A handful of hours into Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, one of the clear highlights on this year’s lineup of 3DS games, it is already possible to pin down how Capcom and Level-5 stitched up this crossover. Although the titular characters do bump into each other and work together intensely – sometimes even switching partners – each franchise’s signature gameplay do not fully merge into a single beast.
The game, instead, neatly divides the chapters into adventure segments, where the characters must explore their surroundings in order to locate puzzles and uncover the mysteries behind the astounding setting that is Labyrinthia, and trial sessions where the charismatic Ace Attorney, often aided by Layton, gets a chance to shine.
The fact the two unique and cleverly designed styles never truly mix might disappoint those who step into the game hoping that the partnership between the lawyer and the professor will spring brand new gameplay ideas. However, within the confines of Layton’s puzzle-solving and Wright’s cross examinations, the game works wonderfully.
Moreover, it benefits from that constant switching in two distinct ways. Firstly, since the gameplay perspective is always changing, the adventure rarely stagnates and loses its luster over long playing sessions; it is nearly endlessly engaging, a natural consequence of its fusion of distinctive elements. Secondly, the writers smartly took advantage of the dual view of the same world to create fair cliffhangers as the passing of the baton between Layton and Wright often comes along with a feeling of wonder in relation to what will happen next to the character one is about to temporarily abandon.
In terms of its vibe, the game feels closer to the Layton experience than the one provided by the Ace Attorney games. Labyrinthia could perfectly fit side-by-side with any of the other masterful locations of the Level-5 series. It is a medieval town that seems to be somehow connected to the contemporary world, and there is clearly something wrong with it. It is an enigmatic backdrop with numerous dark corners that seem destined to be illuminated by insane plot-twists that – somehow – make sense.
The difference is that, as the plot advances and both characters get suddenly, and cleverly, dragged into the same grand conspiracy, the abilities of both men came in handy. While one attempts to think his way to the bottom of the conundrum, the other must use his legal knack to defend characters that are wrongly accused of strange mishaps.
The puzzles Layton and company must solve are usually good; their overall quality, however, is not quite up-to-par with what the franchise usually offers. Sill, the folks at Level-5 managed to create riddles that adhere with style to the context on which they are found.
Meanwhile, Wright’s trials are filled with the unexpected and dramatic turns the character usually deals with, which are nicely supported by the amount of ridiculous detail that is put in the presentation and description of the crime scenes. And, this time, the sharpness of the curves the legal battles take is even greater due to the fact that the logic that governs Labyrinthia accepts the existence of sheer magic.
Some might state, and it is certainly reasonable to say so, that when it is all said and done the experiment is half of a Professor Layton game glued to half of a Phoenix Wright effort. Yet, such an assessment leaves out the incredible joy it is to watch Layton and Luke interact with Wright and Mia. And, most importantly, it overlooks the great pleasure that is found in playing puzzles and trials that are tied up under the very same spectacular plot and scenario.
Ultimately, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is powered by great writing: the one that crafts the flooring Layton twists and the thrilling Wright court moments. And, here, they have joined forces to manufacture a single package that is mentally engaging, and visually impressive due to all technical resources it utilizes.
The sum of the two parts – or the sum of the two half parts if one feels like being nitpicky to the extreme – has, in this case, created something that feels big and important. It is a sentiment that is hard to shake, and through witch-hunts and crimes, the resulting piece is likely very satisfying to both camps.