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Game Review

If you've played any Nintendo DS or 3DS Professor Layton titles in the last decade, you know of the top-hatted Hershel Layton. He's a straight-and-narrow cartoony guy who loves a thoughtful challenge. You'd never consider him a true Sherlock Holmes type, it's true. But the Professor is a guy who'll readily travel from place to place and dig into any given mystery while always finding time for a goodly number of related and unrelated puzzle-solving problems.

Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires Conspiracy carries on with that theme. Only this time, Professor Layton's now grown-up daughter, Katrielle, is the one donning the family's mystery-solving mantle. In fact, this lovely and chipper young woman is letting the world know of her intentions by hanging up a shingle for her own, brand-new Layton Detective Agency.

Any Mini-Mystery Solved

So what happened to Kat's dear old dad, you ask? Well, he's gone missing. And that's just one of the main mysteries Katrielle hopes to solve with her new agency. (Though there always seems to be other pressing matters pulling her attention away.) She and her unpaid (and slightly lovestruck) volunteer assistant, Ernest, are joined by a talking dog named Sherl. That's right: Sherl's a chatterbox pup that, for some unspecified reason, only Kat and Ernest can understand. But this bloodhound pal isn't really around to sniff out clues as much as he is just to tag along and toss in a bit of canine comic relief.

Unlike past Layton games, though, there really isn't one central mystery. Kat and her crew are actually given a couple of lightweight cases to sleuth out while working up to that Millionaires Conspiracy in the game's title. The first mini-mystery, for example, is offered to them by an out-of-his-depth Scotland Yard detective, and it focuses in on the disappearance of one of Big Ben's clock hands.

Gameplay-wise, Katrielle's first solo gig is sort of a mixed bag. The "mysteries" themselves are all kid-friendly—lightweight affairs that involve some environmental searching, a bit of clue-piecing and a whole lot of puzzle-solving. But don't expect deep storytelling prowess here. No, if you're looking for some kind of Nancy Drew-like whodunit, you're going to be disappointed.

The investigations themselves involve searching for clues in places such as a local London bank, a bakery shop, a clock tower and an old mansion. But they're perfunctory affairs. While tapping the surrounding environment and characters with the 3DS's stylus, the clues are pretty much spooned out to young gamers without much effort.

Puzzles, Puzzles and More Puzzles

Instead of intense investigatory conundrums, the game's puzzles are the real focus. Think of it like one of those paperback books with pages and pages of puzzles that you might have enjoyed as a kid. Some of these riddles are tied into the mystery at hand. But the majority of these 160 or so chin-scratchers—composed of number challenges, optical illusions, time conundrums, word problems, mix-and-match shape puzzles and the like—are simply obstacles that must be conquered in order to keep moving forward.

These stumpers will also inevitably be the things that will have younger players running to Mom or Dad for some help after a number of frustrating fails. Still, the game does dole out some "hint coins" to players that they uncover while scanning for clues, and they're definitely helpful when puzzles get tough. But even the hint system may well leave a young tyke scratching his head in some cases. And a lot of those youthful frustrations will pop up due to a puzzle having a slightly confusing or sometimes purposely misleading setup.

For instance, one clock puzzle asks kids how many times they need to touch a clock face in order to get the hands to read 12 midnight rather than 4:30 pm. Of course, the answer is logic-based and not move-focused: A running clock will eventually make it to 12 midnight without anyone lifting a finger.

On the whole, though, brain-stumping road bumps are minor ones. And even this game's verbal references to a possible murder scene, its mention of animal "poop" and its British-focused colloquialisms—such as one character's admonition not to "get your knickers in a twist"—aren't the kinds of things that raise too much of a red flag.

It really all comes down to knowing what you're looking for. And if that wish list includes some light character fun with a British twist paired with kid-focused brainteasers, well, Kat and her pals may be just the crew to spend a little 3DS time with.

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October 6, 2017

On Video

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Bob Hoose

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