Oct 18, 2011

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Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box Review

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box Review

*Originally published September 28, 2009. Republished here for your convenience.

After recently completing the original Professor Layton title, I was eagerly awaiting the US arrival of the second in the series, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. The sequel picks up where the first left off, as Layton receives a letter from his mentor mentioning the mysterious Elysian Box, said to kill all who dare open it. Fearing for his friend’s safety, Layton and Luke immediately set off to visit him.

So begins the second adventure of the famous puzzle-solving professor. But does this installment continue the magic of the first, or is it something best left unexplored?

Layton’s second mystery is very much like his first, and for the most part, everything Level-5 did right in the first game holds true for this one as well. While the team obviously made some effort to improve on certain flaws of the first title, many of them still remain.

The biggest positive improvement over the previous game is you finally have a use for those picarats you accumulate while solving puzzles, meaning getting that perfect score means more than just self-satisfaction. Once you complete the game, you can use your picarats to unlock bonus content, such as audio and character information. However, the game still does nothing to stop you from cheating by simply resetting and solving the puzzle correctly the first time, meaning those without shame can easily achieve a perfect picarat score on even the hardest puzzles.

Believe me, if you’re looking for a challenge, you will find it here this time around. Although story-wise Diabolical Box is independent enough of its predecessor that you can easily pick it up as your first jaunt into the series, due to the fact that the overall difficulty level of the puzzles has been drastically increased, it probably isn’t the best place for a beginner. Whereas the first game had puzzles that stayed around the 20-40 picarat level (higher difficulty equates to more picarats), with the hardest puzzle not exceeding 70, this time around, Level-5 has ramped things up a bit. Most puzzles in Diabolical Box will range more in the 30-60 picarat range, with 80 being the hardest in the story mode, and the bonus puzzles having a difficulty of up to 99.

As daunting as this may sound, it can be refreshing to have more challenging puzzles. However, the puzzle system is not without its flaws. For example, while the game has 153 puzzles (not counting mini-games and the weekly downloadable puzzles), you will see a lot more repetition than you did in Curious Village. For example, you will often encounter the same puzzle up to 5 or 6 times, with the only difference being increased difficulty. While it’s nice to see an incremental challenge, it means that when you boil it down, Diabolical Box ultimately has less puzzles than its predecessor. However, when you add the mini-games (which, unlike in Curious Village, all serve a purpose and are puzzles in themselves, whether its unlocking bonus material or helping you in the story mode), it seems like a small flaw in the long-run, as the game really has so much more content than Curious Villagedid.

You have 138 puzzles in the story mode and three mini-games, plus five bonus sections you unlock as you progress through the story itself, giving you another 15 puzzles. As before, you also have a downloadable puzzle each week, plus bonus material (unlocked with picarats), meaning you’ll have plenty to do even after you’ve reached the conclusion of the mystery.

Diabolical Box also includes an increased amount of voice acting and cutscenes than the first game, which helps liven the game up a bit. As always, you have an engaging mystery and an interesting cast of characters, although as before, some characters seem to serve as little more than plot devices. I suppose that’s to be expected, as the real draw of the game is the puzzle solving aspect.

The game has two flaws that I have yet to mention, which are really minor, but that I feel I should bring up because they did bother me while playing. My first gripe was that although this game utilizes the same navigation system as the first, where you are presented with the scenery and in order to move you must click the shoe in the lower right hand corner, which will then pop up arrows on-screen so you can go to the next screen or enter a building, for some reason it would accept your move even if you had not selected the shoe. This means that while you are searching the screen for hint coins (which you can use to get hints if you are stuck in a puzzle), you will more than likely accidentally end up entering a building or moving to the next screen. I’m not sure why they made this change, and I hope that it is fixed by the time we receive the third game, as it makes hunting for hint coins unnecessarily annoying. The other flaw was this game utilizes a lot of “find the difference” type puzzles, in which you are presented with two pictures and you must find the minor differences between them. The problem I had with these is that sometimes the details were very small, and it would have been nice to have had a magnifying option to enlarge the pictures. Especially considering how the Layton games are particularly attractive to older gamers, I feel like this was an oversight that might make some of these puzzles more difficult (or even impossible) for some people to solve.

I found it a challenge in itself to score this game. On the one hand, overall flaws were few, with some problems from the first game remedied while some new, minor issues emerged. On the other hand, I enjoyed this game far more than the first one, and even with the repetition of puzzle types, the vastly increased content is a huge plus. Still, I found the ending (the mystery) very cheap and disappointing in a B-rated TV show kind of way, so that majorly damaged the game’s image for me. Still, it is a great game with some challenging and entertaining puzzles, and I certainly don’t think it deserves anything less of a score than its predecessor. I definitely recommend this game to puzzle fans or those who enjoyed the first episode. However, if you haven’t yet tried Curious Village, you may want to play that before you dive into Diabolical Box.

 

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
Platform: Nintendo DS
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 08/24/09
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10+
MSRP: $29.99


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