Saturday, 29 August 2009


Title: Professor Layton and The Diabolical Box
Developer: Level-5
Publisher: Level-5 (JP), Nintendo (NA/PAL)
Year: 2007 (JP), 2009 (NA/PAL)

Two years year ago, Professor Layton and The Curious Village was released in Japan to the delight of puzzle-lovers everywhere. A year later it was released in English, allowing a good number more of the gaming population to try their hand at it. Of course, the game's 'TO BE CONTINUED' screen at the end left many eagerly awaiting the sequel, so fast forward a year and a half later...

My excitement for Professor Layton and The Diabolical Box was only heightened by the fact that it feels like we're in the middle of a game drought, combined with the fact that I had been looking forward to playing more games about charming English gentlemen.

And I couldn't wait for more mind-breaking puzzles, of course.

You see, the Professor Layton series is based off the Metal Gymnastics series of puzzle books by Akira Tago, which are reportedly very popular in Japan. Many of the puzzles from the books have been directly transposed into a more interactive form for the DS and as a result, the game is chock-full of logic and lateral thinking puzzles, designed to really make you think.

A puzzle's difficulty is measured in 'picarats', which acts as the player's score throughout the game. The more difficult a puzzle is, the more picarats it is worth. If a puzzle is too difficult, the player has the opportunity to unlock a hint using a hint coin, which are limited in number and found scattered throughout the game world.

Additionally, some of these puzzles are directly related to the plot and require you to solve them in order to progress through the storyline, but a large portion of them are optional. Solving some of these optional puzzles give you items such as camera pieces, a hamster toy, a diary key or a tea ingredient, which are used for the mini-games. Completing these minigames means that the player can unlock bonus puzzles.

I suppose puzzles like the ones presented in The Diabolical Box are either a love-hate affair, but in my case, I thoroughly enjoyed having to think each puzzle through carefully. It's a refreshing change from games in which shooting everything that moves is key. The hints make perfect sense, and the game has the decency to explain the solution to you in greater detail when a puzzle is completed. This is especially useful if you've managed to solve a puzzle by luck.

I only have a slight problem with The Diabolical Box, and that is the slight imbalance in puzzle difficulty. There are quite a few puzzles that seem easier than the number of picarats they are worth and conversely, some supposedly easy puzzles that are challenging. But that could just be me.

As in The Curious Village, Layton is back in The Diabolical Box to solve another mystery, this time concerning a strange artifact called the Elysian Box. After receiving a letter from Layton's mentor telling him he has acquired the Box, Layton and Luke set out to meet him, only to find him dead and the Box missing. The two of them decide to find the Elysian Box as well as solve the mysteries surrounding it.

As you would expect from any good adventure games, there are several plot twists, many of which I didn't see coming at all. The characters are charming and are each distinctive in their own right with their own catchphrases and mannerisms. Professor Layton himself is especially notable, managing to be no less than a total badass who just happens to be polite and likes drinking tea.

Professor Layton and The Diabolical Box is a very special game, one that is sure to appeal to a large audience. With its numerous puzzles, loveable cast and exciting storyline, anyone who is enthusiastic about games that require a bit more brainpower is sure to love it.

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