Professor Layton is not your average puzzle game. Sure, the focus is on puzzles–there are 150 brand new ones for you to solve during your journey, and that’s before you take all of the bonuses into account–but it’s just different from any other puzzler on the market. Part of the reason for this is that developer Level 5 has put as much loving care into the story, graphics and style of this puzzle title as they do for any of their other games, like the epic RPGs they are most well-known for creating. The final result is a polished and satisfying experience that pushes Layton ahead of the competition and makes it much more than just a puzzle game.
If you liked the first Professor Layton title (and the Curious Village) then you’re going to like the Diabolical Box as well. This game may actually be a bit better–the story is just as good, with maybe a bit more emphasis on it, and the puzzles are very well done. There are plenty of difficult puzzles that will force you to think, but they are not usually the main story ones–this means you can keep the game moving along at the desired pace without frustration, but you can also challenge yourself when the mood strikes. The fact that once again all of your missed puzzles end up in Granny Riddleton’s Shack, to be solved at your convenience, is a huge plus.
Developer: Level 5
Aug. 24, 2009
When you finish the story and have completed the puzzles you missed, the game doesn’t end. The story elements are all done with, but now Layton focuses more on its true nature. Picarats, which you earn for solving puzzles–you earn more of them for solving a puzzle with fewer tries–can be used to unlock bonus content. More puzzles for you, earned by completing puzzles? It’s a great feature that will keep you working on the main puzzle stories as well as searching out each and every last hidden puzzle in the title. These are not the only puzzles you can play once the game is over though. Once again, Level 5 and Nintendo are bringing you puzzles via the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection on both the DS and the DSi. This is a great treat for those who want to keep playing Layton even after the cartridge has been completed, and gives you a reason to hang on to the title.
As stated, the other parts of Layton are as impressive as the puzzles. The characters are well drawn, the NPCs have loads of personality, the voice acting is first-rate, the story is entertaining (even if you sometimes figure out plot points before Layton and his apprentice, Luke) and the animated cutscenes are entertaining enough that, while watching them, you understand exactly why a Professor Layton movie is in the works. As stated, this is what pushes Layton’s titles ahead of all of the other puzzle and brain teaser games on the market, and in the Diabolical Box, there’s a lot more of all of the above than there was in the Curious Village.
There are three long-term puzzles that you must solve in Diabolical Box as well, which can be found in your trunk. The first of these is a broken camera that you fix–solving certain puzzles nets you pieces of the broken camera, which you then put together inside the hollowed out shell. Since you are building a camera from scratch, you have to figure out where each piece goes through trial and error, as well as by using logic. It’s fun, especially when you pick up more pieces and realize you may have been off in your earlier predictions for piece placement. The second of these is the fat hamster; you need to get him into shape on a chess board like area. You earn items that the hamster can sense from three squares away, and you need to arrange them in a way that makes him walk enough to reach his goal. The first of these is eight steps, then 14 steps, and so on. It’s also fun that the hamster wants nothing to do with getting into shape, and tells you as much. The last of these three games is the tea set game, where you must mix tea for the correct citizens in the village based on the hints and tips they give you. This is my least favorite, though if you pay enough attention you should be able to pick up on the clues and give everyone the tea they are asking for.
Blast Factor: Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box may be more of the same, but it’s more of a wonderful thing. The sequel to the Curious Village is more polished with more of a focus on story, but not at the expense of the puzzles, the true star of the game. This game comes highly recommended whether you’re very much into puzzles or not, as everything else works so well in it that it may be good enough to make you a convert.
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is available exclusively on the Nintendo DS and Nintendo DSi, at the price of $34.99