Crossovers are generally hit or miss in their execution whether they’re featured in films, novels or video games. As a fusion of distinct games, crossovers in my experience tend to fall short of expectation; each part usually has different mechanics and aesthetic qualities that are important to their respective titles but get sacrificed or overlooked in the development process. But when Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright was announced, the two puzzle games coming together into one mystery solving, court defending title just made sense. Their similarities seemed to build off each other quite naturally, making this crossover appear to be promising in pleasing fans from both sides. After sinking my puzzle-racked brain into Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, I must admit it’s one of the best crossover titles I’ve played to date.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright follows our titular characters, Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright, and their respective assistants, Luke Triton and Maya Fey, as they unravel the mysteries of the medieval town Labyrinthia and their client Espella Cantabella. The story is split up into multiple chapters with each chapter focusing on one of our point-happy protagonists and subsequently their game’s mechanics and themes. This is an example of one of the core elements of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright and one of the reasons why I think this crossover succeeds: the game isn’t so much a blending as it is a pairing. Instead of deciding what and what not to include from each separate series, the game takes the main elements from their respective franchises and weaves them side by side into a coherent, singular experience rather than trying create some sort of court puzzle hybrid. As a result, the story doesn’t seem like a chaotic mess as each character scrambles about in unfamiliar roles, but instead offers a familiar yet captivating mystery that offers new questions with each answer given. An added bonus to the fusing of these two series is the side characters, who are similarly quirky and crazy in both titles; they’re well written and fit appropriately into Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright‘s medieval mischief, even if the two main protagonists are portrayed as a bit simple in this iteration.
However, there are a few flaws within the game that diminish the overall experience. The biggest one is the tonal shift between the Professor Layton chapters and the Phoenix Wright chapters. Professor Layton games are generally a little more kid friendly, focusing more on puzzle solving and emotional set pieces to convey the story (see Professor Layton and the Unwound Future for the emotional aspect). Yet Phoenix Wright, as a courtroom case puzzle game, often depicts murder, violence and malicious characters although wrapped in a silly, comical bow. It’s extremely jarring in Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright to immediately jump from a somewhat calm saunter around town solving puzzles into a scene where a woman pleads for mercy and screams in terror as she’s burned alive in an iron maiden-like contraption. It’s so sudden that it causes confusion into what kind of game I’m actually playing. Furthermore, certain portions of the game tend to drag on a bit longer than necessary for comedic effect, which really grinds the game to a halt.
The art styles of Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright are pretty similar and therefore fit almost perfectly together in Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright. The 2.5D backgrounds mixed with the 3D characters pop on the 3DS screen with such vibrancy that it makes the fictionalized London and fictional Labyrinthia seem real in their details. But what impressed me the most was the music of Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright, specifically the sound mixing and sound editing. Both games alone have fantastic soundtracks that compliment their respective games in such a beautiful manner. In their crossover, the songs blend and work off each other marvelously at key spectacular moments. It’s spot on brilliance that transforms powerhouse moments into memorable meetings and turning points.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright switches gameplay styles and mechanics with each chapter depending on whom that chapter focuses on. In Professor Layton’s sections, the gameplay hasn’t changed much from the Professor Layton formula: the player roams around town talking to citizens and spectators looking for a variety of puzzles. The lack of innovation and addition is not a bad decision in any way; on the contrary, the Professor Layton game design is marvelous depending on the quality of the puzzles and Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright does not disappoint in that regard. The puzzles are whimsical and challenging, a top-notch display of thought-provoking entertainment.
In the other chapters, we’re introduced to the Phoenix Wright side of the gameplay of courtroom drama and “startling” revelations. Here, there is a new mechanic added to spice up the defense’s usual practice of pressing and presenting found in the inclusion of multiple witnesses and testimonies simultaneously. Now, Phoenix Wright can find contradictions in other testimonies rather than just solely relying on evidence. It’s a neat little mechanic added to invite the player to look at the evidence and cases from a different perspective. However, the fault of the Phoenix Wright games still exists in their core gameplay: there is only one conclusion, one path of deduction to reach a favorable conclusion even though there might be others. It’s a limiting system that could be improved by making multiple sound paths through a court case, but the fact that it’s not in the game does not necessarily cripple the gameplay.
As someone who has enjoyed both the Professor Layton series and the Phoenix Wright series in the past, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is a fantastic experience that combines two deductive heroes in the most successful way possible. Neither series’ gameplay or aesthetics are undermined in this crossover, but are instead married together in a seamless fashion. The story is fitting and fulfilling in terms of both series, doing justice to their respective styles despite not being able to settle on a tone for the game and the dialogue running long in a few sections. The gameplay is well conceived and executed for each of the titular characters, though there are a few flaws here and there. For fans of either series, I’d wholeheartedly recommend this fascinating title as it not only enforces a love of one particular series, but encourages players to jump into another franchise similar to what they already cherish.
Final Score: 8.5 /10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood