drrandle's Professor Layton and Pandora's Box (Nintendo DS) review

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It's "more of the same" in the best way possible.

Professor Layton is a gentleman's man. He's a modern day Sherlock Holmes (no wait, they just did that...) He's like a modern day Sherlock Holmes with less explosions and crazy. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, like the titular character, exudes charm as it matches wits with you in the form of brainteasers and riddles. It may be more of the same, but the way the Layton series operates, that's everything anybody could want from a sequel.
Diabolical Box finds the clever professor and his sidekick, Luke, discovering the dead body of Layton's acquaintance. His death seems to be linked to a mysterious artifact known as The Elysian Box, which is said to kill anyone who opens it. Not immediately eager to test that theory, but more than curious to find out what really happened, The Professor andLuke find a ticket to ride on the Molentary Express, the most lavish train in the world. 
A decent part of the game is spent poking around the beautifully drawn environments with your stylus in search of people to talk to, hint coins (which grant you clues for more troublesome puzzles), and of course more puzzles. There's nothing entirely special about these segments, other than examining the detail of the lovingly crafted world, but they do their job well. Navigating the town feels more intuitive with the addition of a sort of way-point system that keys you into the proper direction.
Solving puzzles is what Layton and Luke do best, and the game is full with more than 150 of them. Puzzles range from sliding blocks around, stacking pancakes in a specific order, and brain teasers that will trick you again and again. Solving them is made easier with the addition of a memo feature. It's a pull-down transparent slate that you can use to take notes, do quick math, or trace over the puzzle in order to better find the solution.    
 Can you solve this puzzle?
 Can you solve this puzzle?
Created by famed Professor and "Puzzle Master" Akira Tago in Japan, the puzzles in Diabolical Box are more than guaranteed to make you scratch your head and curse at the DS. (Just when you thought you had the answer, you were wrong.) In the first Professor Layton title, Curious Village, the puzzles would often forsake the games well-crafted universe in order to make sure that your brain was sufficiently stumped. This time, Level-5 has taken more care to try and fit as many of the puzzles into the game's narrative as possible, and have included more story-related conundrums. 
What makes Layton such a magnificent package is how well it pulls you into this puzzle-filled world. These games could easily have just been a package of brain teasers, each simply leading on to the next, with some Brain Age sensibilities and style. That would be all well and good, but instead Level-5 and Nintendo have gone above and beyond by crafting an extraordinary mystery novel atmosphere around the brainteasers. The characters are brilliantly realized, the story is clever, the music is amazing, and the animation is reminiscent of the work done at Ghibli Studios. None of it is necessary, but it goes to show what makes Diabolical Box such an intriguing game.
Something that should be noted is that the advertised weekly downloadable puzzles are, in fact, already on the cartridge. You have to connect to the internet once a week to open them up. It's a cheap trick that gives Nintendo a bullet-point that it really doesn't deserve, but it's also a completely benign situation for anyone who has access to wi-fi router or hot-spot. It's not as if they're charging you for the puzzles, but it is a process that you should be aware of.

Simply gorgeous cutscenes are great rewards for your progression. 
Simply gorgeous cutscenes are great rewards for your progression. 
The Diabolical Box is a better game than it's predecessor in a few small ways, but overall it is the same game. If you were not a fan of the last game, nothing here is going to change your mind. That being said, everything that made the first game such a brilliant gem has returned. The Professor Layton series is one that won't likely experiment with any gameplay, but so far it has continued to deliver a top-notch mystery filled with continuously mind-bending puzzles. It's brand new, yet the same thing, all at the same time.
As a side note, my top hat is off to Nintendo of America's localization staff, who did a fantastic job bringing this text-heavy game stateside.    

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