Crossover events are a rare sight in the Game Industry and usually come up in fighting or sports games where narrative takes a back seat towards watching different IPs duke it out — case in point the Smash Brothers series. But Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is the first time if I remember right where two narrative based series have been combined into one.
While it may not win new fans, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright does pull some interesting things out of the old top hat and is greater than the sun of its parts.
If you’re not familiar with either series, here’s a quick primer. Professor Layton is a series following the title character and his ward/assistant as they get into mysteries that involve a variety of logic puzzles.
Phoenix Wright plays out more like a visual novel mixed with light adventure gameplay. You explore crime scenes for clues to take into court, where you’ll have to point out contradictions and figure out who really did it. Both titles are linear affairs which I think helped made their combination easier.
The story for this game is that a mysterious woman shows up at Professor Layton’s house in need of help after being chased by a supernatural force. Her predicament also lands her in court where Phoenix had to defend her. After both parties find a mysterious book, they find themselves sent to a fantasy village and forced to figure out what’s going on while working together.
While I am simplifying the story description here, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright featuring a very dark story and does a great job of combining these two characters and their worlds. The only thing that does look weird is seeing Phoenix’s more detailed body and animations next to Layton’s less detailed, more animated appearance. Also for newcomers, other than the knowledge of these two characters, the story here is completely self contained.
The gameplay pretty much splits both games’ design into different parts. You’ll explore the town and look for hint coins and puzzles as Layton, while having to defend characters as Wright.
What’s surprising is that the developers made some very interesting design changes with Wright’s gameplay.
Because the game takes place in a fantasy land, the trial segments are not your usual courtroom affairs but are witch trials. Where instead of defending someone of being guilty of a crime, you have to defend them of being burned at the stake in a manner of speaking.
The first big change was incorporating the Layton hint coins into the trials. You can now use hint coins during any segment to narrow down the options to give you a better idea of what the correct one is. Witness statements now happen with multiple witnesses at once, requiring you to examine people to see if any testimonies seem out of place to the other people.
There is also a level of complexity with the trials as there were several times where there were multiple contradictions in a single testimony, requiring you to sort through it to find them. Lastly, you also could use testimonies as evidence to try and spot contradictions. While not all the changes may find their way back to the Phoenix Wright series, I hope that this level of complexity does return to keep the cases from feeling repetitive.
Now for those of you wondering about Professor Layton… well there wasn’t much change on this front and that takes me to my problems with the game.
Despite the improvements with the story and court room gameplay, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright does feel lacking in the content department. There are less puzzles this time around and courtroom sections to play with. None of Layton’s side puzzles and mini games made their way over here and the number of additional means to examine witnesses from other Phoenix Wright titles is absent.
While what’s there certainty works and the story should keep you invested, I was hoping to see more examples of each series’ gameplay combined to produce a unique experience. Instead, things do feel a bit stitched together which doesn’t mean that they don’t work, but that it does feel disappointing.
And the usual complaints for both series are still present: Some of Layton’s puzzles don’t do a good enough job explaining what you need to do and there were a few that even with the hints felt a bit confusing.
While Phoenix’s trial solutions can feel very odd and they need to come up with a better punishment system than having persistent strikes across the different phases of the trial.
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is an interesting game and despite the problems was a great collaboration. Hopefully if it does well enough, maybe I can convince someone to make my idea for a crossover game: Professor Layton vs. Shin Megami Tensei vs. Dark Souls vs. X-Com vs. Star Control.