Giant Bomb Review

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Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box Review

4
  • DS

Dr. Layton's second case leans heavily on the first game's formula, which means it's just as full of charming mystery and head-scratching puzzles.


Hey! Aren't you Inspector Chelmey?
That dapper detective Professor Layton made a smashing debut on the Nintendo DS last year with his debut case, The Curious Village. Now the good doctor and his precocious protégé Luke are back on the job in The Diabolical Box, a sequel that sticks about as close to the first game's formula as it possibly could. And since I was so consistently entertained by the original's winning mix of head-scratching mystery, old-world charm, and dozens of brainteasers, I was perfectly happy to get more of the same here.

The new game finds Layton and Luke on the trail of the Elysian Box, the antique referenced in the title that's said to instantly kill anyone who opens it. After the professor's old mentor falls victim to the box--or some other kind of foul play--the pair sets off on a luxury train line called the Molentary Express on a cross-country pursuit of both the item and some real answers. By contrast, the Curious Village was set entirely in the odd, eponymous hamlet of St. Mystere, and you as the player spent so much time confined there, covering the same ground and plumbing the town's mysteries that I felt like the Curious Village itself almost became a character or active participant in the story. Consequently, the story in this sequel initially felt a little disjointed to me, since you spend a comparatively short time in each location as you ride the train and explore the places where it stops. 
 
But the Molentary Express is just the beginning here, and it's not long before the story takes a turn for the surreal (and slightly macabre) and begins to take on an identity of its own, especially as the train deposits you in eerie, unexplained areas. Numerous references to the first game and some neat reappearances by its characters help ground this game's storyline in the familiar, too. And though I wasn't counting minutes or lines, I'd swear The Diabolical Box has a little more spoken dialogue and animated video sequences to flesh out its story than The Curious Village did. 

There are some real head-scratchers (but this isn't one).
At any rate, if you played that first game, you'll find yourself immediately and thoroughly at home in The Diabolical Box, because the framework here is more or less identical. As before, the game has around 150 puzzles that you'll encounter by talking to the many colorful characters you meet (and by poking around the nicely rendered 2D environments). The best addition to the puzzles in the sequel is a "memo" feature that slides a transparent overlay across the entire puzzle and lets you annotate it to help you solve it. This comes in handy whenever you need to trace a pattern or do some quick sums, and generally alleviates that feeling of needing pencil and paper that may have vexed you from time to time (as it did me) in the first game.

It's also worth noting that Diabolical Box attempts to tie more if its puzzles' subject matter directly into the storyline. So when the train gets stuck on the tracks, you get... a puzzle about rearranging train cars. Or when the identity of a missing child comes into question, you'll solve a sliding tile puzzle that reveals his true nature. It's a neat way to bridge the puzzle-solving gameplay with what's currently happening around you, so all the puzzles don't feel like total non sequiturs. On the other hand, while the game mostly does a good job of keeping the puzzles feeling fresh for veterans of the original game, you will notice a few puzzle styles returning on occasion, and a couple of puzzles were similar enough to ones I remember from the first time around that I felt like I knew how to solve them almost as soon as I saw them. For the most part, though, doing the puzzles here is just as satisfying as it was before.

You'll end up in some straaaange places. 
There are a few minigames available in the professor's suitcase, but some of them are a bit more involved this time around. One of them tasks you with working a fat hamster back into shape; you do this by collecting various items with different properties and laying them out on a grid to make the chubby little rodent run the pounds off. There's also a wholly setting-appropriate tea-making system where you collect different sorts of tea leaves and experiment with blending them into different kinds of teas, which can have some minor effects on Layton, Luke, and a few of the people you meet. There's a collection mechanic at work here that may give you something else to focus on besides pursuing your next lead, though I never felt myself completely distracted by the minigames from the task at hand.

