No miracle for Professor Layton on 3DS

layton eng

One year ago, I was telling you how the success of Professor Layton had been slowly waning. True, the first one was a major hit, and the series still belong to the high-seller club. But the transition to 3DS has obviously been difficult.

Having launched with 3DS in Japan, Professor Layton and the Mask of Miracles (5th of the series) suffered from Nintendo’s failed strategy at that time. Vgchartz estimates that it sold only half of The Last Specter and Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney low initial sales suggest a downward trend in its home market. The game does seem to have legs but is likely to remain below the average of both series. The Mask of Miracles benefits from a cheaper digital version on the e-shop to gain further sales. Nothing at stake though, because the upcoming 6th installment will be the last one.

However sad it wight be, our time cracking Layton’s cases are soon over. The latest game didn’t drive hardware at all in the US, as sales are as poor as last year. In Europe, the series’ biggest market, the 5th Layton did only one third of what The Last Specter sold during the Christmas period. Everywhere and although it remains one of the biggest games on the system, the Layton series keeps losing ground.

It can mean only one thing : casual gamers that had come on board with DS haven’t upgraded to 3DS. To this audience, Professor Layton as well as video games were no more than a fleeting trend in which there is no reason to invest 170€ again. For their kiddies, the obvious choice will be mario. Layton’s misfortune illustrates how difficult it has become for Nintendo to go beyond mario. Nevertheless, Satoru Iwata is aware of that and seems ready to tackle the challenge of diversity. The large promotion campaign around Fire Emblem and future releases such as Project X Zone or Rune Factory 4 tend to show that guenuine efforts are being made.

That leaves only faithful fans of the Professor, who buy all the games day one and are craving for more. Let’s hope that PlvsAA and the 6th Layton at least cross the borders and reach them.

My favorites games of 2012 (GoTY 2012)

Rules reminder : I’m picking from the games I’ve played in 2012, even if they were released in 2011 or if they’re yet to be announced in the West.

Best action game

Liberation Maiden (3DS)

I’ve always wanted to experience the action scenes from Evangelion in video game. With Liberation Maiden, no need to search further. This shoot’em up is a nearly exact transcript of the legendary anime. True, not the same scenario, not the same characters, a rather short story, but the spirit of Evangelion is here : the ferocious aliens, the awesome sound, the non-stop action. All those priceless things you can get for only 8 euros.

Runner-up : Senran Kagura Burst (3DS)

Best shooter

Call of Duty – Black Ops II (PS3)

Although Call of Duty did poorly with Modern Warfare 3, Treyarch made the wise choices to turn the situation over. An innovating campaign and a reborn quality multiplayer make Black Ops II the king this year.

Runner-up : Call of Duty – Black Ops Declassified (PSVita)

Best fighting game

Kasumi Ayane

Dead or Alive 5 (PS3)

Dead or Alive 5 deals a powerful blow to a competition mostly asleep at the wheel. At last effort is rewarded and improvisation useless. The gameplay is complex, even too complex, but the competition is sane and the noobs have been driven away. Graphically outsanting, with high value and a flurry of adorable characters, DOA5 takes the crown, and for a long time.

Runner-up : none

Best strategy game

Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Like every time, it’s hard to resist to Fire Emblem once you have it whithin your reach. The clever gameplay is further enhanced by the support system and the unit management has some amazing surprises. CG scenes are beautiful and the art direction the best to date.

Runner-up : none

Best puzzle game

Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney (3DS)

True, PlvsAA won’t melt your brain like past episodes did. But its breathtaking story and lovable characters make up for the lesser difficulty settings.

Runner-up : If I were in a sealed room with a girl I would… (3DS)

Best RPG

Atelier Meruru (PS3)

Atelier Meruru (PS3)

Atelier Totori made history imho, and only logical that its sequel would take the title if it lives up to it. Actually, Atelier Meruru does even better in music, gameplay, management, battles, character design… Seldom did I feel such self-fulfillment with one game.

Runner-up : Tales of Xillia (PS3)

Best Music

Project Diva f (PSVita)

Project Diva f (PSVita)

Let’s get this straight : it’s gonna be hard for any game to compete here as long as Hatsune Miku is in the place. Not when brilliant composers like the vocaloid god Wowaka delivers such goodness as Unhappy Refrain.

Runner-up : Project Diva Extend (PSP)

Best game no one bought

たっち,しょー Love Application (PS3)

Love Application literally crashed in Japanese charts. The audience for dating sim has never been that high so it might have been OK. Anyway, the amount value and fun crammed is this game is more than worth the few thousands yens.

Runner-up : Hyperdimension Neptune Victory

Best game you might never play

Ace Attorney Investigations 2 (DS)

The title I chose last year in this category, Final Fantasy Type-0, still hasn’t made it west. Released in Japan last year, Ace Attorney Investigations 2 probably won’t be luckier and might well end up being the only title in the series to skip the west too. A real shame when you think it’s the most brilliant Ace Attorney so far.

Runner-up : Shining Blade (PSP)

Most disappointing

SoulCalibur V (PS3)

An abysmal campaign and a dismal multiplayer. That’s all I could think of this 5th iteration of a series had enjoyed so much. Everything that made the glory of the past ones, including characters and gameplay, has been reshuffled for the worst as armies of noobs increasingly took the power.

