Nintendo may not be bringing Mario or Zelda to mobile devices any time soon, but that doesn't mean other franchises closely associated with its platforms aren't making the leap. Ni No Kuni developer Level-5 recently did just that with the release of Layton Brothers: Mystery Room on iOS, a spinoff of the incredibly popular puzzle series Professor Layton, which made its debut on the Nintendo DS back in 2008 and has since spawned a beloved franchise. Mystery Room is the first entry in the series not to launch on a Nintendo handheld (aside from a Japan-only social game) and while it's missing a bit of that Layton charm, it's definitely one of the better whodunits you can experience on an iPad.
Alfendi is sort of like his father crossed with Sherlock Holmes
Mystery Room features two major departures from the series' well-worn formula. For one, it doesn't actually star the top hat-wearing professor at all: instead, you'll play as his son, a police investigator named Alfendi. This change in occupation leads to a significant change in gameplay. While the DS Layton games have you solving all manner of brainteasers while setting out on an epic adventure, Mystery Room is all about using your deductive skills to solve crimes. Alfendi is sort of like his father crossed with Sherlock Holmes, so much of your time will be spent combing crime scenes for evidence, questioning witnesses, and analyzing their statements. You can't really fail in the game — a wrong guess doesn't have any negative consequences — but when you manage to actually put all of the pieces together yourself, it's very satisfying. In fact, it feels a lot like another series closely associated with the DS, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.
The shift to iOS means a number of other changes, for both good and bad. One of the key missing elements is any sort of voice acting: a large part of the appeal of the series has always come from its charming characters, and a lot of that is lost when they're silent. On the other hand, Mystery Room looks absolutely fantastic on a big Retina Display, with large, detailed characters and slick menus. Without the limitations of the DS or 3DS screens, the art style really pops. The positives are all the more impressive when you consider that the game will only cost you $5, a huge drop from the $35 or more you typically pay for a DS cartridge. You can even play the first two cases for free, while additional ones can be purchased in bundles for $2.99 and $1.99. It's not as fully featured or lengthy as the main entries in the series, but you get a lot for just a few bucks.
Without the limitations of the DS or 3DS screens, the art style really pops
Mystery Room isn't Level-5's first foray into iOS gaming — the studio previously launched the arcade shooter Liberation Maiden for the iPad — but in this case it appears to be the work of a company hedging its bets. With players now spending more money on mobile games than on titles for traditional gaming handhelds, Level-5 looks to be slowly testing the waters to see what works well on a smartphone or tablet. Mystery Room features new gameplay options and a payment structure better suited to the new platform, and the result is a game that's not quite the same as the rest of the series, but in a lot of ways is better. It's also a rare look at what can happen when a traditional game developer takes mobile platforms seriously — and you don't have to be a brilliant professor to see how great it could be if more studios did the same.