IGN Review of Professor Layton & the Diabolical Box
It's been more than a year and a half since I played and reviewed Professor Layton and the Curious Village. His first adventure was a great Nintendo DS offering that mixed brain teasing puzzles with a turn of the century European mystery. The professor's a megahit in Japan and he's still trying to gain in popularity here – not that he would ever admit it, he's a modest gentleman, after all. The sequel, Professor Layton and The Diabolical Box, continues the exploits of the main character and his trusty apprentice sidekick, and because the sequel is a "more of the same stuff" continuation, a lot – nay, everything – that I said about the original will apply to Professor Layton's Volume 2 adventure. Which means more of a good time.
Even though this is the second game in the series, Level-5 treats it as a standalone experience. If you were one of the few people who skipped out on Curious Village, you won't be in the dark with The Diabolical Box because the designers and script writers do a fantastic job reintroducing you to the characters. The story – a mysterious item called the Elysian Box has killed one of the Professor's colleagues and sends him on a mystery through multiple villages across Europe – is incredibly engrossing even if some of the clues become obvious to the player before they do the Professor.
And that's exactly what I love most about the Professor Layton series: the presentation. The game's Japanese developed but the art designers go with a more European flavor for the game's art style – a little anime flavor sneaks in there, which is unavoidable considering the territory, but I really enjoy the non-traditional animation style for a Japanese-developed game. The full-motion cutscenes are incredibly well produced, and there are plenty of them throughout the course of the 12-hour adventure. It's no wonder why the developer has expanded the Professor Layton series into feature films in Japan: I would totally watch an hour and a half of the Professor as he works his magic, especially if it looks this good and is acted as well as it is in the DS games.
It is disappointing that this awesome presentation doesn't extend all the way through the experience. Cartridge space is a premium, after all, and professional-grade animation is a premium that the team might not have been able to afford. So for most of the story the tale of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is told through more traditional "talking head" cutscenes. Much of these cutscenes continue the superbly acted voiceovers, but it's awkward to hear the audio cut out for no other reason than there was no recorded dialogue for those spoken words. Again, it must have been a cartridge space compromise.
But the meat of the game is the puzzle solving. Exactly as it was done in Curious Village, the core gameplay of Diabolical Village is to wander around in a point-and-click style interface and solve puzzles that happen to catch Professor Layton's fancy. These puzzles can simply appear as the Professor reminisces about an item that he encounters, or when he meets up with someone in his adventure that has something he wants. Professor Layton's world is chock full of mind bending puzzles, and in The Diabolical Box there are close to 150 puzzles throughout the course of the game's 12+ hour adventure. The game gives you some sense of replay value in the form of unlocking the puzzles outside of the main quest, but this is almost entirely pointless as once you've solved the puzzle you know the answer. Many puzzles are multiple choice -- some which only have two choices – so these are simply useless once you've figured out the solution.
But Diabolical Box does add a few cool evergreen puzzles into the mix. Early in the quest you'll come into possession of a chef's hamster. Throughout the quest you'll earn items for this hamster, which is a puzzle in disguise: the challenge is to get the hamster to exercise, and by placing items in his path he'll be attracted to them and start walking. The task: try to get him to walk as many steps as you can to make him all fit. And, like the previous game, you can connect your game to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service to unlock puzzles on a weekly basis.
The sheer variety of the puzzles ensures that the adventure doesn't get boring. While you'll certainly encounter repeat designs, these repeats are few and far between, and many times when they are repeated they're supplemental challenges that don't need to be solved to finish the quest.
Because this is a standalone game that doesn't really stray very far from the established formula of Professor Layton and the Curious Village, if you did happen to skip over the first game in favor of Diabolical Box, it won't feel like a step backwards to revisit the original game if you decide you want more. The puzzles in Diabolical Box are just as challenging and are completely different in designs and subject matter, so you won't really experience any repeats.
But like the original game, Diabolical Box has the same design "flaw" of being able to cheat very, very easily: you have the ability to solve the puzzle with mistakes and learn the solution, then reset the system and restart that save file to solve the puzzle with the learned knowledge without penalty. The fact that you have to sift through a recap of the story's events might be discouragement enough – almost like an Animal Crossing-like Mr. Resetti – but the cheating ability is there regardless. I will say that was less apt to cheat in the second game for my review because I was simply enjoying the storyline – I didn't care that my score was being docked for mistakes.
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