Runner-up : Ciel no Sourge (PSVita)

Most innovating

Gravity Daze (PSVita)

Gravity Daze (PSVita)

Mastering gravity. That’s what Gravity Daze is about. This game achieve the outstanding performance of having a unique, exhilarating and yet simple gameplay. Add to that an art direction that is one of the best this year, and you have the ultimate must-have on PSVita.

Runner-up : The Unfinished Swann (PS3)

Best graphics

Tales of Xillia (PS3)

A small step for the PS3, but a giant leap for the Tales of series. Tales of Graces F, which wasn’t exactly ugly, is merely a sketch of what awaits you in Tales of Xillia. Never had the anime style been so detailed, seldom could you enjoy such a flurry of colors and light.

Runner-up : Gravity Daze (PSVita)

 Game of the year

Atelier Meruru (PS3)

Can the Atelier series win for the second year in a row? YES! You do have one of the finest management-strategy-RPG ever. Characters, battles, music, side-quests, everything is as good as it can get. With games like these, there are no such things as eating or sleeping : Atelier Meruru nurtures your soul to delight.

 Project Diva f (PSVita)

 Tales of Xillia (PS3)

 Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS)

Review – Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney

Two long years after the fateful TGS 2010 trailer, the cross-over of the two most brilliant minds of the DS is a last in my 3DS.

Graphically speaking, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney (PlvsAA) is impressive. That said, it doesn’t seem to apply to the most important characters because Layton & Luke look odd, and Phoenix seem rather inexpressive at times. On the other hand, NPCs are astonishingly detailed and Mahone looks like she comes from a Ghibli movie. The excellent CG scenes further add to the overall quality. In fact, I just had the impression that 3DS had finally entered the portable next-gen, proof that it can make technical wonders when developers don’t go into useless thrift. PlvsAA is also an outstanding achievement in level design, story and characters.

PlvsAA takes the best of both franchise to deliver high-class, fun and cuteness at the same time. The more you progress in the story, the more you will admire Level-5 genius narrative. The story is fascinating and each end of chapter has such a big suspense that you can’t stop playing. The four characters end up in a medieval city haunted by witchcraft. In this world, reality is fiction, and fiction always become reality. The scenario is so full of mysteries that the very end of the game actually has some trouble explaining all of it. The last trial end up being a tiring series of explanations, rather than the climax we are accustomed to in Ace Attorney. The end of the game can also seem a bit naive, even though I was pleased this way. The story in whole was nonetheless coherent.

As for the gameplay, fans will clearly lament the low difficulty settings. The puzzles are middle-school level and will disappoint those who fancy scratching their heads and keep their hint coins in their purse. The trials are a bit more demanding but the game keeps guiding you way too often. At some point you can’t even think by yourself. Your evidence list is short (5 to 10 items) and hint coins are available. PlvsAA introduces a new feature : you now cross-examine multiple witnesses at the same time. They often contradict or argue with each other, thing that you’ll have to learn to dig out the truth. They won’t hesitate to jump from the terraces if they have something to add. Sorting all this confusion can be tricky at times and makes the judiciary part particularly entertaining. As for the «VS» part, there is a short scene that feels like it without ever being convincing. It almost feels as if Level-5 had re-wrote the game entirely, because many sequences from the first trailer never appear in the full game.

Those drawbacks do make the experience far less good than it should have been, but this unique cross-over remains solid entertainment for 30 hours, thing you seldom have on 3DS. Also, it should be noted that more difficult puzzles will come as free DLCs during the following weeks.

Some really interesting games from Tokyo Game Show 2012

Tales of Xillia 2 (PS3)

No need to introduce ToX2, sequel to the best Tales of to date. This video shows that all the former characters return in this explosive sequel. It seem to re-use many elements though (such as enemies) but it you be mean to be pricky. Tales of Xillia 2 will hit the West if you buy Tales of Graces F and Tales of Xillia.  

Toki to Wa (PS3)

First 100% anime-style RPG, Toki to Wa readies its launch with a spooky voice that reminds me of something… But whatever, it’s only 20 days before the game gets released in Japan. It has been recently confirmed for the West as well.

God Eater 2 (PSVita)

You can throw your old PSP to the bin, because God Eater 2 will get an ehanced PSVita version. The bad news is that both versions are now delayed to 2013, but it will surely be worth the wait.

Professeur Layton and the ruins of Asland (3DS)

The 6th episode of Professor Layton is on track to the delight of puzzle-game, paper-sketching addicts. It seems to be a direct sequel to the 4th one, but I can’t say for sure since I don’t have the 5th. The West should get it in 2014, if the world still holds until then. 

Ace Attorney 5 (3DS)

Exit Apollo Justice. The young attorney leaves the court because his mentor Phoenix Whright is back for this 3DS iteration. The game benefits from an astonishingly good cell-shading and is rumored to be localized around 2014 for the West.

Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney (3DS)

AT LAST! The dream-like crossover will release on November 29th in Japan and on my 3DS. This latest video shows how puzzles, trials and character design get along in this Level-5 game that may be published by Nintendo around next autumn. You know what? I really pity you guys…