Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Level-5
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 08/24/09
Japan 11/29/07
Official Site: English Site

Graphics: 95%
Sound: 85%
Gameplay: 95%
Control: 90%
Story: 85%
Overall: 90%
Reviews Grading Scale
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The beautifully lit city of Folsense.
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Many puzzles logically connect to the main plot in this iteration.
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That poor old man is no exception.
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Use these toys to manipulate an obese hamster into losing weight so that he may serve you.
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Kyle Miller
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
Kyle Miller

If Professor Layton is moving at 3 mph heading east, and his apprentice Luke is moving 2 mph heading north, and they start at the same point, after how many minutes will they no longer be able to see each other if visibility is one mile? Oh, wait a minute; I'm supposed to be writing a review, not another puzzle. I apologize; Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box changes your pattern of thinking. Puzzle-solving logic secretly seeps into your mind and before long, you dream in puzzles. This infectious quality indicates an effective game that exceeds mediocrity and enters the soul. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box does just that.

Following up last year's Professor Layton and the Curious Village, The Diabolical Box features similar gameplay with a new mystery. Bewilderment surrounds the elusive Elysian Box, an artifact of unknown origins and power. All who open this malicious box, they say, die on the spot. When Professor Layton's fellow academic Dr. Schrader ends up dead after an encounter with the box, it's up to Layton and Luke, his boy apprentice, to solve the case. Their only lead: a train ticket to nowhere.

The Diabolical Box has Professor Layton and Luke traveling via train across the countryside, far from their beloved London, and into the clutches of yet another mysterious town. Along the way, they meet plenty of colorful, adorably deformed characters who often hold fragments of clues that slowly begin to make a logical whole. As a sequel, there are several returning characters from the original and players will likely glean more from the story after completing The Curious Village.

The story told throughout The Diabolical Box holds up rather well for the fifteen or so hours it takes to finish, although the final reveal comes across as an unsatisfying conclusion to a suspenseful journey. The characters met along the way provide entertaining dialogue and situations, once again bolstered by Level-5's masterful localization. A fair amount of thought went into creating the story of The Diabolical Box, but the explanation for many of the strange events could have used more thought. Despite that, the story possesses enough charm, wit, and surprises to justify its telling.

The Diabolical Box plays just like the first Professor Layton game: explore, find a puzzle, solve the puzzle, and repeat. There are, however, several noteworthy differences. This time, Professor Layton visits several different locations, including a train and two villages. This makes the adventure feel lengthier and more satisfying, as if Layton and Luke really have to work to solve the mystery behind the Elysian Box. Perhaps the most exciting change, however, involves story related puzzles. A prime weakness of The Curious Village lay in its lack of story-relevant puzzles. Most were thrown in as contrived diversions without relating to the events unfolding in the story. While many puzzles in The Diabolical Box are simple diversions, many also fit into the story and even optional puzzles often make connections to conversation or the environment.

The optional minigames have also changed in The Diabolical Box. One has Luke caring for an overweight hamster by using toys to trick the fat beast into exercising. Getting the hamster to walk the required number of steps is a puzzle in itself, made awkward by 3D graphics that don't belong in a Professor Layton title. The second minigame involves piecing together a camera that later brings about fun (and astonishingly difficult) find-the-difference pictures, while the third requires a teapot. Professor Layton and Luke must team up and create twelve blends of tea to serve to picky townsfolk. Whereas in The Curious Village the minigames were somewhat insubstantial, this time they feel more developed and satisfying to the point where players can even add a couple of hours onto the game clock by mixing teas and studying pictures.

Some things haven't changed from the first game, however, such as the excellent array of challenging puzzles. Just as he did in The Curious Village, Professor Layton has over a hundred puzzles to find and solve as he explores enigmatic locales in search of clues. Conversation and tapping on objects are the most common methods for finding puzzles, although players might uncover hint coins in some of those objects, to be used when a puzzle demands more than one can offer intellectually. There are very few poorly written or designed puzzles, perhaps four or five at most out of 153, and the variety, challenge, and fun factor are perfect. Furthermore, few puzzles are rehashed from The Curious Village, although Level-5 couldn't let go of those pesky block-sliding conundrums. Solving a puzzle earns the player picarats, which unlock bonuses when amassed in the thousands. The bonuses are mostly unremarkable, although character profiles make for entertaining reads. The best reward, however, is the satisfaction of solving a nigh-impossible puzzle without the aid of hints.

Thankfully, Level-5 retained the beautiful hand drawn art style seen in The Curious Village for the sequel. The intricate environments and stylized characters evoke a perfect atmosphere for quirky mystery solving. The Diabolical Box features even more locations and characters than before, all expertly designed and drawn, especially the stunning and resplendent city of Folsense. To make the package even more attractive, Level-5 includes a number of animated cutscenes sure to put a smile on the viewer's face.

Continuing the tradition of superb production values, Level-5 knows just what style of music fits with the graphical style. Somewhat disappointingly, The Diabolical Box borrows some music from the original, but does so appropriately and tastefully. Despite that, the soundtrack instills players with a sense of charm and mystery befitting the events on screen. The accordian, music box, and tinny piano are perfect companions to puzzle solving, although some players might find them repetitive. A dash of voice acting is included as well, all of good quality, but a bit more would have been welcome.

Level-5 changed just enough in Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box to keep the sequel fresh while maintaining the highlights of The Curious Village: excellent puzzles, beautiful art, appropriate music, a fun story, and a sense of whimsy. With the additions - multiple locations, story relevant puzzles, and improved minigames - The Diabolical Box might just surpass the original. Hopefully Professor Layton's other adventures will reach U.S. shores. Not only will we receive more great games, but we might also discover the key to the mystery everyone's dying to solve: what's under that hat?


© 2009 Level-5, Nintendo. All rights reserved.

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