Puzzles on Rails
The first Professor Layton launched in America was such a hit. I don’t think Nintendo or the developers of the game (Level-5) thought it’d be so successful, but the Western audiences have been very pleased with it. Of course, the game has already seen four different installments in Japan, so we were ready for number two! It’s been more than two years since the first one came out for us, so our good times solving puzzles had long come and gone.
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box tells a new story all around. The Professor and his apprentice Luke are back in London, and a distressing letter from Layton’s mentor, Dr. Schrader, troubles them. He was in possession of a rather mysterious box before he inexplicably disappeared. He mentioned on the letter an old legend, which explains that those who get a hold of the box are fated to die; his disappearance certainly isn’t a good sign, so Layton and his young pal Luke decide to do some research of their own. The only clue left behind is an unused train ticket for a luxurious ride towards the unknown in the Molentary Express, so Layton and company decide to hop onboard and see if they can figure out what’s going on. The rest of the story is for you to find out, but all I have to say is it’s a very engaging one, even more so than the one developed in the “Curious Village.”
As you would expect, the game’s presentation and gameplay style closely resemble the first title. The hand drawn characters and their pastel-colored surroundings are very attractive and especially charming. There aren’t many animations so to speak, but the mostly static cutscenes are more than sufficient for this relaxing mystery game. Moreover, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box includes a lot more voice over work this time around, which deserves at least some applause, as it manages to engage us players even more. I have to admit at one point I was totally zoned out and into the game, to the point I didn’t even hear people near me trying to talk. The voices in the game sound very authentic and make it feel more like a suspenseful cartoon, even with the lack of animations.
The gameplay hasn’t changed a whole lot. Puzzles come up randomly as the story develops. By tapping different parts of the scene, you’ll find hidden hint coins, puzzles, and other comments that are not particularly revealing but help players immerse themselves into the plot. The puzzles definitely blend with the story, and they’re at least somewhat related to what we see on the screen, but for the most part they don’t contain much information about the story itself. The goal is simply to achieve as many Picarats as possible from each puzzle, which means solving it in one or, at most, a few tries. The main enigmas of the story itself will be solved little by little, as you resolve puzzles and advance towards new areas and meet new characters. Talking to everyone is essential in Professor Layton, as you never know who might hold the clues to unravel the mystery.
Most of the puzzles are easy to solve with just a bit of brain exercise. Being able to write down stuff while solving the mind-bender certainly makes things easier. There are only a few that seem impossible to figure out, though you might end up solving them on your own anyway. The use of hint coins found scattered throughout the game tries to help with the solution; however, in more than one occasion I found these hints to be almost useless. Without a doubt, there are areas that become challenging, so one has to be armed with patience when this is the case. Luckily, you can save the game at anytime, and you can also skip difficult puzzles and leave them for later.
This game doesn’t include some of the things Professor Layton and The Curious Village did, such as the jigsaw puzzle where you put together the missing pieces, or the room-furnishing feature. Instead, there’s a hamster puzzle where you use certain items you find to tease him and make him run around; the poor guy is overweight, so he needs a good workout in order to be fit! This mini-game is undoubtedly cute, though I found it to be a little out of touch with the rest of the game, and it’s also rather slow.
There’s also a mini-game that has you gather all the parts of a camera and put them together. Finally, the Tea Set lets you experiment with ingredients you collect in order to brew delicious and unique tea blends. These blends will have a different outcome as far as mood and health is concerned. Other than that, if you open the professor’s trunk, you’ll find the same features: the journal, which reminds you were you were at in the story, the mysteries, which gives you the background about each object found, the puzzle index, which lets you have another take at them, and the save button.
One thing that makes Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box more valuable than the previous title is the extra amount of puzzles; it contains 150 of them, to be exact. On top of that, players will be able to download 33 other puzzles in the weeks following the game’s release. This is a great plus if you have your DS/DSi hooked up to the Internet.
Some might think this kind of game is only for fans of the point-and-click genre; however, there’s a lot more to this series than that. The puzzles are very engaging and perfectly solvable, the story flows with ease and keeps you interested throughout, and the controls on the DS are very smooth. I can’t see why anyone would hate the game except for the fact that it makes you think. It’s made for thinking minds with a nice amount of patience. If you’re not scared of simple math problems, logic puzzles, riddles, and the likes, pick up this game and enjoy, because you’re in for a treat!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
The hand drawn game design is utterly pleasing and unique; if it wasn’t for the lack of animations, the visuals would be just perfect. 4.5 Control
Tap and play… as simple as that. The use of the stylus to solve the different puzzles is very practical. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The game has a quality soundtrack, though is not very varied. However, voice over work makes up for it. There’s a lot of it, and it sounds great. 4.2
If you’re into mind-bending puzzle games, this is a good choice. There are over 150 puzzles and riddles within the game, and 33 more will become available via download. It’ll take you a while to complete, and the story is entertaining. Just keep in mind there’s not much replay value once you know the solutions.
4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.