Friday, November 13, 2009

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

This sequel picks up shortly after Professor Layton the Curious Village, expands the scope of the game and stands as one of the best handheld games I have ever played. I should start by saying I'm not much of a handheld gamer. Fast paced games on the small screen and tenuous controls generally don't appeal to me. Professor Layton, though, is perfect for me. It's a pick up/put down short session game that remains engrossing and fun.

Playing as Professor Layton and his sidekick Luke, you are thrust in to a surreal murder mystery involving a series of quirky characters and settings. Layton oozes charm - its animation and art design are beautiful, looking gothic yet colorful - reminiscent of Tintin and The Triplets of Belleville. The characters are mysterious and plenty, and each mystery solved unravels a bevvy of new ones that would make Agatha Christie proud. And the music is a divine sort of French pastoral pastiche.

Tying all of these elements together is the core of the gameplay, a series of puzzles and brainteasers. This collection of puzzles would make a good DS title on its own, but its glossy wrapping and mysterious storyline make for a sublime experience.

The Diabolical Box is a longer game than The Curious Village, and while offering a deeper storyline, I did feel like some scenes carried out too long between puzzles or plot advancement. Obstensibly set free to walk about the landscape, the game's design is really rather linear - you have to unlock new areas only when the plot has advanced far enough. While this is nothing new to adventure games, at times it felt slightly tedious going back and forth from each end of the village. A few rewards are given for completism, though, and all in all the slower pace is acceptable.

The Diabolical Box (and Curious Village) is a must have for the DS, and is one of the few handheld games that can stand next to console or PC games in my list of favorites.

Mildly popular in the States, Layton has a big following in Japan and a film and third sequel are in the works.

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