Puzzle solving games are usually plagued with a stale and lifeless story that has little to no relation with what you’re playing on screen.
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box combines solid puzzle solving elements with a charming storyline to make it appealing to fans of the original as well as new comers to the series.
If you’re new to the Professor Layton series, it won’t be hard to slip on your detective hat and dive into the various towns and puzzle-happy characters. When we first are re-acquainted with Professor Hershel Layton and his protégé Luke Triton, their ‘father-son’ relationship works surprisingly well with the occasional life lessons that the professor provides to his student.
We find out at the beginning of the game that the death of the professor’s mentor has some relation to the mysterious “Diabolical Box”, which is said to bring death to anyone who opens it. It’s from here that, with a few clues, the Professor and Luke are set on the trail to locate the box while acquiring a few extra mysteries to solve along the way. Taking rides on the eerie Molentary Express to equally odd towns and villages really helps to mix up locations, which can sometimes become frustrating if you lose track of where to go next.
Each location has a generous amount of puzzles and secrets to uncover, with the 2D illustrated backgrounds always looking beautiful on both of the DS’ screens. The game’s art style, although appearing to be a set within British towns and other locations, still has a distinct Japanese flare to it. There’s still a fair share of people with huge noses or impossibly long arms which really helps The Diabolical Box‘s tone not to get stale too early.
The success of the first Professor Layton game with eastern and western audiences seems to have inspired Level-5 to not alter its winning formula. Solving puzzles in The Diabolical Box is obviously a key part in playing the game. Like the original, earning picarats as you progress through the games plethora of puzzles is a very rewarding experience. The feeling of accumulating your first 1000 picarats, similar to the xbox achievements system, feels surprisingly fun.
As you’ll be solving a lot of puzzles, variety is key in making sure that players will want to find the puzzles, and not feel as though they’re a chore. There isn’t a lot of repetition in The Diabolical Box, with only two or three puzzles ever making more than one appearance, and even when they do, they are reiterated in a way which keeps them fresh. Puzzles range from finding a lost son on a train to solving a vampire mystery. Fans of the original game will be thankful to know that there seems to be no matchstick puzzles in sight.
The difficulty level in The Diabolical Box varies from instant solutions to lengthy brain teasing. It can be frustrating attempting a particularly hard puzzle with no idea what to do, particularly when no assistance is gained from the (usually useful) hint system. Resorting to hints is usually helpful in difficult to solve puzzles, however, with some of the easier puzzles with a “look outside the box” kind of answer: “try to look at the entire picture” doesn’t really cut it as a ‘hint’ when you’ve been staring at the same puzzle for far too long.
To aid you further on your puzzle solving adventure is the added feature “memo”. This mode lays a sheet of virtual tracing paper over the touch screen allowing for some quick calculations or drawing in connecting lines for puzzles that seem to have been designed with this in mind. It’s a really neat implementation which adds a lot of practical use when solving maze, or shape based puzzles.
The hundreds of well thought out puzzles attempting to be connected with the rich narrative do feel a little disjointed though. Although some do coincide with the game’s story line, more often than not actually being presented with a puzzle from random townspeople or the Professor exclaiming “That reminds me of a puzzle!” makes the puzzles that aren’t directly involved with the narrative progression feel a little pointless.
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box doesn’t exactly bring anything tremendously new that the original didn’t. Although the puzzles do occasionally connect to the narrative, the majority do not, making them feel a little out of place to anyone sucked in by the story. However, the addition of some quirky mini games, a charming and cleaver storyline with near flawless voice acting, and full motion cut scenes will keep gamers coming back for more as they solve puzzle after puzzle.
Beautiful scenery, and some of the best animated cutscenes on the platform make the visuals top notch.
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Professor Layton's puzzles are enjoyable and rewarding to solve, however navigating around towns can become a little tiresome.
Excellent voice acting is let down by looped puzzle solving music, which can be frustrating after long sessions.
There are some collectables, but the main storyline should keep most players intrigued untill the end.
Professor Layton And The Diabolical will certaintly please fans of the original, as well as newcomers seeking a solid puzzle solving experience.