Originally published in 2015, for The Australia Times Games Magazine
Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
In the magical land of videogames, crossovers are a dime a dozen.
But when they do happen, they generally provide a riotous good time – usually in the form of fisticuffs. Marvel vs. Capcom, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Street Fighter X Tekken and Super Smash Bros are among the most notable of these intertextual interminglings. But, aside from the biffo, more relaxed fare has also presented itself – like in the Mario & Sonic Olympic series.
It’s in this latter type of game we are blessed with Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.
Don’t be fooled by the title – this is very much a gentlemen’s game!
Rocketing to fame during the DS days, both Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright have won the hearts of millions of gamers with their cerebral gameplay that emphasised brains over brawn – the former with logic, and the latter with contradictions.
A joint collaboration between Level-5 and Capcom, and with a script written by Ace Attorney scribe Shu Takumi, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is the ultimate fan service for both fans of the top-hatted archaeologist, and the spikey haired purveyor of justice.
Opening with a lavishly animated cutscene, the game begins with a night time car chase through a London park, as a man and a woman are being pursued by terrifying airborne creatures. After they crash, the man (‘Carmine Accidenti’) informs the woman (‘Espella Cantabella’) to find his old mentor – Professor Hershel Layton.
Upon arriving at the good professor’s office, Espella is kidnapped by the ‘witches’ that seem hell-bent on getting their claws on her and the mysterious book she wields – the Historia Labyrinthia. This tome supposedly chronicles the past, present, and future of a town called Labyrinthia – and not only that, but Layton and his apprentice Luke find themselves written within the story!
To veterans of the Layton series, the gameplay will be very familiar. Presented like a point and click adventure, players must poke and prod the screen in order to find puzzles that must be solved. These are simple logic brain twisters that are only vaguely linked to the plot; and upon solving them, you are awarded with ‘picarats’ (points, basically). The more times you ‘fail’ a puzzle, the less picarats you get. Simple!
On the other side of this narrative coin are Phoenix Wright and his plucky assistant Maya Fey. A more energetic and comedic duo, they find themselves on an exchange trip to London in order to observe the British justice system. Of course, things go awry when Phoenix is suddenly forced to defend Espella Cantabella – who was found on a freighter whilst in the middle of an attempted murder (or so it seems…).
Phoenix Wright’s gameplay segments are markedly different to Layton’s more relaxed fare. Taking place in a courtroom, it’s up to the hapless lawyer to defend his clients from a guilty verdict – and this is done by examining evidence, questioning witnesses, and pointing out contradictions. Much like previous games in the series, these scenes are very funny and well-written, with wacky cross-examinations that are incredibly satisfying to untangle. There’s nothing quite like seeing an eyewitness squirm under the conviction of your theory!
Eventually, Layton, Luke, Phoenix and Maya all find themselves transported to the medieval town of Labyrinthia – where magic and superstition rule. It is here where the two stars meet, and where they find themselves embroiled in a highly elaborate plot involving witch trials, magical murders, and terrifying bakers (don’t ask).
It’s here where the real meat of the game is found, and where Takumi’s script really shines. I found it a particularly inspired decision to set the game in such a superstitious setting, as it throws the conventions of Layton and Wright’s logic right out the window. Throughout the game’s 20 hours story, the duo struggle to find a footing in this fanatical world, where magic is a real thing. Of course, Layton himself believes there is more to Labyrinthia than meets the eye – and it is his calm assurance that has him act as the de-facto leader of the group of heroes. Still, Wright himself gets his time to shine – and thanks to a twist in the story mid-game, he finds himself undertaking a heavy responsibility as the supporting rock for Luke and Maya.
It’s all very well-done, and the game had me gripped until its ridiculous conclusion (whether that is a compliment or an insult, is for you to find out). Truly, Layton vs. Wright has some of the best characterisation I’ve ever seen in a game – and I found it akin to reading a good book. Sure, some will complain that there isn’t enough ‘game’ to this, but I still had a lot of fun, nonetheless. I especially liked how both Layton and Phoenix thoroughly explore each other’s roles; trust me, you’ll squeal in delight when Layton shouts ‘objection!’ in a witch’s court, or when Wright and Maya clumsily try and solve their first puzzle.
I should warn though, that there is a lot of chatter in this title; so if you’re the type of gamer to shoot first and ask questions later, well… They why are you reading this in the first place? What, you expect Layton to suddenly wield a shotgun? Get outta here!
Visually, the game is very pleasant to look at. The background artwork is very detailed and pleasing to the eye as it makes subtle use of the 3D effects. What’s particularly impressive are the characters themselves, with bold colours and exaggerated movements making the whole thing look like a manga come to life. Anyone who has played the Ace Attorney games will tell you that the ridiculous mannerisms and crazy characters are one of the main selling points of those titles, and Layton vs. Wright continues this trend in fine fashion. The sound design too, is an auditory delight, with the gentle music of the Layton segments perfectly complimenting the more bombastic SFX of Wright’s courtroom exploits. There are even a couple of fully orchestrated pieces – with the final score being particularly stunning.
Overall, Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is an essential game for fans of both series – and for newcomers alike. No prior knowledge of both franchises is needed to enjoy this game, so it also serves as a fine introduction to non-fans. Prepare your pointing finger, and dive in!
7 out of 10