Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (DS) Review

Let's kick off September with something big. Well, sales-wise big, I guess! It's our good friend Professor Layton and this time he's investigating the Elysian Box in Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box for the Nintendo DS!

This puzzle reminds me of a puzzle I know.


Professor Layton is no stranger to the world. The original game, the Curious Village, has sold millions worldwide. It's a certifiable hit without question. In Japan, the fourth installment of the series is readying its march. However, in North America and Europe, we're just seeing his second adventure with Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box for the Nintendo DS. Developed by Level 5 who is also known for a little-known series called Dragon Quest and published by Nintendo, the Diabolical Box is ready for players on this side of the pond to open.

The Diabolical Box in Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box refers to the Elysian Box. It is said the box is cursed. Whoever opens it is instantly and mysteriously killed. Dr. Schrader, an acquaintance of Professor Layton, seems to have had his life taken by this evil box. Now with the box missing and his friend dead, Professor Layton with his apprentice, Luke, aim to discover the truth of Schrader's death and the true powers of the Elysian Box. The story keeps you guessing up until the very satisfying conclusion. Dialogue is superb and supports that Nintendo of America's localization team is one of the most competent around. The writing is of top quality, and the puzzle descriptions usually help more than they hurt. Meanwhile, the story will have you scratching your head much like the many puzzles the game possesses, and both will give you the same "ah-ha" feeling after you've completed them.

The entire game is played with the stylus. In the game, Professor Layton and Luke will wander around various settings. This is done by tapping the shoe icon on the bottom right corner of the screen and choosing a direction to move. Each screen task the dastardly duo with gathering information and talking to various people for clues. Sometimes you won't be able to progress in
the game without talking to the right person or examining the right object. Of course, just opening conversation with a person isn't always the easiest way to secure information. Instead,
plenty of people you meet will want you to solve a puzzle. Solve the puzzle, and they'll tell you what they know. This process occurs on and on throughout the game eventually leading you to the next plot point. This can get annoying cycling through screen after screen to reach a faraway destination, but for the most part this process works.

As you might expect, puzzles are the main gameplay element to Professor Layton, and the Diabolical Box gives you them in spades. There's a wide variety of puzzles to solve. Some easy, some truly diabolical much like the Elysian box. There's puzzles asking which in a group is lying based on a set of clues, playing pin solitaire with a set of Chinese checkers, or shifting blocks around in a cramped space. Some people will find certain puzzles easier than others while different people might find the same puzzles difficult. For instance, I was great at the logic puzzles while those pesky arithmetic puzzles made me crack. Some puzzles you'll solve and still not understand how to reach the solution. Thankfully, the game reviews the logic behind each and every solution, some better than others. The point is that this game will make you feel frustrated when you can't solve a toughie, but when you do, the amount of joy and satisfaction you'll get will seem worth it. Three hints can be divulged to you by spending hint coins. These trinkets are found by tapping around random items in while exploring the train or town. You're essentially graded on well you solve a puzzle by the points you earn by completing it. Each time you give an incorrect solution the amount of points you can earn decreases. These points are used to unlock new content in the secrets menu such as the wonderful soundtrack, character voices, and movies.

There's over 150 puzzles in all to solve, many of which are optional. Puzzles you miss, hidden on certain objects that makes either Professor Layton or Luke think of a puzzle they know or by talking to certain people, will appear in a woman name Riddleton's shack, so there's no fear of missing a puzzle permanently. There's also new optional quests to do such as fixing a camera, taking shots of certain areas in order to gain new puzzles to solve. Additionally, as Layton and Luke wander about town, they'll find citizens in need of something to drink. By collecting and brewing ingredients, Layton and Luke can serve the right tea based on that character's drink preference. This process is hampered that many times the people who are need tea are thirsty on random occasions. This makes it difficult to track all of the people who need tea down unless you're using a guide. Regardless, this quest is entirely optional though you'll want to do it to earn every possible puzzle. Finally, there's a game involving a hungry hamster that needs to slim down through a checkerboard-style mini-game.

If that content isn't enough, after completing the story mode you gain the right to tackle Layton's Challenges, the most hardcore of the hardcore puzzles. Be ready to spend an hour on just one of these crafty puzzles. Additionally, Nintendo is giving out weekly puzzles via Wi-Fi to download and solve. Perhaps you'd like to return to a puzzle you've already solved. All puzzles solved are listed in one convenient location. These are perfect for solving puzzles that can be finished in a set number of moves or turns. Beating your high score is always a bonus. They're also great for giving a relative or friend a crack at a puzzle without having them play entirely through the game. Though you should encourage them to play the game.

Visually, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is rich with charm from the lovely art style to beautiful 2-D backgrounds of the Molentary Express and Folsense. The presentation of the game has gotten a boost with clearer full-motion video looking like something out of a Studio Ghibli film. Some dialogue is voiced, but most of the time you'll be cycling through text. The amount of voice acting in the game leaves you wanting more since it's so well-done. Meanwhile the soundtrack is full of piano and violin as well as something to make Steve Urkel happy, the accordion. The soundtrack is quaint and wonderful, perfectly fitting for the game.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is perfect for anyone who loves brain teasers of any kind. There's a large assortment of them on one DS card. Many times your head will be hurting trying to solve a tough problem, and when you succeed you'll be so proud of yourself. This type of game is great for your younger brother to your grandmother as it's easily accessible thanks to the streamlined controls. Many will finish the game in ten hours or so (if they're not cheating, that is), while the bounty of bonus content, stuff that trumps Curious Village, will stretch the longevity of the game even longer. With the Diabolical Box, the solution is simple: you must add this game to your collection.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.5/10]

If you liked that review, check out Professor Layton and the Curious Village!

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