Monday, September 14, 2009

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Professor Layton chasing after a small boy
One benefit I've found to living in the US (as I currently do) is that when companies decide to be all weird about release dates, and encourage people to pirate their games by releasing them months later in the UK, I can get them at the earlier date.

And so it came to be that I have already played through and finished Professor Layton's Diabolical Box, before it's hit the shelves of the UK (oh, and Ghostbusters on the Xbox as well).

Although of course, UK buyers will never see this on the shelves of Game, they'll get "Pandora's Box" instead. In a rare case for name changery, it turns out the US name makes more sense, since the box in question is the Elyssian Box, and is indeed quite diabolical by reputation. This Pandora lady doesn't figure in to it at all.

I do wonder if they're deliberately giving these things slightly suggestive names, though. I bet the Prof loves Pandora's Box (or maybe not, given that he spends all of his time in the company of a young boy. And at least this game makes some jokes around that, with some characters questioning the motives of such a pairing).

Anyway, on to the game. Like the first, it's a point and click adventure, only with bizarre logic puzzles shoehorned in, rather than inventory manipulation and conversation choices. It has far less reliance of repeated puzzles than the first (which I seem to remember had a massive number of sliding block, chess, and matchstick puzzles, of which this only has a few), which makes it feel much more fresh throughout.

It does retain most of the other downsides of the previous game, though. In particular I noticed a couple of puzzles with trick answers that could be very annoying if you didn't realise, and also some puzzles that could have had "trick" answers but thegame expects the straight ones. The combination of the two together in the same game makes for some haphzard guessing, as does the slightly ambiguous wording of some puzzles (they really should have the top screen puzzle explanations scrollable, so they can fit in more than a page of text).

There was also one puzzle that, even after seeing what the game thought the answer was, I couldn't work out for the life of me. It's the one with the twelve portraits where you have to remove all of the women (the Prof and Luke don't like having women around, I think). If you're able to give me a proper explanation of how it works me email address is just on the right, there.

The side collectibles are interesting: collecting camera parts and slotting them into the right places to fix the camera unlocks a "spot the difference" mode on some scenes, which in turn unlocks further puzzles; Hamster toys are used for creating a good exercise course for a fat hamster, who eventually points out hints for you; finally tea making is the weakest side activity (though thematically the strongest link to the good Prof) as it was never really that clear what sort of tea to brew for a character, and you couldn't just try again straight away like in most of the game.

Story-wise there was a lot of intrigue, but in the end just didn't hang together as well as the Bi-Curious Village. Once again they managed to come up with a way of explaining the puzzle-fascination of the people in the game, though this time their cleverness only covers two thirds of the population. Basically there's a small village somewhere north of London entirely populated by mentally ill Riddler types.

As far as characters go it was a mixed bag. A few returning characters, one of whom had a pretty funny introduction, though there were some that I had honestly forgotten the significance of (I guess that's what comes of releasing the games two or three years apart in the west). A few very memorable new characters, and a whole boat load of forgettables (including almost everyone in the game's main location). Though I did like the inclusion of a show girl who keeps inviting Luke in for an eyeful.

Design wise another thing that annoyed me quite a lot was the massive long ending sequence (which included credits, and then a post-credits scene) where I couldn't save. Since my DSi was showing red battery, I was quite nervous to try and get through this, but bizarrely you can't skip or fast forward the credits at all. Let me save during this shit, it's a portable system.

So overall - if you're a fan of the first, this is not quite as good, but still very enjoyable, and stands out against most of the stuff on the DS. And if you#ve never played the first, get that one instead.

No comments: