Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box Review
Professor Layton took the DSís pint-sized world by storm in the summer of 2008 when he and his youthful apprentice Luke transported us to a certain Curious Village. The experience left us begging for more of the good ProfessorĎs singular brand of parable and puzzlement. Luckily, developer Level 5 enjoyed it as much as we did--or at least enough to revisit our favorite top-hatted sleuth. In Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, gamers must once again assist Layton and Luke as they go in pursuit of the legendary Elysian Box. The game begins with the mysterious death of Laytonís mentor, Dr. Schrader who has died while looking for the box. While investigating Schraderís death, Layton and Luke are led aboard the luxury train the Molentary Express, and are soon caught up in a mystery that would baffle Agatha Christie.
Fans of the Curious Village will feel right at home in the Diabolical Box. (Ha! That sounds wrong.) Gameplay is almost identical to that of the previous title, consisting mainly of Layton and Luke walking around talking to people and investigating locations. As gamers explore the environment by tapping the screen with the stylus, puzzles are triggered by objects or by people with a seemingly superhuman enthusiasm for brainteasers. The gameís puzzles come in all the familiar varieties: shape recognition, logic, sliding tiles and those math-based word problems you hated so much in grade school. They can be tried as many times as you like, with help from coins found in the environment that allow you to buy up to three hints to the solution. Successful completion of puzzles grants you a score in ďpicaratsĒ, points that which when gathered in large quantities, unlock bonuses such as more challenging puzzles and game art.
The similarities with the previous game donít stop at the core gameplay. Several characters from the Curious Village return, including young Flora, Scotland Yardís Inspector Chelmey, Granny Riddleton and Laytonís arch-nemesis, Don Paolo. Also, once youíve left the Molentary Express, the environment becomes very familiar. Much of the story takes place in the quaint village of Folsense, the inhabitants of which appear to be enthralled by some sort of mass hallucination. As in the Curious Village, the rustic town is overshadowed by a noblemanís castle and a mysterious tower, this time rumored to house a bloodthirsty vampire.
In addition to similar gameplay, characters and settings in the Diabolical Box sport the same great character design and hand-drawn animation look of the Curious Village. The cutscenes in particular are extremely well done, include some surprising action sequences and are the main source of the gameís charm. Not so charming are the voices, which are unfortunate holdovers from the first game. The voiceover for the peripheral characters isnít bad, but both Professor Layton and Luke have some of the worst English accents in the history of bad accents.
It's fairly obvious that the similarities between the Curious Village and the Diabolical box are almost overwhelming but there are a few notable differences. For one, the minigames have changed. In the Curious Village, players collected furniture to decorate Layton and Lukeís rooms, affecting the charactersí happiness ratings. This mechanic has been replaced in the Diabolical Box by a tea-brewing minigame wherein players gather herbal ingredients and experiment by mixing them until they find recipes that work. Successful recipes can then be served up to Layton, Luke and various ailing townspeople who may give information or objects in return for their refreshment. Other new minigames are the camera, which players rebuild as they find the parts scattered around town and an obese hamster in need of a personal trainer. Once you've trained him to be a jock, this hilariously arbitrary hamster takes the place of the mechanical dog of the previous game, sniffing out hint coins for you.
All in all, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is a slightly weaker, if no less charming version of the first game. The story could definitely use a stronger dose of imagination and in some ways, feels unfinished. The return of familiar characters emphasizes this disorganized quality because their appearances are for the most part, pointless. They jump into the story and back out of it without having any real purpose and once theyíve left theyíre often never mentioned again. The gameís puzzles are almost identical to those of the first game (similar concepts dressed up in different graphics) and they also feel as if their difficulty has been dialed down a notch or two, perhaps to broaden the gameís audience.
While the game isnít particularly inventive, thereís still fun to be had, not to mention the many unlockable bonus modes, the ability to revisit unsolved puzzles at Granny Riddletonís shack and in a stroke of marketing genius, a Top Secret mode that requires passwords from both the previous Professor Layton and the one thatís not even out yet. With its clever combination of stories and brainteasers, The Diabolical Box has every indication of being merely the second in a potentially endless series of entertaining Professor Layton titles.