For some gamers out there, the Professor Layton series was their first venture into gaming that didn’t involve “training the brain” or “showing an interest in what the kids are doing”. Yep, I am talking about parents. It is not just the fact that a Layton game was bundled with a DS and marketed specifically for mothers/fathers day, but the huge selection of mind-numbing puzzles appealed to this market and showed that gaming doesn’t have to involve jumping on stuff/shooting/driving etc…
Since the overwhelming success of the puzzle-solving professor, both amongst the parents and pretty much every other type of gamer, there have been a few other games that have tried to emulate that success. But so far there hasn’t been a game that has managed to appeal to everyone in the same way as Layton did. May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville, from V5 Play Studio, is the latest contender and perhaps comes closest, but suffers from one small flaw that will likely prevent it from being as popular. But more on that later. For now, let’s concentrate on all that is good.
The story begins with May and her brother Tery in a hot air balloon. With the sudden appearance of a storm and the inevitable crash, May awakens just outside the town of Dragonville to discover that her brother has disappeared. Thus begins May’s adventure that will take her into this strange little town, filled with equally strange people, as she hunts for her brother and gets involved in an even deeper mystery. The story is interspersed with animated cut scenes of a very high quality that progress the story and keep things moving along.
The puzzles, of which there are so many, were quite surprising. I must admit to not expecting very much from my initial glances at the game. This was further enhanced by the fact that the first puzzle in the game was stupidly easy. But it would seem that this first puzzle was maybe designed to lull the player into a false sense of security, as before long I was scratching my head at some seriously tricky conundrums. Rhythm, mathematical, hidden object, logic, riddles – almost every single type of puzzle that you could imagine can be found in this game, with more than 270 in total. That is a pretty impressive collection of puzzles.
As is customary, a hint system is available for those puzzles that do cause a bit too much brain strain, and the player will find themselves using it more often than they would think. The game uses a very similar system to Layton with the player moving from location to location via arrow pointers and talking with the 50 odd residents of the town, each of which will have their own puzzles to solve that will allow the player to progress.
So far, so good. May’s Mysteries has proved itself to be an equal to Layton in many ways. But there is a fly in this puzzling ointment. I cannot decide if this was intentional or not, but it seems to me that May’s Mysteries has been designed to appeal to a much younger audience than Layton. The cut scenes, whilst very nice, feel more like a kiddies cartoon than the more mature Layton cut scenes, and the main characters are both kids, albeit very clever ones. Even the case looks more suited to the younger generation. This is disappointing for two reasons. Firstly, the difficulty of the puzzles doesn’t really match this childish wrapping. Secondly, the initial impressions that this game gives will likely alienate the older gamers, who may well walk away thinking it is a kids game.
But please, please, give this game a try if you are a Layton fan. It is perhaps not fair for me to keep comparing this game to Layton, but the similarities are obvious and the game comes very close to being it’s equal in many ways. In some ways you could even say it is better, with more than 270 puzzles and games, and over 25 hours of gameplay. But it just misses out due to an overriding theme. Don’t judge a game by it’s cover, May’s Mysteries: The secret of Dragonville is a proper puzzle adventure that will entertain both young and old alike.