Professor Layton and the Diabolical BoxESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer: Level 5
Over 150 brain teasers
New puzzles offered weekly over Nintendo WiFi
Touch Screen compatible
With a title like Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box I half expected there be a trick in opening the game case. This second game is a continuation of the Professor Layton series on Nintendo DS. The Professor and his apprentice Luke are boarding a mysterious train in search of a cursed artifact that is perhaps responsible for the death of Professor Layton’s mentor. So how does this sequel fair?
Visually, Diabolical Box looks identical to its predecessor with the only difference being some different visual cues when you click on something or someone and there is a visual indicator that let you know if there is a new puzzle or just information. The game has a very cartoony look to it, and at first glance it seems somewhat geared towards the younger crowd. The artwork and environments are good looking though and very detailed. Just don’t expect much going on during gameplay. This is ok though since it does not detract from the gameplay as the game’s focus is on its puzzles, not fancy graphics. Cut scenes are played out in full motion video, which is nice. The frequency of these has increased since the first game too. In stark contrast, most of the actual gameplay consists of screens that are static so there are no moving characters or many animations. Overall the visuals are pleasing and should not disappoint anyone who plays this game.
Sound-wise the game is a mixed bag. The game’s conversations play out mostly in text format. I imagine that this is due to the limitations of the DS storage medium; however I know that other games have managed a fair amount of voice work. Overall the total amount of voice work is increased from the first game but there is little voice acting except for cut scenes and occasional important plot moments and character introductions. The music, however, seems unchanged from the first game. I found myself getting extremely tired of it repeating over and over in the first game so I was disappointed not to have a new or different musical tune to annoy me this time. There is little other to talk about in terms of sound in this game. While I feel these criticisms are valid, I tend to give them less weight because the game is so much about the puzzles and less about how it looks and sounds.
With the news of his mentor’s death at the hands of a cursed artifact, Professor Layton and his apprentice Luke set off on a search to find and solve its mystery. Along the way they explore several different locales as they travel aboard a mysterious train called the Molentary Express.
Much like the first Professor Layton game on DS, this one plays much like a point and click adventure. Using the stylus, you can either search your surroundings by touching the screen or move from area to area by doing the same thing. I strongly recommend using the stylus over your finger because the increased precision will allow you to find the various puzzles, hint coins, and other things hidden in each environment.
Puzzles are the meat of the game whose difficulty is rated in terms of “picarats”. These basically act as your score. The more picarats a puzzle is worth, the more difficult it is rated. Get a puzzle wrong and you will be docked a few picarats on your next attempt. Thankfully the game only docks you picarats for your first two attempts so if you are really stuck on a puzzle and have to make multiple attempts you will still get a certain number of picarats when you finally get it right. Achieving certain picarat levels will unlock additional content within the game.
The puzzles are for the most part well thought out and balanced. While I found a few puzzles that looked suspiciously similar to the previous game there were plenty of new and original ones to make up for this. Puzzles are introduced with a quick text explanation. It is a good idea to read each puzzle intro very carefully as there are often hints included in the description and they are the puzzles can often be pretty devious. Quickly scanning the explanations, which I was guilty of quite a bit, results in missed opportunities.
Interacting with the various NPC’s that you meet in the game and completing the puzzles provides you forward progresses in the story. If you happen to overlook a puzzle, there is an area of the game that allows you to see which ones you’ve missed and you can then try them out. This is also a nice touch because you will definitely miss at least a few puzzles.
Also hidden around the environments are hint coins which you can use when trying to solve a puzzle. Each puzzle has three hints available. The first hint I found pretty much useless and often had to spend at least two hint coins when stuck. The third and final hint pretty much gives the puzzle away. This is nice when you are really, really stuck on something, but beware of how good a hint it is before taking it if you want to keep things challenging.
A welcome addition to puzzle solving this time around is the inclusion of a “memo” function. This basically adds a transparent overlay onto the puzzle screen that you can write on without messing up the puzzle. This really helps if you need to do some quick math or something to help you visualize a possible solution. I give Level 5 high marks for adding this feature into the fold.
As you progress through the game you will also find and unlock various items that are for use in three mini-games. While I won’t ruin what they are, once completed they can help your progress in the story and are fun evolutions of the mini-games from the first game. I found the game’s story arc to be a lot of fun and really appreciated the changing environments. You will not be limited to a single town and there’s some clever plot twists for those that have played and completed the first game.
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