Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (Nintendo DS) - Review by Andrew
The DS now has a handful of killer titles under its belt but, while the likes of Brain Training brought the handheld to a wider audience, it was arguably last year's Professor Layton that made the console even more desirable. The Curious Village mixed engaging puzzles with an expertly scripted storyline and you simply had to play through to its conclusion. We are now promised a huge six installments featuring Professor Layton and his young sidekick Luke, but can this really be as good as the first?
If you've in some way managed to pick the Diabolical Box off the shelf without encountering the first adventure, fear not, as the scriptwriters have managed to craft a plot which makes this game just as endearing as the first, with the main players introduced in such a way that everyone will feel familiar with the world they inhabit almost instantly. The story takes place through a number of European Villages with the Molentary Express your mode of travel. The gameplay, which unfolds as you point and click your way around the various locations, is all about exploration and puzzle solving. As with the first outing, the sheer variety is very impressive and the developers have taken steps to make the whole thing far more accessible because the earlier puzzles are significantly less taxing than the later ones. There are around 150 of them too, meaning you'll spend some time solving mysteries with the Professor and Luke.
The inside of the Professor's Bag holds a few extra surprises too, so while you still have the ability to unlock extras and collect components for a few other puzzles you also have a hamster. Yes, we did say a hamster. You've inherited this from the train's chef earlier on in the game for no apparent reason other than the fact that its previous owner is having trouble caring for the overweight animal. It turns out this is yet another mini-game with the objective being to get the hamster to exercise. This is done by placing a collection of props (also collected on your journey) within the hamster's vision to encourage it to travel around its cage.
Other than this you'll also be treated to a rather odd tea making game and, of course, downloadable puzzles every week for some time.
Absolutely all touch-screen but a delight to navigate because of it.
The Diabolical Box looks every bit as good as the first outing and while it's not a fully animated game, some clever moving backgrounds and spot animation do make it feel that way. There's still plenty of FMV included to push the story along but it's the overall design and attention to detail that really separates this series from your run of the mill adventure. The interface deserves a mention being expertly designed and, as a result, easy to access and use.
While the soundtrack appears to be identical to the first Professor Layton it does seem like this game features far more voice acting. This is no bad thing as all the main players deliver their lines in such a way that you'll be eager to listen to what everyone has to say.
The second outing utilizes exactly the same mechanics as the first. The key is to explore as much as possible. This is because the puzzles are sometimes located in the most unexpected of places and while most are linked to characters you meet, along the way, other's can be hidden in walls or the smallest detail. Actually solving the puzzles can require several different interactions. You may have to input a number or letters, circle an item or even move objects around to place them in the correct order. Whatever it is, there's always enough help to guide you on your way and, failing that, you could always spend your coins (which are also hidden just about everywhere) on hints.
While The Diabolical Box delivers just what most fans of the original expected, you will find yourself enjoying this much more than the original. This is because not only do you have the same characters and immersive story, but the learning curve is much gentler allowing more gamers to enjoy what the majority of DS owners have been talking about for some time now. The Diabolical Box is the second of a planned six installments for the Professor and if this is anything to go by the future is looking very bright indeed for DS owners.
Pro: The same mix of absorbing storytelling and puzzles as the first outing
Con: The same mix of absorbing storytelling and puzzles as the first outing
Final score: 8.7