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Continuing with the same formula as the last outing, Professor Layton and Pandora's Box is a delightful blend of puzzles set within an engaging graphic adventure. With such a variety of challenges on offer I found myself involving the family more and more until the DS became the centre for an unusual family gaming night.
The last Professor Layton game was a critical and commercial success that became a firm family favourite of mine when I introduced it to my other half last year. The mixture of fiendish puzzles set within an adventure was immediately compelling for all of us and this latest version, Professor Layton and Pandora's Box (Diabolical Box in North America), continues that same magical formula that intrigued us for countless nights.
What struck me this time was how strong the story was compared to the first game. Instead of staying in one location, the Professor and his assistant were now moving about to different places investigating and searching for the mysterious Elysian Box. At first I thought this was going to be a mistake as both myself and my other half thought the Curious Village of the first game was as much a character as the Professor himself. But after only a few hours play it became clear that Pandora's Box contains a far more interesting story with some odd and bizarre locations than the first game.
after only a few hours play it became clear that Pandora's Box contains a far more interesting story with some odd and bizarre locations than the first game.
It was my son who first got hooked into the storyline and our initial evenings with the game consisted of him playing the story parts whilst I handled all the puzzles. The graphic art-style and voice acting are top-notch and its hard to believe the quality of the dialogue that comes out of the DS speakers. It's difficult for me to be sure but I'm pretty certain that the amount of cut-scenes and lines of spoken dialogue is far higher than the first game. As well as sounding and looking good, this helped to draw the whole family into the game more than any other console game did before. There was something we all found so endearing about this esoteric investigation and the sight of all three of us huddled round the DS must of been as perplexing as one of the toughest riddles in the game.
What we did find surprising was the direction the story ended up taking. Although the Elysium Box is described as cursed from the first moment it's mentioned, I never expected the game to take the strange and mysterious direction it did. Whilst half of the game is spent on the Molentary Express, the other locations we ended up going to were bizarre and, at times, a little unsettling. Going to a village not found on any map sounds more like a visit to Narnia on paper, but here it felt like entering a ghostly otherworld from a horror movie.
It was my son who first got hooked into the storyline and our initial evenings with the game consisted of him playing the story parts whilst I handled all the puzzles.
Of course it wasn't anywhere near as scary as that, but the general atmosphere created by the game was a lot more edgy and unsettling than I ever thought it would be. My son, of course, loved every moment of it! But the game certainly knew how to lighten the story up with an excellent array of individual characters. From the belligerent owner of the Molentary Express, his chilled out nephew, to the grumpy Inspector Chelmey, the game was full of charming and funny people.
The puzzles themselves were excellent in variety and scope. Each of us in our family have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to solving problems and Professor Layton catered to all of our needs. Some were easy when we read the puzzle text closely and others were a bit more abstract, needing the lateral thinking of my other half to solve them. But we were rarely stumped and the only trouble I had was with a puzzle that had me tracing the route of a particular Inspector - and most of that came from my inability to read the clues sufficiently. Thankfully none of the exasperating matchstick puzzles made it over in quite the same way as the did from the Curious Village which nearly drove me to ruin.
What kept my son entertained when we hit a brick wall with a puzzle or became tired of the story were the inclusion of some fantastic mini-games.
What kept my son entertained when we hit a brick wall with a puzzle or became tired of the story were the inclusion of some fantastic mini-games. The best of these was the task of getting a fat hamster fit again before returning it to its owner. During the course of the game we kept picking up various objects and with these special items we could place them in the Hamster's run to help get him fit again. My favourite was the tea-making game, simply because nothing says 'refined old puzzle-solver' better than Professor Layton brewing new tea's. These little challenges felt on a par with the mini-games found in Mario 64 DS and New Super Mario Bros. DS - when they can keep my son entertained and quiet for a few hours then they pass the test!
It was these little touches that kept us entertained throughout our experience with the game and it was no surprise that it became the favourite family pastime for quite a few nights. Although I was sceptical at first, Pandora's Box has quickly become one of our family games of the year. It doesn't change the formula of the first game but the mixture of story and puzzles seemed better than last years and the investigation element kept us gripped until we finally beat the game after 20 excellent and worthwhile hours. It won't have the same 'wow' factor as last years hit but it's the perfect sequel to an already excellent game that proves puzzle games can be fun and entertaining for the whole family.
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