When Professor Layton and the Curious Village reached European shores last year, it was completely without fanfare and expectations. As luck would have it both American and European players took a liking to the wonder world of Professor Layton offers, and thus the sequel didn't take quite as long to get here.
Professor Layton and his partner Luke, travel around a world filled with puzzle loving inhabitants. The main character Layton is the perfect English gentleman, walking in the foot step of someone like Sherlock Holmes, while his partner Luke is a Oliver Twist version of Doctor Watson. In this way this Japanese game offers up an atmosphere worthy of a British mystery, and it's a joy to throw oneself into the captivating plot.
There is something particularly endearing with the Professor's abstract adventures. I get the feeling that I've stumbled upon a well illustrated children's book where the text has been replaced with that of murder mystery penned by Agatha Christie. It mixes youthful looks with murder mysteries and mind twisting puzzles and succeeds in blending this elements with a stunning result.
For the uninitiated Professor Layton is best described as equal parts crime novel and "a hundred and fifty headaches" (puzzles) spiced up with a charming atmosphere, that reminds this reviewer of the golden age of adventure games.
Professor Layton and Pandora's Box (or the original title - The Diabolical Box) carries on where Professor Layton and the Curious Village left off. As the title eludes to the central focus of the story this time is a mysterious box. The box is supposed to kill anyone who tries to open it, and the Professor and Luke are soon heavily invested in the case as they try to solve a murder.
The investigation takes the two partners on a trip with the classic Molentary Express, and it turns out that every compartment serves up mysterious travellers, while every stop on the way also provides us with problems to take care of.
While we are provided with a charming round of brain teasing entertainment, the surprising combination of Brain Training and classic adventure games doesn't have the same impact the second time around. The puzzles don't come across quite as fresh, but on the other hand there are more of them this time. More than 150 puzzles focusing on logics, maths, and other things, paired with an entertaining story carries you well beyond ten hours of gaming.
There are hidden coins you can find and these can be used to give you hints as how to solve a puzzle, without risking a penalty for the wrong answer. And as you solve the puzzles there is a camera to collect and hamster who goes to training camp and other mini games that prolong the experience somewhat.
The graphics are charming as always, and the short cut scenes are delivered with a lot of heart while the voices are of higher quality. The harmonica based café tunes are back with a vengeance, and unfortunately there is no other way around this than turning down the sound completely.
The cooperation between the creator Aikihiro Hino and the professor Akira Tago results in many hours of sheer entertainment, but playing through Professor Layton and Pandora's Box also reveals the pitfalls of the work process. First the adventure is written and then the puzzles are invented and added on top. Most of the time this results in a pleasant hybrid, but sometimes it feels like you are playing two separate games that don't complement each other perfectly.
The story carries on in autopilot, regardless of your puzzle solving activities (for the most part), and the motivation to solve the puzzles is to unlock even more puzzles to solve.
If you haven't yet befriended this wonderful universe of mysteries, you should be aware that the games sometimes makes references to the previous chapter and in doing so spoils some of the story. If you haven't played the first one do so before you pick Pandora's Box up. If you loved the first game (like I did), you owe it to yourself and your Nintendo DS to follow the professor on another adventure. You won't regret it!
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