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Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box Review

Nick_Tan By:
Nick_Tan
08/21/09
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
EMAIL TO A FRIEND
GENRE Adventure 
PLAYERS 1- 1 
PUBLISHER Nintendo 
DEVELOPER Level-5 
RELEASE DATE  
E10+ Contains Alcohol Reference, Mild Violence

What do these ratings mean?

If a train is traveling from Boston at 50 mph and another train is delayed at Los Angeles and...


So, you want to read a review for Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box? Well, you have to solve this puzzle first: What is the missing number in this cyclical sequence?

81, 63, 27, __ , 9, 81…

click to enlarge(PM me with the correct answer and you receive 80 picarats. Yeah, it’s that hard. Hint: The pattern is not based on the numbers being divisible by 9.)

But really, how does Professor Layton tolerate this kind of abuse? Every time he wants a straight answer or attempts to leave a conversation, the person he’s talking to has the nerve to cram a puzzle in his face and demand that he solve it or feel the wrath of shame. I doubt he believes his own creed that “a gentleman never leaves a puzzle unsolved” - deep down, he wants those kinds of people to piss off drink some tea and carry on without bothering his investigation; in this case, unraveling the mystery of the Elysian Box which has been rumored to kill anyone who opens it, including his friend and mentor, Dr. Andrew Schrader.

Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a game if he ignored every opportunity to solve a brainteaser, though it would likely be a better detective story. (And he is as much a victim as he is the culprit, bringing along his boy love apprentice, Luke, just so he can trade exhilarating puzzles with him.) Given its design principle, the premise of combining a puzzle book with a mystery adventure hinges on the idea that both involve finding answers by using clues and out-of-the-box brainstorming. But it’s a suspension of disbelief that’s easily broken.

What does a sliding puzzle have to do with stretching your hand to grab a key? How does an abstract numerical pattern relate to gathering clues relevant to a murder mystery? What do pancake variations of the classic Towers of Hanoi puzzle have to do with searching for pieces of a photograph for evidence? In fact, you’re not really deducing anything pertinent to the case – Professor Layton does – and you’re mostly just along for the ride, with puzzles acting as a roadblock to the story and sometimes the story acting as a roadblock to the puzzles.

click to enlargeBut fans of the series unconsciously understand that these trick questions have just about as much relevance to detective work as astrology does to rocket science. Cast the illusion of a CSI story aside and you’ll find a challenging adventure full of mind-bogglers, whether they involve geometrical reasoning, reading comprehension, logical thinking, trial and error, process of elimination, or dumb luck. And every once in a while, you’ll get a trick question (especially one with corks... you'll know what I mean when you get to it) or an obnoxious, labyrinthine sliding puzzle (I swear that hell is just made up of interlocked L-blocks).

Just like the original Professor Layton, you’ll scour each section of the town, Myst-style, tapping on each object and person in the hopes of collecting hint coins or triggering the next event in the story. Most of the time, though, you’ll encounter one of the story mode’s 138 puzzles, which are generally ranked in difficulty by how many picarats you can earn (from 10 to 99). Those picarats will then unlock extra modes and special puzzles highlighted as Layton’s Challenges, so you know they’re going to be insane.

What Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box does best is transform a humdrum book of brainteasers into an adorable, polite, casual adventure with a bright and whimsical yet humbling pastel tone. Characters have long, exaggerated faces with stodgy frames and thin legs, as if there were part of the inspiration board for the Oscar-winning short film La Maison en Petits Cubes.

While you move through each environment, from a posh train to a quaint town celebrating its fiftieth anniversary – an improvement over the first Professor Layton which was entirely stuck in one village –  there will be three mini-challenges that can only be solved by collecting items throughout the story. After assembling all the parts of a camera, you can take snapshots of certain areas, where the picture taken depicts a slightly altered scene. If you can discern the differences between the photograph and the setting, you will not only learn the locations for a few hint coins, but also a hidden puzzle.

click to enlargeIn another side-goal, you can slim down a chubby hamster by forcing it to exercise. By placing objects of interest in the hamster’s rectangular pen, you can lead him around towards his goal of achieving a certain number of steps before he plops back on the ground. Manage to get his ass moving more than thirty steps in one session, which is achievable about halfway through the story, and the hamster will be able to help you in a special way.

The last rolling side-quest is brewing herbal teas for distressed and fatigued strangers. (Since I brew tea from my own selection of medicinal herbs, I can relate.) By combining three ingredients together, gathered as rewards for completing puzzles, you can create one of only twelve special teas, so you can expect to fail a lot. However, you have to wait for people to become distressed in the first place, which sometimes means you’ll need to walk out and then walk back in multiple times. There’s also no list of people you need to help, so soothing every person who needs a cup of tea depends on your patience, memory, and luck.

If there were more puzzles that asked you to draw a conclusion from a set of clues, similar to those in Phoenix Wright, the story would have a better connection to the puzzles, but as it stands, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is a predictable and challenging sequel. It has a nonchalant appeal that can capture anyone’s heart. And good news, as far as the sequel... wait, solve this puzzle first.
B Revolution report card
  • Challenges intelligence in various ways
  • Whimsical graphics
  • Humbling appeal
  • Waiting for distressed strangers
  • Not really doing any detective work
    Reviews by other members
    No member reviews for the game.

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