The real success of the Professor Layton series is the way its puzzle-solving and crime-solving aspects support and blend with one another. Alone, the two halves would respectively make for a decent minigame collection and dialogue-driven adventure game. But together they create a wonderful mixture of narrative intrigue and head-scratching puzzle gameplay that propels itself forward straight through to the end of the story. Every time you hit a slow period in your investigation, you'll be excited to have some new puzzles to solve--and every time you're feeling the mental fatigue of puzzling your way through them, you'll be glad to reveal another piece of the mystery. That mix is in full effect in DIabolical Box, and while the charm and satisfaction of playing Layton may be a little less of a surprise the second time around, it's still plenty worth coming back for. Brad Shoemaker on Google+
27 Comments
Posted by Soap

Good to know this is still a solid game, can't wait to see the third title.. *jumps the gun*

Online
Posted by coffeesash

I like how in the first 10 minutes of the game, Inspector Chelmey 'questons' Layton about what we've all been joking over and parodying xD Nice job, localisers!

Posted by Coltonio7

I'm just happy there's more actually spoken dialogue. 
 
Much needed!

Posted by Death_Burnout

it's a Bomb!

Posted by ChickenPants

Nice review of a great game Brad. :)

Posted by Zabant

Brad is my go to guy for this kind of game.
 
here's hoping he reviews the new ace attorney game with miles edgeworth.

Posted by deaux

Good, crisply written review.  Thanks.

Posted by LiquidPrince

Less then 5? Blasphemy!

Online
Posted by RHCPfan24

If it is like the first, I am sold. This is probably 5/5 material for me because I found the first one so orgasmically-awesome. Yeah, I said that....

Posted by misterpope

Great review brad i'll probably pick this one up

Posted by toadstule

And the verdict is................good! Can't wait to pick this up.

Posted by Lard

Fair verdict. Picked this up this afternoon. 
 
It's cool so far.

Posted by klinkcow

stoked

Posted by RiotBananas

I thought this was a review on Box Art.

Posted by Ping5000

I didn't know this game shipped until two days ago. I didn't know it was localized until two days ago. So, I went from "This sequel is never going to happen." to "HEY WHAT I'M GONNA CALL GAMESTOP EVERY OTHER HOUR TO CHECK IF THEY GOT THEM DOMINATRIX BOX GAME YET"

Posted by Jumpify

That makes it look like brads trapped in the web page and pounding on my monitor to escape.

Posted by Jussy117

For some bonkers reason, this is going to be called Prof Layton and PANDORA's box in the UK??? Also not out till the end of September. Bonkers I tell you.

Posted by Kohe321

Great review Brad.

Posted by Darkstar614

I enjoyed the first game quite a bit, but I noticed you said nothing but good things about the game. I understand the 4 rating per se, but I'm curious as to what exactly about the game made it a 4 and not 5.

Posted by JeffTheBadger

Man this game, combined with Scribblenaughts will definitely get me back into my DS again!

Posted by El_Rickhead
@Jussy117: Download the rom, it's free and u can get it now from Filefactory... now THAT'S bonkers!
Posted by Anarchist4Eva

Picked this up @ Gamestop when I got Batman: Arkaham Asylum. It has gone to work with me so I can fill in those gaps w/ these brain teasers. Nice.

Posted by Michaeltraps

Just picked this game up yesterday and it's definitely more of the same, but that's in no way a bad thing.  I loved the style, characters and music of the first game and am glad to see those return in the sequel.  There's definitely a larger focus on the overall narrative, fleshed out with more voiced dialogue and animated cutscenes.  Puzzles seem to be more plot oriented as well.
 
I hope this game sells well and gives Nintendo incentive to localize all Layton titles for the US - I wouldn't mind seeing the animated movie either :-)

Posted by Gloam

Wicked sweet!

Posted by darkjester74

Nice review Brad, thanks!  I know what my next DS game is now!  =D

Posted by Media_Master

Cheerio!!

Posted by Sojourn

I have been waiting for this game since I played through the first one (a rare feat for me). I've barely gotten 30 mins under my belt with this game, but I'm loving it. cut scenes are great, and I'm really excited about the remainder of the game.
 
One thing I don't remember from the first that is in this game is the puzzles poised as facts in the mystery. maybe I'm wrong, it's been about a year since I played the last one. 
 
In either case, SO PUMPED for this game and look forward to my daily train commute so I can play :)