Review – Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

September 9, 2009 — Leave a comment

Originally published in The Daily Toreador.

We’re students. We often feel as if the last thing we want to do in our free time is flex our brains.

But that shouldn’t be the case when a “Professor Layton” game is involved.

The good professor debuted here in the US on the Nintendo DS a couple of years ago with “Professor Layton and the Curious Village,” a game that received high critical praise but didn’t exactly set the sales charts on fire at first.

Developer Level 5 has tried again with “Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box,” and it’s even better than the first.

The game, like its predecessor, combines a fantastical mystery story – told with a very European art style – with over 150 logic puzzles. The story alone is interesting enough that you might want to play just to see where the plot goes next, but the brainteasers are really where the meat of the game is.

The 135 puzzles of the original game were great, but sometimes they felt repetitive and uninspired. For example, there were multiple puzzles that involved matchsticks, in which you would have to move one or two sticks to change one shape into another. Many people grew to hate them.

Not only are these puzzles gone entirely in the sequel, but the puzzles in general feel more varied and unique, despite there being more of them overall than in the original. Sure, there are plenty of word problems and riddles, but they can still be a joy to solve.

While the act of solving puzzles itself hasn’t changed much (you still play the game entirely on the touch screen) there are still minor improvements to the gameplay that are much appreciated. One of them is a “Memo” feature available in every puzzle, which lets you jot down notes and figures on top of the puzzle while you try to work out the solution.

Another major improvement is in the puzzles that are required to be solved. You don’t have to complete every single puzzle to complete the game (though you may want to anyway), and none of the especially hard puzzles are usually necessary to progress through the story.

As in the first game, “Diabolical Box” has support for the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, which provides new, free downloadable puzzles on a weekly basis, extending the replay value of the game.

There are some diversionary mini-games included too, but for the most part they aren’t too interesting. They include building a camera, training a fat hamster and brewing new forms of tea. Of these, camera building is probably the most intriguing while I found making tea rather boring.

I’ll be upfront: I love puzzles already. I was a Sudoku fiend when those first became popular, and my dad trained me to be a Tetris champ. So you could say that “Professor Layton” caters to me already.

However, I think the appeal of the “Professor Layton” series could extend beyond the typical gamer in a way that “Wii Fit” doesn’t, and that’s pretty special.

For example, my girlfriend, who doesn’t play many games, liked what she saw of “Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box” so much that she took my old DS and played through “Professor Layton and the Curious Village” in its entirety, and is now starting on the new game. The fact that she enjoys a video game as much as I do is very exciting for a nerd like me.

The series has become quite popular in its hometown of Japan, where there is a fourth game and a live action movie in the works. Here in North America, Nintendo has all but announced a release for the third game in the series here in 2010.

Unless you simply run in fear at the thought of riddles, mazes and brainteasers, I highly recommend you check out “Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box.” It can be some of the most fun people have with their Nintendo DS.

Britton Peele


Freelance video game critic for sites like GameSpot and GamesRadar. Amateur fantasy author.

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