and the Diabolical Box
For: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone (alcohol
reference, mild violence)
By Billy O'Keefe
The most surprising thing about "Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box" might be that it's here and ready for public consumption. Nintendo of America has been uncommonly quiet about the game, stealthily unveiling its existence a few months ago and keeping similarly quiet in the run-up to its arrival on shelves.
The hushed tones somewhat make sense, because really, what is there to say? For those who played "Professor Layton and the Curious Village" last year, "Box" is explicitly more of the same — a new storyline, three digits' worth of new brainteasers to solve, but otherwise a nearly-identical game in terms of graphics, music, presentation, interface and philosophy.
For those less familiar, "Box" is, in a nutshell, a collection of genuinely smart riddles — the stuff of which brainteaser books and bar tricks are made — packaged inside a charming story that benefits from a level of care (hand-drawn animated cut-scenes, terrific voice acting, a compelling storyline) typically reserved for action and role-playing games. "Box" presents itself somewhat as a point-and-click adventure game, only with self-contained brainteasers as the barriers one must overcome to complete the story.
As with "Village," the riddles in "Box" are startlingly diverse both in the way you maneuver through them and in how they tax your brain. The game's optional hint system, along with its allowance for players to pick different paths through the game, permit the riddles to approach a satisfying, rewarding level of challenge without creating a situation where a single, overwhelmingly difficult puzzle could completely impede one's progress. The complete absence of time limits also removes any need to resort to guesswork, which in turn lets players approach the game's puzzles as methodically as they would if those puzzles were in a rainy day book instead of a video game.
Totaled up, "Box's" mix of challenge and concession is an extremely impressive demonstration of how to make a game that not only perfectly understands its intended audience, but remains completely accessible to all without intellectually neutering the riddles that make it so unique in the first place.
"Village" understood this philosophy so distinctively well the first time around that it'd almost be a shame if "Box" tried to be anything more than a retread with new content. A new story, and the 150 or so new puzzles it brings with it, are more than enough to command the $30 asking price even (perhaps especially) for those who wrung the first game completely dry. (As it did the first time around, Nintendo and Level-5 will sweeten the deal by regularly releasing additional puzzles for free download over Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection.)
(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.