Are you a boop-boop-boop or a beep-beep-beeper? You can tell a lot about a man from the sound of his scrolling dialogue box. No two tones are more opposed than Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright's. Layton's softer blip is the sound of a gentleman regaling you with a polite yarn over a cup of tea. Ace Attorney's, on the other hand, is the shrill, mechanical clack of a virtual stenographer frantically trying to keep up with the madness unfolding before him. So what happens when beep meets boop?
Capcom and Level-5 are in no rush to offer an answer. The first big surprise of PLVPW:AA is how long the PL and the PW:AA spend on their respective sides of that 'versus'. Like nervous teens at a school disco they eye each other up, waiting for the sugary hit of narrative-flavoured Panda Pops to push them into one another's arms. So, for three hours or so, you play a chunk of a Layton game and a chunk of an Ace Attorney game. Neither deviates massively from its established formula. Him in the hat solves light, spatial puzzles and pokes at sofas until coins fall out; him with the hair shouts, sweats and flukes his way through to a not-guilty verdict.
If the building blocks are familiar, there's an unusual architect piling them up. With Ace Attorney creator, Shu Takumi, on scenario duty, he's free to push Layton into Wright's darker territory. Hershel's chocolate box London is replaced with a crueller landscape - a chocolate box in which all the good ones have been eaten, leaving only the strawberry horrors. Lightning looms, cars crash and a desperate soul knocks on our door. She speaks of witches and holds a book that allegedly charts future events; this clash of rational gent against the supernatural provides an enticing hook to the story.
Meanwhile, over in the courtroom, the hook is as simple as seeing Wright written by the man who created him. As great as the Takumi-free Dual Destinies was, no writer 'gets' these characters like their maker. In a timeline-befuddling move, Wright is again working with Maya Fey, letting Takumi serve up the brilliant back-and-forth we found lacking in last year's 3DS treat. For fans it's like the two never went away, while newcomers get to meet two of gaming's most endearing klutzes afresh. Basic gist: he gets flustered, she asks dumb questions, they somehow stumble on the answer and then everyone shouts. Hey, it worked for 60 hours on DS and still works now.
The magic, of course, happens when Takumi brings everyone together. Literal magic, in this case: a spell sees both parties - Layton and Luke, Wright and Maya - pulled into the medieval city of Labyrinthia. It's a world cleverly designed to defy each hero. What good is Layton's logic in a city where magic is accepted and openly practised? And how can Wright sniff out contradictions in testimony when the impossible is made possible through that magic? Again, we're used to Ace Attorney exploring deeper topics - usually the intricacies of the defender/prosecutor dynamic - but it's neat to see the prof facing a crisis more existential than 'where did the thing go?'.
It also gives our cast a reason to buddy up. The heroes ignore the title of their own game and decide two heads are better than one. Especially when both heads have such awesome hair/hats. From their barmy, flour-coated first meeting to Layton's failed attempts to explain the beauty of puzzle solving to a perplexed Phoenix and Maya, the partnership is comic gold. And story twists see the gang teaming up in fun combinations, whether it's watching priggish Layton dealing with abrasive Maya, or seeing the sidekicks team up for a long-awaited spell in the limelight.