Game Review: Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

August 31, 2009

The Professor Layton story has been one of curious localization. The first game in the series came to the US after the second was available in Japan, and Nintendo left few clues as to when part two would follow. More than a year and a half later, players can finally don top hats yet again to solve hundreds of brain-teasers and get to the bottom of another great mystery.

The tale begins when Layton receives a letter from his mentor, Dr. Schrader, who claims to have found the elusive Elysian Box, rumored to kill any who open it. Concerned for his friend, Layton and his apprentice Luke travel to the doctor’s apartment only to find him murdered and the box missing. Their one clue is a blank train ticket for the Molentary Express, and the pair book passage in hopes of solving the murder surrounding the Elysian Box.

The mystery is lighthearted and keeps you involved as you search the locomotive and its various destinations. But you have to learn to accept that everyone in Layton’s world is obsessed with puzzles, and whenever you pick up on a juicy lead, you’ll be inevitably interrupted by some random brain teaser.

Diabolical Box is structured much like the first game, with 150 puzzles wrapped in the trappings of a mystery novel. Sometimes puzzles are related to the main quest, but more often, they’re brought up randomly by villagers or inspired by cues in the environment.

 

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In addition to the numbered problems, there also several ongoing puzzles for players to tackle, which involve finding and collecting various components. There’s a broken camera that you need to reassemble, an overweight hamster to get into shape, and a tea set that lets you create pleasing brews that endear you to the locals, who provide additional clues or bonus puzzles. Diabolical Box rounds out the content with weekly downloadable puzzles, which are likely already stored on the game card, and a top secret area, which unlocks content across the trilogy.

Diabolical Box sticks close to the formula, but there’s enough content to keep players scratching their heads for a dozen hours or more.

Layton’s logic puzzles draw on a variety of ways to stretch your gray matter, using basic math skills, careful observation, thinking in 3D space, or processes of elimination. You may see some solutions right away, but other will stump you, however simple the solutions may be. If you do get stuck, you can purchase hints at any time with coins hidden in the environment, but stocks are limited. While you can venture to guess at times, incorrect answers decrease the amount of picarats you can win from a puzzle, which limits the bonuses you unlock after completing the game.

 

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One drawback to the first game was that its cerebral nature often required players to work out solutions with pen and paper, limiting its portability. Diabolical Box remedies this by including a memo function, which overlays a blank canvas over the puzzle screen, allowing you to work out equations or make other notes right on the screen. The difficulty curve in Diabolical Box is also a bit more gradual, which makes it less likely that you’ll get stuck too early in the game.

Professor Layton’s look has carried over into the second installment, with animated cut-scenes, cheerful British voice acting, and character designs sporting a variety of distinctive noses. The accordion-rich soundtrack has some new cuts that you’ll hear as you travel to distant locations, but the same music-box tune returns to haunt you while solving puzzles.

Conclusion

Layton fans can look forward to solving an intriguing mystery with loads of new puzzles included. Diabolical Box doesn’t depart greatly from its predecessor, but subtle refinements ensure that more players will see it through to the end.

 

Source: Level 5

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