Game: May’s Mysteries: the Secret of Dragonville
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle
System: Nintendo Switch (also on Steam, earlier released on DS and PC)
Developers | Publishers: Klabater
Age Rating: US E | EU 3+
Price: UK £13.49 | US $14.99 | EU €14,99
Release Date: August 26, 2021
Review code used, with many thanks to Klabater
Catching the Layton Vibe
Remember how Professor Layton took the gaming world by storm? Never before had there been such an appealing way to exercise the grey cells. Every game not only contained a boat-load of puzzles but it was all presented in a very appealing story. The professor and his sidekick Luke were very likeable characters and aside from the puzzles, you really cared about what happened to them. It was a game that enticed adult puzzles fans to buy a DS just to play that series.
It’s been some time since a brand-new Layton adventure reached us. In October 2017 we did get Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy. Not about the professor, but featuring his daughter. Since then, nothing. Why am I talking about this while this is a review for May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville ? Because from the first notes you hear in the music with the game, and the first puzzle you find, it reminds you of the Layton games.
May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville isn’t a new game. It was released earlier on the DS, Steam and PC game from BigFish in 2012 in the time when the Layton games were super popular. Now it’s released on the Nintendo Switch and for me it’s the first encounter with the game. As a Layton fan I’m gonna see how it stands up to the competition.
Strange and Eerie Town Dragonville
You step in the shoes of plucky little May Stery in May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville. She was enjoying a trip with her little brother Tery in a hot air balloon on a sunny day. I guess that sounds reasonable when you come from a town called Balloonville! An unexpected storm flings them across the ocean and they crash in front of the gates of a strange town, Dragonville. When May recovers from the shock she finds that Tery is missing. Time for a one-girl search party!
Entering creepy looking Dragonville she meets a strange assortment of citizens that present her with puzzles. The citizens she meets are a colorful bunch, 50 diverse characters, all presented in the colorful cartoonish style of the game. Pretty early on you meet the former Mayor who has been deposed by an evil man named Uter. He rules the town with his dreaded Midnight Army, and it seems all the town’s children have gone missing. As May suspects Tery has met the same fate, she takes it upon herself to unravel the mystery.
The mystery takes you from the town to the Underworld and beyond to the Crypto-Zoo and Uter’s Island, the final goal in the game. The characters you meet are all depicted in a caricature way, trading items you need for puzzles. These items are at times needed to be able to proceed, so it’s not like you can forge ahead in the story tossing the puzzles aside.
Exercise the Grey Cells
May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville is, of course, all about the puzzles. 270 puzzles are presented in four ‘worlds”, with the bulk being logic puzzles (230 of them). You will find the Layton-esque puzzles like moving matchsticks,line-drawing patterns, strategic placement of objects, colour and object grids, pouring games, math equations, and Minesweeper-inspired grids. And there are also Picross-like puzzles and lots of sliding puzzles. Then there are 25 hidden object games and 13 rhythmic games in the game as well. Really a varied selection for puzzle fans.
These are either dished out to you by the characters you meet, or you can solve them in “bonus puzzles” in your menu. Only, they aren’t really bonus puzzles as you need to solve them to acquire hint points. Which, in turn, you need to unlock hints in the puzzles that have you stumped. Or, should you want to skip a puzzle entirely, you need to shell out 15 hint points to do so. Keeping in mind that you acquire 5 hint points solving a bonus puzzle you can’t skip too many story puzzles. And in places, you can’t progress if you don’t have the correct answer!
Niggles in Puzzles
The puzzles start out easy, some too easy and not fitting my sense of logic. Pretty soon though I had to solve a puzzle where I really needed to dig deep to remember my math from high school. The hints are often not very helpful, and like I mentioned, you can use hint points to skip a puzzle. I think it’s a missed opportunity that the correct solution isn’t explained to you afterward. Makes it feel a bit empty when you’ve skipped one or have reverted to guessing until it was right. I want to know why I couldn’t reach the answer required!
May progresses through May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville screen by screen and you guide her by clicking the arrows. Although every screen shows a quirky character or scene, this does means the game isn’t very dynamic. Plus, some areas are locked until you’ve completed some quest or have gotten an item as reward that someone else needs. This means you’ll see the screens more then once, traveling to and fro which can get repetitive.
Another niggle I have is that the story puzzles are mentioned in the menu as well. As soon as you are close to one, you can find it in the “story puzzles”. However, don’t bother solving it there: sure you can, but you won’t get any points for doing so. And if you find it in the game itself, solving it again gives you your well earned points.
Mysterious Music and Animation
Like I mentioned at the start of the game, you can’t help but compare it to the Professor Layton games. That the developer has been heavily inspired by them is clear when you listen to the soundtrack. The minute I started the game, even my husband from across the table asked if I was playing a Layton! And even though the adventure itself isn’t as vibrant and alive as the adventures Layton and Luke had, the music gives off the same mysterious feeling.
The visuals are vibrant and attention has gone into designing all the characters. May has the same beady eyes that Layton has, and May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville includes animated scenes with voice acting, but they are few. Personally, I could have done with more to spruce things up.
The game is right at home on the Switch, where, in handheld mode, you can control it by joy-con or you can use the touchscreen.
So, how does May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville hold up to the Professor Layton games? Well, when it comes to the puzzles, this is a welcome game for games who can’t wait to dive into so many mind benders.
What let’s the game down in comparison is the way you live the adventure. Like in Layton, there’s a lot to read and there are many characters to meet, but the scenery in the Layton games was much more alive and interesting. It made you actually feel like you had joined Layton and Luke, and I missed that feeling when I followed May.
Still, if you loved Layton you will find enough to like in May’s Mysteries: The Secret of Dragonville. Plus, the game comes at a very attractive price point and offers a huge amount of content too. So if you like logic puzzles, don’t mind to read a lot and maybe reminisce about the olden days of Layton on the DS, then this game should have a place on your Switch.
Final Verdict: I Like It