Professor Layton and The Diabolical Box
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Game Reviewed: Professor Layton and The Diabolical Box
Developer: Level 5
Platform: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E10+
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Professor Layton made his stateside debut in Professor Layton and the Curious Village, a charming puzzle-based adventure following the charming professor and his plucky apprentice, Luke, as they attempted to solve a mystery. Now, a while after those events, Layton and Luke get a letter from the Professor’s mentor, Dr. Schrader. It seems he has found the Elysian Box, an artifact said to kill all those who open it. Concerned, the Professor and Luke rush to the Doctor’s apartment… but they are too late. Dr. Schrader is dead on the floor, and it seems that someone stole the box! The only clue is a ticket with no destination for the Molentary Express, a luxury train. Determined to find out who killed the poor doctor, the sleuthing pair boards the Molentary Express: and thus begins a brain-teasing chain of interesting events, told both by in-game dialogue and fully animated movies.
The core gameplay in Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box has really not changed at all from its predecessor. It mainly consists of two parts: exploring and puzzle-solving. Exploring is how you get from place to place: the screen displays a scene, be it a luxurious train car with landscape rushing by out the window, or a town, windows and street lights illuminating the night. You can move from one location to another, and in each location is something important, be it the hidden hint coins (more on them later) or people you can talk to.
But the main draw of the Professor Layton games is the puzzles. There are 150 puzzles in Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (not counting the weekly puzzles downloadable over Nintendo Wi-Fi), some of which the player must finish to progress and others they can simply pass over if they so desire. There is an incredible variety: many puzzles you may recognize, and there are many you will not. Each puzzle is given a difficulty rating based on how many picarats it is worth: the more picarats, the harder the puzzle, and the more picarats you unlock the more bonuses that will be unlocked. Also, during the exploration periods, hint coins will be hidden throughout the landscape. During puzzles, you can use hint coins to get a hint from the game: each puzzle has three hints you can unlock. Though the first one is rarely helpful, the second and third hints usually do a good job of helping you along. And do not worry: if you make a habit of looking for hint coins, you will not need to worry about running out.
The game does a good job of inserting the puzzles into the game in a logical context: it made sense for people to randomly give you puzzles in Curious Village (for story reasons that I will not disclose), but in this different setting that would not make sense. Thankfully, Level 5 did a good job of inserting puzzles into various tasks throughout the story, so you will rarely wonder why that random guy on the street gave you a puzzle to do. And there are many optional mini-games you can do, such as putting together a broken camera, experimenting with different tea recipes, and helping to slim down a morbidly obese hamster. These optional mini-games are not required, but completing them will benefit you in some way throughout the game.
Like the first game, Layton’s latest adventure weaves an interesting and complex mystery tale with plenty of surprises, danger, and… well, mystery. The animated movies are well made, the voice acting is quite good (over-the-top English accents never get old), and the music consists of some new songs, as well as some returning pieces. The story, overall, is a more emotional and exciting one than that of Curious Village: those who enjoy good storytelling in their games should have fun with this one.
What Parents Need to Know
Layton and Luke discover Dr. Schrader lying on the floor, presumably dead. There are a couple perilous situations in which no one is injured. Two people fight with swords: there are no injuries. None of the gameplay involves violence in any way.
There is no objectionable language in Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box.
A minor character is seen conversing with a woman in front of a lavish building that was earlier said to be inappropriate for someone of Luke’s age. When you talk to her, she sometimes mentions a “show” and invites the two into the building, an offer Layton and Luke refuse. These conversations are slightly suggestive, but never blatant.
There are rumors that the Elysian Box is cursed. Rumors in one town claim that a vampire lives in a nearby castle. Though I will not give the story away, I will say that all explanations are natural: there is no magic or spirituality involved in this game.
Some alcoholic drinks are mentioned. Hallucinogenic gas is discussed at one point.
A Child’s Perspective
The target audience of this game really is not children: despite content fitting of the E10+ rating, the difficulty of many of the puzzles would make this game frustrating for anyone younger than a teenager.
When I reviewed the first game in this series, I was impressed at the blend of storytelling and puzzle gameplay it managed to achieve. The sequel does not disappoint. It takes the same puzzle-based gameplay of the first, adds a few new features, and puts it all within an enjoyable mystery told with charming characters and some great animated sequences. Fans of the first game will definitely enjoy this one, as will anyone who enjoys a good brainteaser now and again. It is a bit darker, and has a couple little things in it that may up the age requirement a bit, but those too young to handle the very small amount of adult content probably can not handle the puzzles either.
And yes, Professor Layton’s hat and accent are still awesome.