The Professor Layton games are a lot like curling up with your favorite book. It’s comfort food for the gamer soul, striking the perfect balance between casual and hardcore gaming. As long as you enjoy puzzles, anyone can get into the world of Professor Layton. His newest adventure, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, is something that all ages can enjoy. It doesn’t talk down to kids as the central mystery revolves around a murder. That central mystery is also puzzling enough that veteran gamers won’t be able to discern the answers immediately. Unfortunately, like any great mystery story, the Diabolical Box can only be solved once and have you be truly surprised.
This new tale begins with Professor Layton receiving a letter from his friend and mentor, Dr. Schrader. The letter tells of how the doctor has acquired a mysterious item known as the Elysian Box, which is said to kill any who open it. Layton feels uneasy and goes to visit his friend but discovers him dead and the box missing. With a blank train ticket on the Molentary Express as the only clue, Layton and and his apprentice, Luke, set out to solve the mystery. The story does not confine the player to a solitary town this time. Players will be able to explore the Molentary Express as well as the towns beyond which helps keep things fresh and gives the sense that progress is being made. The mystery itself is quite good and even though I was able to guess many of the revelations, the central question was tricky enough to elude me. The answers are also doled out at a more even pace than the Curious Village, which had all the solutions piled on at the very end. The story is well worth experiencing and helps guide you from puzzle to puzzle.
Gameplay hasn’t changed much from the previous game. It’s still a puzzle adventure where you explore your surroundings and talk to various people. Each will give you a classic brain teaser to solve with the difficulty measured in Picarats. The more Picarats you can earn, the more difficult the puzzle will be. Picarats are also worth earning because the total collected at the end of the game determine what bonuses you unlock. Hint coins are also hidden around the locales and can be spent to unlock up to three hints on a single puzzle. The puzzles themselves can range from simple and easy to mindbogglingly frustrating. Despite that, a little patience and alternative thinking is all it takes to get through most puzzles. Perhaps the greatest improvement to the game is how puzzles have been implemented into the game. Rather than having most puzzles thrown at you have little to do with what’s going on in the story, Diabolical Box’s puzzles usually have something to do with what you’re experiencing. There’s a greater sense of satisfaction when the puzzle you solve feels like it actually had an impact on what is going on.
There’s more to do beyond the standard puzzles though. As the game progresses, you stumble upon a broken camera, an overweight hamster, and a tea set. Solving certain puzzles gives you items to use in the completion of these sidequests. The broken camera acts as a variation on a jigsaw puzzle. Exercising the fat hamster is all about using items to maximize how far he can walk. The tea set focuses on trying every combination of ingredients and serving the correct flavor of tea to the right person. None are that difficult to do but each provide tangible benefits to finishing them. The only real problem is that even with these extras, there’s not much replay value to the game. There’s especially difficult puzzles you can unlock and you can retry puzzles at any time, but once you solve a puzzle, the challenge is gone. That’s not to say you won’t get a lengthy main game with a healthy 12-15 hour experience.
Much like the gameplay, the graphics of the Diabolical Box hasn’t changed much. It still has the French influenced character designs that give the game its unique flair. The style lends itself well to immediately recognizable and memorable characters. The location design is also top-notch, starting out normal and getting more abstract as the game goes on. The use of animated cutscenes has also been expanded and are great fun to watch, often setting the mood for the next section of gameplay. The voice acting, which has also been increased, is excellent and serves the alternate Britain setting well. The music, while using many songs from the first game, is fantastic with some of the best tunes in the second half. It’s difficult to really expect anything more of the sequel when the original established such great presentation already.
If you enjoyed the first Professor Layton adventure, there’s no reason you won’t enjoy the Diabolical Box. It has more puzzles, more sidequests, and a better mystery. If you’re new to Professor Layton, he’s still worth checking out. The game’s stories are independent enough that you can still understand almost everything that’s going on. Personally, I cannot wait until the third game is released on our shores.