Professor Layton and the Curious Village was released on these shores towards the tail end of 2008 to near-universal acclaim. An immaculately-presented puzzle game wherein the player solved an array of brainteasers to the tune of a wonderfully surreal little plot, it sold well enough to guarantee its sequel, Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box (alternatively dubbed and The Diabolical Box abroad) would be promptly translated and rushed to the West. Suffice to say, much the same as it is, Layton remains a truly likeable game owing perhaps chiefly to its sheer charm.
The plot follows the titular puzzle-obsessed Hershel Layton – think Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes, minus the manic-depression – and his youthful cockney ward, Luke Triton as they try to unearth the secret behind a mysterious artifact called the Elysian Box – rumoured to kill anyone who opens it. When it whacks Layton’s mentor, the dynamic duo set across on an epic train journey to discover who created the box, what its is purpose and – brilliantly enough – battle a bloody vampire.
Diabolical Box’s gameplay is relatively simple; using the stylus to touch arrows and objects (akin to Phoenix Wright) the player moves around various locations searching for clues and puzzles in order to progress. As soon as one of the latter is unearthed, perhaps offered by one of the many troglodytean peasants who seem to litter Layton’s bizarre pseudo-Victorian landscape, the game presents you with a brainteaser. From block puzzles to mathematics, riddles to spot the difference, there are 153 of the things, many of which are particularly tricky and may well induce one’s hand to search for an online strategy guide before long. Fortunately, the game is relatively pragmatic and allows the player great leeway by scattering “hint coins” throughout the locales visited to ensure that a stuck player can easily progress. Though the game has hardly progressed one iota from its predecessor in this regard, it still retains a solid catalogue of conundrums and so should at least be praised for its consistency.
New content is, by and large, as baffling as it is useless. For some reason, two-thirds of the way through Luke and Layton chance upon a tea set which prompts a new optional quest where the player can form various blends of tea to hand out to random non-player characters. As far as I can see, doing this – inexplicably addictive as it may be – has no real effect whatsoever. Likewise, another optional minigame sees the player attempt to constantly get a morbidly obese Brooklyn-accented hamster into shape for no apparent reason. To reiterate this point, new content is thin on the ground and a tad strange.
However, this is a game that one can’t help but fall in love with. Thankfully returning is its gushing, romantic soundtrack drenched in accordions and flights of orchestral magnificence. Likewise, Layton’s art design and general presentation are superb, even if the green fields of Dropstone and the seedy alleys of Folsense lack some of the Belleville Rendezvous-esque rustic splendour of the previous game. The plot, too, while rather fun, isn’t quite as affecting as Curious Village’s, though possessing a surreal final-reel plot twist which leaves its predecessor’s looking like the denouement of Citizen Kane.
Though largely more of the same and lacking the sucker-punch originality of the original title, Diabolical Box remains a thoroughly, inoffensively pleasant way to while away a few hours. One awaits the inevitable release of the next title, Professor Layton and the Last Time Travel, with baited breath.