allows you some recourse without feeling like you’re cheating the system (though if it really was “cheating,” Capcom would surely have amended the ability to do this years ago).

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Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has a very solid pedigree, and for the most part, the results do not disappoint. That is, unless you were hoping for more appearances from the star’s respective series– then there may be some slight issue. Still, for fans of each pair of leads, you get a very solid adventure with the charming-as-ever leads, not to mention some post-game content you can download after completing the main adventure.

For fans of either series, this crossover gives a good look at what they might be missing on the other side of the coin, while fans of both get a grand new adventure bringing their favorite characters together. Newcomers to either or both series are also taught the ropes of what they need to know, perhaps further enticing them to check out a strong, long-running franchise enjoyed by many, making this a great all-around starting point.

I believe a true gentleman would have no objections to that.

LaytonWrightBoxProfessor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was released for the Nintendo 3DS on August 29th, 2014 at a price of $34.99.

A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.


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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.