Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is the second game in the Professor Layton series created mostly by Level-5's puzzle-obsessed Akihiro Hino.
Like the other games, the plot of Diabolical Box is driven by the Professor's need to solve an overarching mystery – this time around, it's the death of his friend and mentor. Accompanied by his protégé, Luke, the Professor sets off on a train ride that takes them to a charming countryside village and later to a strange and sinister town with a vampire problem.
The Puzzles In General: The characters in the Layton series may be colorful and well-drawn, but the puzzles are the star of the game. They range in variety from basic mazes to complex math and logic problems, but are always presented in a charming context that's not nearly as irritating to me as the Brain Age puzzles. Though several types of puzzle will repeat themselves with more difficult variations, the sheer number of puzzles in the game is impressive and it's always fun to discover a new variant on an old favorite.
The Puzzles On The Critical Path: Some of the puzzles in Diabolical Box are crazy-tough, even if you are a whiz at mathematics, chess and geometry. The good news, though, is that you won't encounter any insanely frustrating puzzles on the main story path. Think of how sad it would be if you couldn't reach the boss because that last logic puzzle was a Graduate Records Examination-class challenge and you're only in the second grade.
The Puzzles In The Bonus Sections: Completion is usually its own reward, but in the Layton games, it's also a ticket to even more fun stuff. While playing through the game, each puzzle solved rewards the player with picarats. The more picarats you earn throughout the game, the more bonus content you unlock when you beat the game. This plus the weekly puzzle downloads equals hours of extra fun beyond the main story path.
The Quality Of Everything Else: The puzzles dominate Diabolical Box, but the fully animated cut scenes, the voice acting and the setting are all high quality. It gives the game a layer of style and charm that blends all of the puzzles together into a great game instead of just an average DS brain-teaser pack.
The Hint System: It's always been a gripe of mine in the Latyon games that you can't choose which hint you want to unlock first. The way the system works only allows you to access the more valuable info after you've already shelled out hint coins for the first two hints that are usually totally obvious. It's a frustrating waste of hint coins.
Tedious Tea Set: Ironically, the tea set mini-game is the only thing about Layton that isn't my cup of tea. Throughout the game, you find or earn herbs that can be brewed three at a time into special teas or into vile concoctions that make Layton and Luke ill. Later, you start meeting characters that suffer from various ailments that can be cured by a specific herbal tea. Brewing tea for them doesn't really feel like a game so much as a chore, since the whole process is about trial-and-error instead of logic and you don't get picarats for finding the right tea. Compared to the other puzzles in Professor Layton's special chest like the camera assembly challenge (that then becomes a spot-the-difference mini-game) and the hamster training course, the tea set is definitely outclassed.
There are lot of puzzle games and brain-teaser packs out there for the Nintendo DS, but there's nothing quite like Layton. The puzzles might get crazy frustrating, or maybe you can't stand the British accents – but the experience of Diabolical Box is pleasant and rewarding. Like a nice cup of tea on a cold, wet day.
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box was developed by Level-5 and published by Nintendo for the DS. Released on August 24 for $34.99. Completed main story mode, trained the hamster to level 1, completed 7/9 camera challenges, brewed 7/12 teas, earned 3391 picarats.
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