In the early days of the Nintendo DS, before the iPhone upended the way people played games on the go, Nintendo found itself courting an unexpectedly mainstream audience. Games like the Brain Age series — a collection of minigames and puzzles meant to sharpen your mind — were played everywhere from playgrounds to retirement homes. Middle-aged parents took their Nintendogs for virtual walks, while Animal Crossing wormed its way into the daily routine of millions. One of the series that debuted during that boon was Professor Layton, an ongoing adventure that played like a cross between a paperback mystery novel and a collection of brainteasers. Across seven entries, spanning multiple Nintendo handhelds, the series has sold more than 15 million copies, and even spawned an animated film and a mobile spinoff.
Now the series is back, but with a few big changes. Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy not only has a brand-new lead — Professor Layton’s daughter Katrielle — but it’s also making its debut on mobile, launching today on iOS and Android, before coming to the Nintendo 3DS later this fall. The Millionaires' Conspiracy doesn’t really lose anything in the transition from Nintendo handhelds to your smartphone. In some ways, it’s even better.
For the most part, The Millionaires' Conspiracy plays exactly like its predecessors. You, in the role of Kat, make your way through various London locales, talking with other characters and investigating for clues. It’s a bit like an old-school point-and-click adventure. The story unfolds through beautiful animated cutscenes that look like a French take on Studio Ghibli, as well as lots and lots of pun-filled dialogue.
The actual challenge of the game, though, comes from its many puzzles, which, as always, are curiously distinct from the main story. As you explore, you’ll be presented with brainteasers, which often have no connection to what’s actually happening in the game. A witness might ask you to solve a math problem before giving a key piece of information, while looking at a cat might remind someone of a logic puzzle involving, well, cats. The puzzles are varied and challenging, and often require a bit of unorthodox thinking to suss out the solution. Sometimes they can be a bit strange — this is a game that stars a talking dog, after all — but they tend to adhere to a certain kind of logic.
One of the most interesting thing about The Millionaires' Conspiracy is just how faithfully it translates the DS experience to mobile. For much of the game, your screen is divided into two halves, just like on DS. The top half represents the area you’re exploring, while the lower portion is used for things like maps and menus. The same is true for puzzles, where information is presented at the top of the screen, and you actually sort out the solution on the bottom.
It feels a bit strange at first, but the screen division works well enough, and feels surprisingly natural if you’ve already played a lot of Layton. It even comes with a benefit: when one of the game’s beautiful animated cutscenes plays, you can watch it in full screen by switching to portrait mode. The one thing that does feel missing is a stylus. Many of the brainteasers involve writing down a solution, and there’s a very useful note system where you can jot down ideas. It’s a lot more natural doing that with a stylus than your finger. I actually played much of the game using an Apple Pencil with my iPad to get around this.
The biggest changes have more to do with the new lead character than the new platform. Whereas Hershel Layton was a puzzle-loving archaeology professor who solved mysteries in his free time, Katrielle is a budding detective. So instead of one big, ongoing mystery, the game is divided into a series of cases, each focused on a specific crime. You’ll do everything from solve a possible murder to rescue a millionaire’s beloved cat. This structure lends itself well to mobile, as you can make a lot of progress in a short time. Most cases only take an hour or so to complete. But it lacks the big payoff that comes from finally figuring out the secrets behind the lengthy mysteries in previous Layton games.
Even with these changes, The Millionaires' Conspiracy still feels like a full-fledged Layton adventure, the kind that would feel at home on a dedicated game system. That comes at a cost: the game is $15.99 on both iOS and Android, which is a lot less than a typical 3DS release, but also quite a bit more than most mobile titles. Depending on your perspective, it’s either a great deal or terribly overpriced. Arguments about pricing aside, though, The Millionaires' Conspiracy is indeed a real Layton game, and a worthy update to the series. For fans, it leaves at least one big mystery: do you play it now on your phone, or wait a few months for the 3DS version?