Puzzle games are so great. They’re perfect for the handheld market, giving just enough entertainment for short bursts of gameplay, and enough longevity to play for extended periods of time. It goes without saying (though I guess I’ll be saying it) that puzzle games don’t often have stories, or coherent ones at that. What’s the story in Tetris? Stop the world from falling apart by guiding falling blocks into appropriate spaces? Well the Professor Layton series has remedied this problem with a handful of great puzzle games for the Nintendo DS. I’ve recently started playing the second title in the series, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, and I must say, the game has already pulled me in.
Professor Layton does something that every portable title should do: have gameplay that caters towards handheld playing. There are so many game out there for the PSP and DS that weren’t really supposed to be on those systems. God of War: Chains of Olympus (And its sequel), Grand Theft Auto: China Town Wars (To an extent), and even the upcoming Uncharted game for the PS Vita. These are huge games that are only on the system to look good. They’re not PORTABLE games; I’m not going to play them for hours on end like I would a PS3 game. No, they’re games that should be made for a console but weren’t. Professor Layton, and many other games, I don’t want to sound like I’m just ranting, is made up of short puzzles and story elements that lend themselves perfectly to playing in small spurts. That’s what makes the game much more compelling: You can play a little bit at a time and feel like you’ve accomplished something.
But anyway, back to the game. I am a big fan of puzzle games, and Professor Layton is chock full of ’em. After playing, beating, and enjoying Curious Village I was intrigued by the entire series: how can they make another 100 puzzles?! But sure enough, after the first few hours with Diabolical Box I can see they’ve kept up the quality in the puzzles. Some of them are still frustrating because of semantics and how you read the instructions, but that’s what they were going for, I believe. A little lateral thinking might help you out at some points. The variety of puzzles is good too. Find your way through a maze, how many fish will be caught, shift objects to remove another specific object, the list goes on. Most of these themes, however, are repeated throughout the game in different puzzles, but they are usually spread out well that you won’t mind.
The story in both this game and Curious Village is surprisingly captivating. A friend and colleague of Layton’s has gone missing after investigating the Elysian Box (presumably the “Diabolical Box”), which is rumored to kill anyone who opens it. Naturally, Layton and his apprentice Luke set out to investigate this on their own. On the way the discover more mysteries, solve a lot of puzzles, and eventually get to the bottom of things. The story is told between puzzles as you explore areas of towns, trains, and buildings. For a puzzle game, the story is fantastic and is a driving force to keep playing. The mystery is kept lingering right in front of your nose and it makes you want to keep playing. Again, good game design.
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is a fun, well designed portable title. Anyone looking for a great game to play on the go and in short (or long) spurts should definitely check it out. If you’re a fan of other games in the series you’ll surely enjoy this one as well. Also, there isn’t too much continuity between the first two games, just a few references to past characters and events, nothing too major. Oh, and one side effect from the game: I keep hearing my thoughts in a British accent.