With any new generation of Nintendo technology, it’s interesting to see the forms and changes that come to our favorite franchises as they transition over from previous mobile and console systems. It doesn’t always work, though sometimes it’s just a matter of getting used to the differences in platform interface and style. It feels right to say the latter is the case with the lengthy-titled Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy - a game that was first released on mobile iOS and Android devices and the 3DS and has now been ported to the Nintendo Switch.
Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy marks the puzzle-solving series debut on the “Deluxe Edition” Nintendo Switch and even brings along a few bells and whistles to go along with it to warrant the extra moniker. More importantly, it’s one of the series’ first departures from a format where touch screens were the prevalent interface, and while it brings the charm, amusement, and brain-teasing puzzle collection of previous games, the new interface and episodic narrative of Katrielle's adventure may be off-putting to long-time Layton fans.
The New Journeys of Katrielle Layton
A torch has been passed. For the first time ever, our dapper gentleman, professor, and archaeologist Hershel Layton and his apprentice Luke Triton are nowhere to be found. In their stead, the Professor’s apparent daughter, Katrielle Layton kicks off this journey by setting up her new detective agency alongside self-professed assistant (and obviously lovestruck) Ernest Greeves. It isn’t long before a third companion in the form of an amnesiac talking dog joins them, wishing for Katrielle to help him discover his identity or why only some people can understand him. Dubbing the dog "Sherl" (“Sherl OC Kholmes” in full), the trio quickly gets caught up in other cases throughout the city of London.
Off the bat, fans of Layton will notice that instead of chapters and an ongoing grand narrative of previous games, Katrielle’s Mystery Journey is broken up into episodic cases. Each is fairly separated from one another like levels and there’s even a point at which you can freely go between them as if you were picking from a Mega Man level select screen. There’s just a little bit of intersection between them, but for the most part, they are almost entirely self-contained. It’s a little odd for a Layton game, and even at its highest heights, misses out on the emotional investment of previous Layton journeys, but the style also makes it very easily approachable in small sessions of gameplay.
Katrielle feels more like a lighthearted TV series than the long adventures of earlier Layton games. It fits the characters at least. Katrielle is fun and smart, not to mention quite thoroughly a connoisseur of fine clothing and good food. All of the characters are fairly enjoyable in some way or another and the game does a good job of presenting them throughout beautifully animated cutscenes, voiced segments, and even in the regular unvoiced gameplay. There are even some fun return appearances like Stachenscarfen and Granny Riddleton along the way. Katrielle’s Journey oozes personality even if it misses some of the intense emotion and mystery along the way.
Like father, like daughter
At the core of Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy’s gameplay are the familiar trappings of all Layton games: Investigation and puzzle-solving. To this end, the game plays exactly as fans might expect. You spend most of your time moving between first-person scenes of an area, poking everything you can see and searching for clues that will either give you a puzzle, move the story along, or reward you with secret goodies like Hint Coins and Fashion Farthings. When you’re done with an area, you simply move on to the next, interacting with anything and everything you can find as you unravel each mystery little by little.
When you discover a puzzle, it will take you to one of the Layton series' trademark challenges that will put your wits to the test. Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy has all sorts of variety when it comes to its brain teasers. From multiple-choice logic puzzles, to visual teasers, to oddball math, the game has a lot of mini-game-like challenges to offer, although a few were a bit esoteric. There was a time or two where even when we got the answer, it felt poorly explained or simply too outside the box. Meanwhile, some of these puzzles felt just a little too much like variants of puzzles we’ve seen more than a few times through the series. Even so, there are a lot of them, and that “a-ha” moment that comes from unraveling the answer and solving them is still nice and satisfying for the most part.
Aside from the puzzles, there’s still a wealth of mini-games to discover for Katrielle’s detective agency and trunk, which will allow you to continue to push your problem solving skills even outside the narrative and secret puzzles of the game. One of the nicer features is that where you once had to beat a Layton game to download new daily puzzles to test yourself further, this game will let you get them right from the get-go, making for a neat extended game and daily challenge well before you’ve ever seen the game’s credits. Even nicer is that once you solve a case, you can go back to the area it took place in and see exactly how many puzzles you missed or secrets you left behind. It will even show you which areas need to be combed and how many puzzles or secrets still remain there, which is just a wonderful timesaver.
Controlling Katrielle & Co.
The controls of Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy are likely to be a divisive point for a lot of players. It’s not that they don’t work, so much as they feel very strange coming over to the Switch. There are three ways to handle the game. You can use the joycon joysticks to move a magnifying glass around, use motion controls, or undock the game and use a stylus. The issue therein is that there are intuitive and unintuitive points for each style. When you’re docked, the magnifying glass controls pretty smooth when it comes to investigation and you can even use the directional pad to move automatically between points of interest and save time. The issue is that in puzzles, when you want to use something like the memo feature to make notes and scribbles, the joysticks are not fun to draw with.
Meanwhile, if you choose to use the touchscreen, it’s very hard to see what you’re actually poking unless your stylus is very thin like the DS and 3DS styluses were. Even so, it’s much easier to make notes and memos in the game to help you with puzzles on touchscreen than via motion control or joystick controls. Ultimately, none of it is unplayably bad, so much as mildly inconvenient no matter which way you go.
The Layton caliber of music & visuals
When it comes to music and visuals, the Layton series is always incredibly iconic and charming. Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy doesn’t drop the ball here. The game’s soundtrack is wonderful and whether you’re in a well-animated cutscene or looking at character models chatting as you work towards solving the mystery, Layton’s Mystery Journey shares the absolutely pleasant and charming style that makes these games so wonderfully gripping. One could get lost in the relaxing melodies of this soundtrack, but they also do well to serve the game's creative landscapes and lighthearted narrative.
The final answer
Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy is a very good maiden voyage for both a new platform like the switch and a new protagonist like Katrielle Layton. It feels strange to play through a full Layton game without the charm of Professor Layton and Luke, but Katrielle and the rest of the cast do quite well in bringing this game together all the same. The proper elements of a good Layton game are almost all here. Beautiful scenery, enjoyable characters, and proper fun investigation are all present and accounted for. Katrielle showed a bit of gray in the series as far as puzzle design went, but they’re never entirely frustrating or boring.
The controls might need some rethinking. There’s just something odd about the fact neither way to play feels fully optimal. And the episodic nature of this particular Layton game might be weird to long-time fans. That said, even the things that were off-putting felt more like small stumbles than full-on faceplants. With so much to explore and unravel in this game, plus accessible daily puzzles, Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy feels like a game we could get lost in for a good, long time.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch retail copy provided by the publisher. Layton's Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires' Conspiracy is available now.
- Vibrant cast
- Beautiful music & visuals
- Excellent streamlined gameplay mechanics
- Mildly unintuitive controls
- Huge departure from previously grand narrative style
- No Professor Layton or Luke