Level-5’s Layton engulfs players in diabolical puzzles

After a year and a half of anticipation since the original, the much belated second installment of Level-5’s Professor Layton series on the Nintendo DS, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, finally hit North America this year on Aug. 24.

This time, puzzle adventure addicts around the world can assist the gentleman detective Professor Layton and his trusted assistant Luke as they unravel the mysteries behind the murderous Diabolical Box that is said to kill anyone who opens it and gazes upon the contents inside.

Though fans of the series can finally immerse themselves in the secrets of the Diabolical Box, the Japanese version of the same game was actually released roughly two years ago. In fact, the third chapter of the Professor Layton trilogy had already hit stores in Japan at the end of last year.

This push-back in the global versus Japanese release dates contributes to several profound characteristics of the game that need to be addressed.

The original (and the prequel) Professor Layton and the Curious Village was very well received by the DS community.

Though puzzle games were commonly found infesting the DS system, the Professor Layton series was a revolutionary novelty that transformed the genre with its unique artworks, superb complimentary audios and fascinating plot twists in the main story. All of this can still be discovered in Diabolical Box, with improvements found in some places but not others.

The graphics of the latest Professor Layton game received no renovation since the last. This is mainly due to the fact that the original Japanese version of the first and the second game were released within only nine months of one another. However, the unique art style of the series is still present and the overall display is still very visually appealing. Furthermore, the DS was never quite known for its graphic capabilities, and if Nintendo fans everywhere know but one thing, it would be that it’s the game play that makes or breaks the games. This is precisely where the Professor Layton series excels.

Although the game does implement solving puzzles on the DS’s touch screen, it is not always simply multiple choices or the touch of a button. Diabolical Box, like its predecessor, fully utilizes the touch-screen capability of the DS system, allowing players to trace through mazes, drag objects across the screen and circle suspicious parts of rooms. In fact, the game is completely operated through the stylus, a feature rarely seen in DS games. More impressively, the second installment of the series is one of the few games in the DS franchise that actually requires the use of the microphone, a rather neglected function of the gaming device.

The user interface of the game, much like the game’s graphics, basically remained the same as well. Whether it’s the starting menu, the in-game menu interface or the option to move around, everything was exactly the same as the original.

However, the mini-game section of Diabolical Box did receive enhancement, as now completing these addictive side features brings players in-game rewards that they do not want to miss. Other than that, the puzzle index, mystery list and story notes sections of the game remain intact with no obvious alterations. One thing to notice, however, is the increased difficulties of the puzzles in Diabolical Box.

Where the first installment led players through the storyline in a relatively easy learning curve leading up to the final brainteasers, Diabolical Box keeps the players busy with some rather difficult problems right from the start. While this is nice for hardcore puzzle-solvers, it does prove to be a turn off for others.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box guarantees a game play time of at least ten hours. This is just to rush through the main story, not nearly finishing and discovering all the secrets that hide within the game.

With an increasing number of puzzles from the original and their increased difficulties, one is sure to spend a good amount of time scratching his or her head solving the conundrums presented at each opportunity.

Overall, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is a superb choice for short-session gaming between work periods.

It is easy to pick up and play but does lacks certain thrills with the game’s moderate to slow pace. Furthermore, Diabolical Box suffers an identity crisis, as very few elements of the game separate itself from the series. However, as Nintendo’s motto suggests, there is no reason to change the formula that works.