[2009] Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

19 Dec

Believe or not, Professor Layton and the Curious Village was the best game of 2008. In the year of AAA fourths (Grand Theft Auto 4, Metal Gear Solid 4, Devil May Cry 4, Soul Calibur IV, etc.), Curious Village introduced DS-owners to a delightful new IP made for everyone, starring the genteel professor and his young apprentice Luke. Brainteasers weren’t rare on the DS and neither were point-and-click adventures, but Curious Village combined the two with charming visuals and animated cutscenes reminiscent of “The Triplets of Bellville.”

The combination proved perfect, encouraging short play sessions, but rewarding players to stick around with a simple yet satisfying plot. If there was a downside to Curious Village, it would have to be the disconnect between the puzzles and the mystery. Not until the end of the game did it make sense why the village was obsessed with unrelated puzzles, but one could have argued the puzzles needed to be unrelated in order to maintain the game’s casual style. The sequel, Diabolical Box, proved this when it attempted to tie the two elements together.

Curious Village would occasionally require you to have solved a certain number of puzzles before allowing you to progress the plot, but Diabolical Box takes the process a step further by occasionally requiring you to stop what you’re doing and solve story-related puzzles. While the former method allows you to progress while avoiding puzzle types you dislike, the latter forces you to solve a specific one. In response, these puzzles are impossible to fail and can be solved with brute force, taking away from the experience.

Diabolical Box also attempts to remedy an issue some players had with Curious Village, taking place entirely in a single village, by revolving around the mysterious Molentary Express. The train takes Layton and Luke to two separate yet mysteriously linked towns to solve a murder, but the plot falls flat early on and never recovers. The train theme also fails by making the early portions of the game incredibly linear. Nevertheless, Diabolical Box manages to survive thanks to its charming atmosphere, characters, and music (especially the music).

In the end, that’s all that really matters for a Professor Layton game. The puzzles are still great and accented by clever illustrations (this time with fun, recurring characters from one of the game’s towns), the pacing is well done, and the experience is just as charming as before. Charming, charming, charming… That’s all pretty much every review of Curious Village devolved into and it’s just as true here with Diabolical Box. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait as long for The Last Time Travel as we did for Diabolical Box, but nowadays, games like these are usually worth waiting for.

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