There's a phrase used in television criticism about 'jumping the shark'. It refers to the infamous moment in TV sitcom Happy Days when the Fonz water-skied over a shark and now denotes the point at which a TV show is popularly adjudged to have lost the plot. While Layton would never go in for such flamboyant buffoonery - real gentlemen don't water-ski - there was a detectable whiff of Jaws-leaping about his last adventure, Spectre's Call.
There was that ridiculous Loch Ness Monster dénouement, the addition of a surplus assistant (sorry, Emmy), an inordinate amount of backtracking, more screen-tapping than ever before (thanks largely to hidden, and meaningless, collectibles) - not to mention the ludicrous revelation of Luke's Dr Doolittle routine. Spectre's Call may not have jumped the shark, but it had no qualms nattering to one. All in all, it felt like a game struggling to develop a template, a template Level-5 perfected three games before.
Hooray then, for Miracle Mask, AKA: How Layton Got His Groove Back. The move to 3DS has prompted a major overhaul of the basics, a rethink that has percolated through the narrative strata to create a tighter, sprightlier Layton.
Just for starters, the Professor has never looked healthier. Level-5 uses 3DS's added horsepower to transform the Prof's world from grainy DS artwork to rich 3D models. Yes, it reveals how freakishly inhuman Layton looks - he's basically a sausage in a hat - but the lick of paint works wonders.
The city of Monte d'Or is rendered as a collection of shoebox theatre-like 3D dioramas. As you study locations with a magnifying glass they lean and twist, subtly hinting at 3D space. We also love how the magnifying glass emits a chime when it passes a point of note - having to tap every last pixel to find puzzles and hint coins is a thing of the past.
This more efficient means of exploration is all part of a faster-moving adventure. Previous games took a meandering approach to plot, but here the conundrum is far more dynamic. A masked gentleman called, handily, The Masked Gentleman terrorises Monte d'Or with increasingly baffling miracles. His regular appearances serve to inject fresh mystery whenever the plot begins to sag, and leads to a denser adventure.
If this weren't enough, Level-5 also whisks us back to Layton's teenage years in a series of flashback chapters. For the passionate Laytonite, these are the ultimate fan service. We're introduced to Layton's parents, get to poke around his bedroom, explore his hometown of Standbury and generally enjoy a portrait of the professor as a young man.
It's here, in Layton's past, that Level-5 breaks with tradition. One chapter late in the game frees Layton of the rigid world map and puts you in direct circle pad control. Puzzles are woven naturally into the environment, enabling you to experience action first-hand, rather than in animated cutscenes.
We even get a burst of 3DS-specific controls, using the gyroscope to slosh platforms along subterranean rivers. It's like an entirely new game, buried in a familiar one.
That this chapter stands out is both testament to its high quality and an indictment of the very traditional puzzles elsewhere. Level-5 struggles to make the most of 3DS - only a handful of puzzles, maybe 10 per cent, make meaningful use of the 3D screen. Players are asked to rotate 3D shapes, explore corncob mazes, hammer totem poles and ogle 3D board games, but all of these would have functioned as 2D images.