Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box review

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
The Good:
  • Presentation is superb all around
  • Puzzles are well-made and satisfying, and nicely integrated during key moments in the story
  • Minigames are more engaging and contribute to fun meta-games
The Bad:
  • Repeated themes in puzzles
  • Story is ho-hum Saturday morning cartoon fare
  • Contrived motivation for characters wanting to puzzle at every whim
Our Verdict: Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box keeps the lovely European charm and challenging puzzles of its predecessor intact, with more enjoyable extras this time around. Just mind the particularly shallow story that only loosely ties it all together.

It may seem like an exaggeration, but when thinking of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, grandiose box-quote classifiers immediately come to mind. Things like “Best Adventure Game on DS” or “Best Puzzles in a Game” are right at the forefront of such superlatives. If you’ve played the wonderful Professor Layton and the Curious Village, however, you’ll know these aren’t just empty claims, and in the sequel you’ll find that, much like before, developer Level-5 has brought us a beautiful, polished, and challenging game.

But let’s say you’re new to the series, yet familiar with traditional adventure games. In that case, you may want to gently set aside the Layton series from the rest of the pack. They are essentially adventures in their own right, but this is a series where the puzzles are so prominent, so distinctly self-contained, and so clear and logical, the sense of immersion comes primarily from tackling each and every puzzle, outside of the story. There’s one of those as well, but these are games that shouldn’t even warrant a walkthrough, because they’re more of a personal test than standard adventure fare. It’s a confrontation between the puzzles and your mind, without the arbitrary point-and-guess element of many adventure games.

Oh, and another primer for those just joining in: cast all worries aside about the prospect of starting in on a sequel. Diabolical Box (or Pandora's Box as it's known in the UK) is more of a standalone episode, really; the only thing you’ll miss out on is a few nods to original cast members. As for our heroes, Professor Herschel Layton is an atypical archeologist/detective protagonist: a kind, gentlemanly sort with a proclivity for tea and puzzling. Like in Curious Village, Layton’s cutesy kid-detective chum Luke tags along, so expect many of the puzzles to derive from Layton and Luke puzzling one another.

Other than that, it’s a brand new storyline, this time concerning an ancient Elysian Box that supposedly kills those who open it. The Professor discovers it through his friend, Dr. Andrew Schrader, who sent a letter informing Layton that he now has the box (for research reasons, of course). He writes about the mystery surrounding it, feeling he’s on the cusp of something important. The letter also acts as a makeshift will, as he’s apparently going to open the box after sending the letter. With haste, Layton and his sidekick set out to Schrader’s address, anxious to find out if he’s even alive. As to be expected, mystery upon mystery unfolds after that.

Along with finding the coveted box, Layton stumbles upon a train ticket with no destination, which then leads him to a fancy and ornate train, which in turn takes him to a strange town to continue his investigation. Much more is unraveled, of course, and you’ll uncover new events and characters in a very linear fashion. Luckily, the stark linearity serves the experience well, giving the game a tight scope with the focus continually on its puzzles. If there’s any uncertainty about the plot details, it’s all well documented in the menu (Layton’s “trunk”) for you to peruse when the mood strikes. And with a brief recap every time you load a saved game, you’ll never, ever be confused, even if some time has passed since you played last.

For those who did play the original game (and I strongly recommend everyone does, even if it isn’t necessary), it’s all the same as before, more or less. Talk to characters, tap on a shoe to go from one area to the next, and expect a puzzle to pop up at any given moment. The difference is in the location. While Curious Village was mostly set in… well, a village, this time around you’ll visit several different villages, as well as trains, vast forests, and a huge castle, all making this game feel a little bit bigger. Not only that, the music is more varied to reflect the tone of your settings. The simple street musician accordion is still here, but there’s also dramatic strings and moody piano depending on your locale. Aside from the variety of environments, the look is very much the same: an odd yet lovable hybrid of European animation with a few elements borrowed from Japanese Anime.

The story plays out very much like it did in the first game, which is fine, but that once again means it lacks much depth as a result. You’ll meet dozens of characters in your travels, all of them quirky, yet slightly dull and simplistic. The same can even be said for Layton and Luke, which is really too bad. A sequel allows plenty of opportunity for some sort of character growth, but instead they remain merely singlemindedly inquisitive, cheery folk that are fixated on doing puzzles and solving things. And while there’s a travel brochure’s worth of Features! Locations! Extras! in this game, it almost feels like they are trying to distract you from the lack of a more cohesive story.

You see, the first Layton title had just as much charm, but there was an intangible extra: it had a little more heart, less cheese. It didn’t quite have the grace and personality of a Miyazaki film, but it was closer. Diabolical Box still has the charm, and tries to have heart, but something is lost in lieu of Trying Too Hard – seriously, this episode contains everything from sword fights to ghost towns to vampires, and its narrative seldom feels natural or engaging on its own (quite apart from the puzzles). Instead, it feels like a window-shopped sampling of characters and genres, with no real depth or focus to shape them all.

Continued on the next page...


What our readers think of Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box


Posted by emric on Jun 9, 2012

the series' wonderful charm only gets stronger with this sequel


another utterly charming game in the professor layton series of puzzle-adventures. the art direction, character designs and storytelling are all delightfully enticing. even without all the puzzles, this would be up with the best pure adventure titles on DS—...

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