Catching Up With 2009: Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box!

Despite the fact that I am pretty much dirt poor, I buy a ton of games. In fact, I buy more games than I can even play. I’ve lost count of how many excursions to used games shops I’ve walked out of with a handful of games. Most of the time, the games I buy aren’t games I was looking for. “Ooh look! That PSP game is only ten dollars new! I must have it!”

My poor wallet.

Anyway, 2010 is upon us and I’ve got a stack of games from 2009 that I haven’t played yet. Sure, there were a few I got for Christmas, but there are some I’ve had for months (even one for nearly a year) that I’ve barely touched, if at all. On my shelf, there are at least seven or so games that I haven’t played yet, and the games on my shelf account for less than ten percent of my game collection. I am not exaggerating.

So I suppose it was rather nice that there were no games I was looking forward to in January. There are plenty next month, but there’s nothing I particularly want coming out until then. (Although if I had a PS3, I’d be all over Darksiders.) This gave me an ample chance to catch up on that stack of games. The best part is that since I don’t have to review any of them, I can play them at my leisure and not have worry about meeting any deadline. I’m playing strictly for the fun of it.

Then something occurred to me. Back in my commentary for 2009, I stated that the handheld gaming market had a banner year and that there were plenty of quality games I didn’t even get the chance to play. Lo and behold, the games I was referencing are sitting on my shelf.

This column, which will probably turn out to be a weekly thing, is meant to catalog my journey through my sizeable backlog of 2009 games. There are a few rules that I’ll follow to keep things in order.

First, I will only be playing games for the DS and the PSP.

Second, I cannot have spent more than an hour on the game in 2009.

Third, if the game in question does not have a review on Diehardgamefan.com, than I shall write one up myself. (There are at least three where this will be the case.)

Fourth, I will use a standard ten question format in order to keep things tidy.

Finally, no matter how great the temptation, I will stick to one game at a time in order to make sure things get done smoothly and timely. Even if I hate the game, I will see it through to the bitter end.

This column is not meant to be a full review in any regard. It is merely supposed to represent my thoughts on the games that 2009 had to offer. As such, I’ll be sure to include a link to the actual review we have on the site. I will, however, divulge the score I probably would have given it had I used our patented ten point scale. You know, just for comparison’s sake.

So without further ado, here is the first game of the many to follow.

(Oh yeah. It is always a possibility there will be spoilers in these things. I’ll try to keep that to a minimum, but you were forewarned.)

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What’s the game?

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Who made it?

The developers are Level 5, the minds behind such games as Dark Cloud, Rouge Galaxy, Jeanne D’arc, and the upcoming White Knight Chronicles. Published by Nintendo

When did it come out?

The game was released on August 24, 2009

Where’s the review?

Aileen Coe was kind enough to put up a review for us back in August!

Why didn’t you play it in 2009?

When I wrote a review for Professor Layton and the Curious Village, I wasn’t overly wowed by the game. I still wanted to play a sequel, but I wasn’t able to justify the purchase when games like Dissidia:Final Fantasy, Motorstorm: Arctic Edge, and others were coming out at the same time. I kept an eye on the game though. Every time I’d pass a copy in a store I’d want to grab it. I finally did so a few days after Christmas.

So what did you think?

If nothing else, I wasn’t able to put the game down for long. In fact, I’d say the fourteen hours I spent beating the game were divided into only a handful of play sessions.

The story was far more interesting to me than the previous game, for some reason. Perhaps this was because riding aboard the Molentary Express kept the scenery changing. There was a fairly constant influx of new characters and mysteries to ponder. Also, there were a lot more puzzles that were directly related to what was going on. Simple things like figuring out which key would open a lock, how to wire an elevator panel, or crossing a frozen lake were far more interesting when there was an actual relationship to the plot to consider.

It also seemed that the developers put a lot more thought into what puzzles went where. There was a definite curve in difficulty, whereas in the previous game, the balance was all over the place. The new memo function also came in handy in puzzles where you had to trace routes or solve math equations. As far as the former goes, I don’t like trying to create images in my head because my brain is very unreliable in that regard. I can’t even figure out those Magic Eye things.

One thing worth mentioning is the hint coins. In the last instalment, purchasing all three hints would often guarantee you the right answer. This time, however, I found more than a few puzzles where the hints stayed vague. In one notable case, the hints were actually bits of trivia that you’d have to spend hint coins to read. Considering that there are not enough hint coins for every puzzle and there is no way to buy them back, moves like this are kind of cheap. I’d often use hints when I was at my wit’s end with a puzzle. Getting gypped merely added to my frustration.

Don Paulo shows up once again, yet still there there is no real hint of who he is or what possible connection he has to Layton. To make matters worse, I’m still haunted by the fact that when Luke asked Layton that very question in the first game, even the professor had no clue.

Most amusingly, this game has one of the wackiest endings I’ve ever seen. Layton comes up with the solution to the biggest puzzle of the game almost on a whim. I for one didn’t see any clue that would suggest the answers he put forth. My friend, who played the game when it first came out, didn’t notice anything of the sort either. What I wan to know is, why would Layton keep such suspicions to himself when he happily tells Luke everything else? Why, if they think the missing youth on the train is actually a dog, don’t they such as much? (The dog thing isn’t in the ending, but it is yet another example what I’m talking about.) I’m all for suspense in games, but I’d prefer that both myself and the character I’m playing as have the same information either way. If I don’t know, they don’t know and vice versa.

Overall, I was much happier with my purchase of Diabolical Box than I was with Curious Village. Considering I got the latter for free, that is saying a good bit. If nothing else, it restored my faith in what Level 5 can do. Now, I can’t wait for the next instalment, which we probably won’t get until 2011 if trends continue as they are.

What score would you have given it?

I fully agree with Aileen’s opinion that the game is “Enjoyable”. The game isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but there is some fun to be had. It should be noted that this is the same score that I gave Curious Village when it came out. Don’t let that confuse you. This game is better, it’s just that standards go up as time passes. Had this game been released in 2008, it could have scored even higher.

Would it have made your top ten list?

I’d have to say no. There were just too many games that I loved for a game that I merely found enjoyable to make the list. It would probably fit somewhere in my top twenty though.

How much does it go for, you know, just in case I want it?

I found my copy new for about thirty dollars, which is five dollars less than it was when it was first released. If you liked the first game, I’d say it’s worth the money.

Final Thoughts?

As the first game on my list of games to play from 2009, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box was certainly a worthy candidate. It was a game that I very much wanted to play, but never found the time to. As a sequel, it improved upon its predecessor in just about every way that mattered. The story was better, the puzzles were at times more devious, and the overall length was increased by about four hours. Overall, not a bad start to this whole backlog thing.

Next time: I take a journey deep in the heart of a fire breathing turtle!

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