Two of Nintendo’s most beloved adventuring icons find themselves within a common universe to solve a fantastical enigma and save their future. Of course, the adventures of Professor Layton involve panning through locations for clues and brain-teasers, while lawyer Phoenix Wright ‘s exploits involve courtroom drama and decisive objections to contradictory witness testimonies. It’s two distinctly different gameplay styles lovingly paired together by developers Level-5 and Capcom to ensure that fans of both series are given equal acknowledgment.
The lengthy two-part prologue spills the exposition of the story, as well as tutorials for both Professor Layton ‘s puzzle attracting mechanics and the series of courtroom interplay between Phoenix Wright, the witnesses, the prosecution, and the judge. The two titular heroes begin on separate paths, though a suspected witch from a Medieval land known as Labyrinthia becomes a merging character that has both our heroes and their faithful companions transported into the supernatural world via a book called Historia Labyrinthia.
Don’t let the dueling title fool you, for when our protagonist’s paths intersect, a battle of wit mastery is the furthest thing from their minds. After all, being a gentleman is always the first priority of our top hat donned professor, and Phoenix Wright has never wavered in his commitment to defend the innocent. They may each excel in their respective battlefields, but it is a mutually beneficial partnership formed to depose an evil threat.
The story itself, however, falls a little flat when set against the individual exploits of both our heroes. The adventure is very text heavy, having you sift through dozens of screens of script, oftentimes delivering information you likely deduced on your own before the social exchange. Only a smattering of characters from either series makes a cameo. Instead, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney introduces an assortment of medieval archetypes and clichéd townsfolk in Labyrinthia. Unfortunately few of them weave an interesting tale. The progression throughout is slow, but the trials our quartet must endure is gripping enough that you’ll press on.
The decent amount of brain-teasers à la Professor Layton show off a variety of ways to tax your brain, with clever uses of the touch screen. However, veterans of the series will find little originality, and not much weight on the difficulty scale. As usual you can peruse the screen for Hint Coins to help you though any stumpers, but these tokens also crossover to the courtroom side, aiding equally as much during witness testimonies. Here, using Hint Coins will guide you to which section of the statement should be pressed, and eliminate some evidence pieces when proposing an objection.
The courtroom scenes have more impact than the investigation process, with flamboyant witnesses full of quirks, slap-in-the-face humor, and a flurry of screen slamming exclamations such as, “Objection!” and “Hold it!”. Sometimes our litigator must handle multiple witnesses at once, with their accounts changing on the fly to try and weasel themselves out of a bind. Delivering blow after blow of evidence backed challenges to the falsified statements builds to climactic conclusions, leaving the audience gasping to almost overwhelming levels. Though one series never tries to outshine the other willingly, the courtroom drama certain provides the adrenaline.
The two games come from completely different visual styles, with Phoenix Wright leaning towards traditional Japanese anime while Professor Layton takes on a completely unique design with earthy tones and windswept backdrops. Each excels in its own right, and the cinematic cutscenes are some of the best I’ve seen in an adventure game. However, the styles do clash, with new characters clearly on the visual spectrum of Phoenix Wright , who when placed beside Professor Layton makes his cylindrical head look like a LEGO figuring trapped in a manga. With no disrespect to the Professor, as I think his unique art style is one element of his success, there’s simply too much separation between the two designs to feign disbelief.
One element that marries beautifully is the orchestral score. Both series have fantastic compositions, and a stunning array of both are found here. Professor Layton composer Tomohito Nishiura takes the helm alongside Yasumasa Kitagawa to produce both classic tunes for the series as well as new renditions. The subdued chimes of successfully solving a puzzle are punctuated with action packed effects that slam the characters off their feet in the courtroom. I was slightly disappointed with some of the localization voice acting, which at times felt both under and overacted, but overall the delivery was decent enough to elicit the emotion it was trying to impress.
As a fan of both series, I can say with confidence that Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney pays equal tribute to both. If you’re a fan of either, you’ll find plenty of nods to your respective adventure alma mater. If you’re a fan of both, you’re in for a memorable experience with two praiseworthy protagonists embarking on a journey side by side. Some story elements and newly hatched characters are a bit flaccid, and there is a remedial quality to the puzzles, but they are small criticisms that are overshadowed by great artwork, remarkable music, and well-blended gameplay from both universes.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.2 Graphics
The designs of both series are highlighted, though they do clash when put in close proximity to one another. 4.0 Control
The puzzles, as well as courtroom menus, make intuitive use of the touch screen. The rest of the time you’re tapping through a seemingly endless novel of script. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Magnificent orchestrations are highlighted with great sound effects from both series. The voice acting is spotty in places. 4.0 Play Value
The courtroom scenes outshine the puzzles, which are timid by Professor Layton standards. The story isn’t the best of either series, but it’s worth seeing these iconic heroes working in tandem. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best