Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright, on paper, is kind of the gaming equivalent of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. The man known for puzzles meets the man known for pointing. The unstoppable lawyer meets the immovable gentleman. The guy with a penchant for top hats meets the bloke with a gravity defying hair do. But while they may have different approaches, Layton v Phoenix is a match made in heaven - especially if you're a fan of either the long running lawyer sim, or the puzzling professor's prior adventures.
While the title may conjure up images of a heavyweight title bout, in reality, this much anticipated cross-over isn't so much about one vs. another, so much as them working together. And when the two great minds collide, they really do become an unstoppable force. Mixing the interrogating, cross-examining skills of Phoenix Wright with the puzzle solving of Layton, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright is essentially a Layton game with added (lengthy) court cases - and there's a heck of a lot to get down here.
While both games usually have "zany yet somehow believable" stories, Layton vs. Phoenix Wright takes a twist on the fantasy side. The game kicks off with the appearance of a mysterious young girl in London, who comes to the Professor seeking help, but soon finds herself under attack by witches. Ever willing to help out a lady in need, the gentlemanly Professor Layton steps in, and figures out a way to sneak her off to safety, but not before making the mistake of picking up the book she's left behind on the floor, and having a sneaky peak inside - which sucks them into a fantastical adventure, the likes of which neither have seen before.
While they're known for using logic to unravel the most tangled of mysteries, the puzzling pair soon find themselves in a world that's almost devoid of any logic at all. Trapped in a town where people believe witches exist, where thinking outside the box makes you a heretic, and where the entire populace believes that their destiny relies on the writings of one mysterious man - the storyteller - and the yarn he spins, this is a riddle unlike any the Professor has ever faced.
Having quickly adapted to the local lingo (the Professor is no longer the Professor - he's Sir Top Hat, or Sir Silk Hatter), it's up to you to figure out exactly what's going on in the town, with the Layton sections playing out much like a traditional Layton game should. Presented with a fantasy themed world, full of knights on horses, bards and olde-worlde buildings, you'll move around in point and click fashion, exploring each area as you go, by poking anything that looks of interest with your stylus, as you chat to the villagers, hunt for hint coins (which help you solve the puzzles), and dig up the all important riddles themselves.
Toned down somewhat for this game, the puzzles here seem somewhat easier than before. You won't be kept up until 3 in the morning playing over the puzzle in your head as you try to figure out the solution, like in past games, anyway - although that could just be because we're still in Layton mode, having only recently finished playing our way through the last game, the Azran Legacy. Based around logic more than guess work, the puzzles are without doubt another highlight of the game, and you'll be grinning from ear to ear when you finally figure them out for yourself. Whether it's putting a jigsaw together, trying to flip some tiles so they're all facing upwards (but when you flip the one, the surrounding tiles flip too), or taking on a more wordy challenge (one of which asks you to work out which sheep is saying what), there's a wide variety here, with more of a bent towards the simpler mazes and slide puzzles than the devious riddles. Not that that's a problem.
With plenty of puzzles soon under your belt, before too long you'll run into Phoenix Wright, who's seemingly ditched his previous career as a lawyer (he has almost no memory of it) and instead become a baker - which is another mystery for the Professor to solve. With lashings of traditional humour, and plenty of catchphrases thrown in for good luck, Labyrinthia seems like a strange, yet harmless place to be - but no sooner has Phoenix served up your order with a "HOLD ON!" - "TAKE THIS!", than he's forced to snap out of his trance, as the darker side of the town of Labyrinthia raises its ugly head.
Far from just being paranoid of witches, the people of Labyrinthia have set out to exterminate them all, with the hope of bringing peace to their city. And you know what that means - witch trials. With the accused trapped in a cage high above a pit of fire, the city's finest mind, Inquisitor Barnham representing the Inquisition, it'll be an uphill task to get any "witch" off the hook, and save them from their more literal grilling. But where there's a need for a trial, there's a need for a baker - I mean, lawyer - and so Phoenix soon finds himself ditching the apron and pointing his finger accusingly again, as he takes to the court to figure out the truth behind each so called witch.
The trials take on a markedly different format to the rest of the game, although they still require a lot of thinking, and a fair amount of logic. With a range of evidence in your court record, it's up to you to grill each witness, and press them for more as they speak their testimony, as you look for the contradiction in their record of events. Whether you can use a court illustration to prove that a witness is lying, or have another piece of evidence that proves the testimony - and the accusation - wrong, you'll have to be paying close attention to spot the subtle contradiction - which is a challenge in itself, when the witnesses tend to be more slapstick than serious. From the unlucky (and often drunk) Emeer Punchenbaug, who no-one seems to take seriously, to the often dazed and confused Wordsmith, who apparently has a fantastic memory of everything, despite his eyesight having gone, and the crazy lamb lady Mary (yes, Mary has a little lamb), who seems to be altering her recollection of events after chatting to her lamb, you'll have to unravel whatever truth remains from the nutty witnesses.
In a step away from the norm for a Phoenix game, one of the new features here is the ability to cross examine multiple witnesses at once. Taking on a similar format to previous games, rather than each witness reading out a statement, which you can move backwards and forwards through, letting you choose when to present your evidence, the witnesses here each testify one after the other - which gives you the chance to use one's testimony as evidence against another. When one character is mid speech, you have the option to take a look at each of the other witnesses, to see if they're acting strangely - if they've spotted a contradiction, but don't want to say anything about it - and that can soon lead to the prosecution's downfall.
With more twists and turns than a prize winning pretzel, the trials are lengthy, funny, and gripping affairs, and while you'll have made your mind up who the accused is before you start the trial, you'll likely find whatever you thought you knew was miles off the mark. As revelations come out and contradictions are exposed - via the dual pointing fingers of Phoenix and the Professor, who joins you in the court - you'll slowly start to figure out who-dunnit, with each case having plenty of surprises before they reach their eventual conclusion.
In fact, perhaps the only downside is that during the trials, it's sometimes not all that obvious which piece of evidence you have to present - sometimes you'll have two items that can "prove" your case, but only one of them the game classes as being "right". Present the one, and you'll lose a "life" (run out, and you have to restart from a save, or a checkpoint, which tends to be ages back), present the one the game thinks is the "right" one, and Phoenix starts discussing the other... It can be frustrating at times, especially when you can't see anything that would contradict the testimony.
Luckily, though, help is at hand, thanks to the Layton section's hint coins. Along with the ability to reveal four progressively more informative hints for each puzzle, the hint coins can also be used during trials, where they limit the options you have to choose from - which is always helpful when you're torn between two pieces of evidence. It's a nice touch that makes the game a lot more accessible to newcomers - but even so, we'd still recommend saving at regular intervals during the trials. You wouldn't want to be flung back to the start again.
With a twisting plot, a great sense of humour, and some of the best characters we've seen in a Layton game (or otherwise), Layton, Luke, Maya and Phoenix have yet another must buy to add to their collection. With the puzzles toned down, and some extra help during the trials, this is a great buy for those who thought previous Layton games were too tricky, or got stuck during the trials on earlier Phoenix Wrights. It's huge, too - we spent 20 hours even reaching the half way point, although there's obviously a lot of room for variation, depending on how long you spend figuring out the puzzles (or replaying the trials).
Still, all we really need now is for Phoenix and Layton to be added to the Smash Bros roster. Then we'd really be able to see who'd win.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS