Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is the second game in the scorching hot new series for the Nintendo DS that has been brought over from Japan. It is similar in every way to its predecessor (Professor Layton and the Curious Village) and shows no ambition to be anything more. Not that we’re complaining, the series, thus far, has excelled at giving players an enthralling, challenging one player experience that celebrates brain power over button mashing. It is totally accessible to all (grandparents, girlfriends, etc.) and works as either a five minute diversion or an all day activity.
The story is designed like a book and is broken into different chapters; Professor Layton and his protégé Luke are out hunting the titular diabolical box and to do so they will have to solve 150 puzzles which have been obtusely dropped in front of them. As would be expected the puzzles start off as mere tap ins and by the end are so ruthless that they will send even the most seasoned veteran running to the internet in hopes of finding the answer. The brutality of those late game puzzles could be seen as a negative but surely there are folks out there who will relish the opportunity to go twelve rounds with such a worthy opponent.
The story is aimed at children (though we wish them luck with puzzle 149) and is really only there for the purposes of giving some paper thin excuse for why our characters are doing what they’re doing. There is really no character development to speak of so you will not care in the least about Professor Layton or any of his friends that he meets along the way. What’s more painful, however, is watching the writers try and cram these puzzles into their storyline. Usually Professor Layton walks up to somebody and they blurt out something like “Sure, I’d love to help you but first can you help me solve this problem that has had me stumped all day long.” But, again, it’s best to just shake that off and accept the reality that is it would be nearly impossible to create this game and then seamlessly build a plot around it.
There is also this odd yet encouraging anti-elitism built right into the game that is so prevalent and in such a popular game that it is a wonder that Rush Limbaugh hasn’t started bloviating about how Nintendo is trying to indoctrinate our kids. Every single chapter is filled with rich, entitled jerks who expect the world to bend at their will and every single time one of our characters call them out on it.
The game play is simple and straight forward which allows you to quickly gain mastery over it. When you aren’t solving the puzzles or playing the mini-games then you are navigating through the universe using an archaic point and click method made somewhat more modern by the DS touch screen. Besides determining who to talk to and which road to go down you can also find hint coins which can be redeemed for some very valuable advice later on. As for the puzzles, they do use a point system which rewards you for getting it right on the first guess. After a few guesses, though, they stop deducting points and at that point you can just guess until you get it right.
All in all it is a very addicting gaming experience. Like other games that have come before (The Sims) it turns a laughably bad premise into a something you can’t put down. Who really wants to spend their free time packing trunks and doing algebra? But anything that tickles your brain this delightfully will suck you in and keep you coming back for more. Looking forward we can probably expect the two Professor Layton titles that are available in Japan now to make their way stateside soon. We expect that very little tinkering has been done to the formula (if it ain’t broke. . .) which is unfortunate because if they just worked out a few kinks then this series could be something truly spectacular.
Developer: Level 5
Platform: Nintendo DS