Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Review
Two heads are better than one
The world’s full of unlikely combinations; but for every ham and pineapple, or Riggs and Murtaugh, there’s a Vanilla Ice Cream Monster Munch or a Fox and Fleetwood presenting combo.These abominations remind us there’s a reason to play it safe. Luckily, Capcom have a history of striking it rich when they throw their gaming assets into a mash-up, and their fighting crossover blueprint made famous with X-Men vs. Street Fighter continues to be the shining example, proving that it can work.
But it’s one thing to throw a roster of pugilists from a couple of 2D games together - like a playground argument of who’d win out of Schwarzenegger in Commando and Sly in First Blood (look away if you don’t want to know the result: Matrix would walk straight into one of Rambo’s traps whilst delivering a quip) - it’s quite another to use characters from narrative driven titles. Both Level-5’s Layton and Capcom’s Wright exist in their own worlds, with their own rules, distinctive humour and lore. Can this work?
In short, yes. It’s a resounding yes with a trademark frenzied tapping of the stylus to propel the text to whiz by too. If anything, the way in which the two halves gel together requires little in the way of shelving preconceived notions as, say, when Cyclops would unleash his Optic Blast on the mere mortal frame of Ryu.
Wright and Layton may take some rejigging to have their paths meet - an exchange by the Legal League of Attorneys sending Phoenix and May to jolly old London - but once they do cross the story elements mesh rather fittingly. It helps that the game takes on a fantastical tone, whisking our heroes off to a mysterious feudal city, Labyrinthia, which lies in the grip of a magical storyteller and under the threat of witchcraft.
When two become one
By the time the triumphant top-hatted pointer meets the besuited courtroom pointer the tale has already taken on a life of its own, not one thing or the other. In its key moments it’s darker than the usual Layton fare, with the crime of witchcraft carrying a death sentence, but the doubled up humour and general bonhomie of the protagonists is the perfect counterbalance.
Like a great “vs.” fighter, the key is not simply lining two figures up against one another, but in finding the common ground and building something out of that which feels organic. The first time you’re controlling Layton and hear an unmistakably Ace Attorney audio cue, or see a character respond to you by way of an exaggerated animation it’s an oddity that won’t fail to raise a smile from fans.
It’s these moments that are the little treats, laid out like titbits in a line, leading you further into the story past the point where you even notice the join of the two franchises as being odd. Characters drawn in the differing art styles intermingle, and even the music follows suit, to the point that you may even forget which franchise the tune came from.
It’s an oddity that won’t fail to raise a smile from fans
It's the neutral ground and its fantasy setting that acts as a blank canvas for all the elements to come together. This backdrop, away from the established world of either franchise, comes at a price though, namely the lack of supporting cast. The figures thought up to fill the void and populate the otherworldly city of Labyrinthia can’t compare to standalone Wright or Layton creations.
You've still Luke and Maya though. The characters mix and team up, but Wright remains the dominant during trials. The courtroom wranglings can be lengthy and if there is a schism in this union it lies in the pacing, with the legal to-and-fro becoming an endurance test in places.
Hinter-land?Due to these trials, there are only 70 puzzles to be bested, so it isn’t the constant procession of conundrums Layton fans have come to expect, but it does mean that the filler material is kept to a bare minimum. Hint coins return for when you’re flummoxed, and they even become another part of the crossover stew - if you’re stumped in a trial, Phoenix can use one to narrow down who he should be pressing and on what point.
Hang on, you say to yourself, “who he should be pressing?”, yep, that’s right, in an interesting twist you can now face several witnesses at once, each chipping in with their own angle on the events. It’s exactly this kind of neat injection of invention that, though not revolutionary, adds a freshness to the game. It becomes not, as feared, the two lumpen parts thrown together but more akin to a playful experiment that’s happily worked; like the first man who accidentally spilt whisky in his coke, the team behind this marriage have stumbled upon something.
You can also watch the body language of witnesses when they're listening to someone else's testimony, meaning you can press and raise contradictions based on differing accounts. This becomes vital as the focus of the trials has shifted due to the feudal location and witchcraft theme. There are no dunkings, but guilt is presumed, and it's up to you to wade through a Salem-style justice system that allows multiple witnesses to change their stories.
I'm stumpedThere are questionable moments though, with the old chestnut of obtuse logic being a stumbling block; you know who did what, and how you’d solve it, but working along the line of the game’s reasoning isn’t always easy. Sometimes even hint coins won’t entirely illuminate the situation.
The satisfaction of taking on a solitary witness and outmanoeuvring them is replaced by a wider sense of battling against impending injustice.
You should be used to witnesses subtly changing their testimonies, but this game has them doing continual 180s en masse; not just gently trying to extricate themselves from lies but laughing off prior statements and saying the opposite moments later.
When there are no finger prints and an artist's impression is your best evidence, at times it can feel like there is no trump card to prove your client's innocence.
These are minor quibbles though, noted more because they raise something new as opposed to something irksome, and that should be embraced. The cohesion really is very accomplished in all areas to create an original hybrid.
It obviously helps that both games are story driven, and the ratio of inanity and insight from the locals is well tuned. You'll still have to rely on your speed tapping routine to skim read some of the lengthier meanderings, but there are few instances of a conversation loop you have to wade through whilst gritting your teeth.
Even the repository of unfound and unsolved puzzles is woven in intelligently, residing in the town’s library which is a prominent location due to the tale of magical books and story tellers.
- An original crossover feel
- Animated cut-scenes and voice cast
- No filler puzzles
- Trademark humour
- Gets bogged down in places
- Lacks supporting characters
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney ReviewProfessor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a successful hybrid, infusing Capcom’s zany law-based murder mystery with the puzzles of Level-5’s Layton series. Or should that be the other way round?
The two halves complement one another far more than you might’ve envisaged, thanks in no small part to the chirpy humour that runs through both. Not everything meshes perfectly, with the pacing suffering and the number of puzzles reduced, but generally the right amounts of each are chosen to throw into the mix, and the fantasy theme keeps things in line with the comic book-style crossover vibe.
It’s not all fan service, as the lack of recurring supporting characters is a shame, but it keeps the protagonists centre stage, which consequently should freshen up each new iteration in their respective franchises.
A change, as they say, is as good as a rest.
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