Professor Layton and Pandora's Box (Nintendo DS) PAL

Last year saw the introduction to Professor Layton to the European market. He’d already been introduced to the Americans the year before and said had his third adventure with the Japanese. As a brainteaser based puzzle game, his adventure had universal appeal as it didn’t rely so much on knowing the ins and outs of the game world to solve puzzles. Instead it took on the brain itself. This proved to be a huge hit not only with gamers looking for a new franchise of puzzle titles, but with the non-gamer generation that has spawned over the years due to accessibility combined with a charming world. Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box therefore looks set to be a smash hit on the Nintendo DS, offering more puzzles and a brand new story. In short, it delivers on this fantastically. But there are a few new surprises in store for early adopters of the series.

Continuing the adventures of the good Professor Layton and his sidekick Luke, they both receive a letter from Layton’s former mentor. It seems that Dr Schrader was attempting to solve the mystery behind the Elysian box, which the contents are infamous for causing death to those who open it. Layton and Luke decide to visit his place in London, only to find that he had been murdered. Their only clue is a discarded train ticket for the Molentary Express, which had a character ripped off. As they set out on their journey on the train, two questions are raised. Who killed Dr Schrader, and why? The story mixes elements of mystery and puzzle solving with great expertise. In terms of progression, there are a few checkpoints where you need to solve a certain amount of puzzles. Others involve you solving a puzzle itself to progress, but these are generally designed around the story this time. This is a move that provides a richer source of immersion than simply having the mandatory puzzle of “Here are some ducklings and wolves. Get them to the other side of the river before a wolf eats a duckling”.

The second adventure takes the Professor and his young apprentice to various locations. One of which is a town prematurely celebrating Christmas...

The amount of quality that went into the last game of the series has been trounced by the production values of this English port. Packed with more in the way of animated cut-scenes than the last game, it helps to tell a more blended story. Because of the fact that it has taken on the role of a more animated movie, the amount of voice acting has dramatically increased. It seems that once again Luke has taken on a different voice actor. If you were to play the US & UK versions of the previous instalment, you would have heard Luke’s voice then. Here it seems they’ve probably found their real Luke, as his voice has more emotion and isn’t nearly as annoying. Layton still sounds the same, but his calm and reassuring voice was always suited to the role of father figure and puzzle solver. The games locations take on a more multicultural approach than the last game, simply because it isn’t set in one town. From the flat of Dr Schrader in London to the small countryside town, things look pretty but not in a puzzling way. It isn’t until you find the mysterious town beyond the tracks that it things take a more familiar and bizarre turn.

As in the previous Professor Layton title, there are round about 150 puzzles in total. Most of these are optional and are consisting of various brain teasers and board game based puzzles. The trick of trick puzzles is still there but because of the previous game’s successful introduction to these nasty habits, they become easier to spot. One thing that is annoying though is the amount of block shifting puzzles. While some take the form of trains on a track, others take on a more conventional approach of being rubbish needing to be deposited in a bin. It all disguises the fact that they’re the same type of aggravating puzzle. Thankfully, with a lot more in the way of maths based puzzles as well, Level 5 have included a new memo option. Using the screen like a cartoonist would use see-through cell sheets, you write over the puzzle to try and figure things out. The see-through notepad therefore is a useful tool for not only working out maths without the need to kill a tree or two, but also the more interactive puzzle by plotting a route that can be easily deleted without consequence. Puzzles reward in the form of Picarats like the last game did, but the Picarats here can be spent to unlock new content. While puzzles are great sometimes the transitions between story and puzzle are a little forced, just like the last game. I can almost imagine this line appearing in a Professor Layton game: “Good lord Luke, he’s bleeding all over the place. He needs to get to a hospital now! But before you dial 999, this reminds me of a smashing puzzle…”

Side quests make a return with a little more than just collecting items and placing them in the right place. The camera, which is perhaps the only one that is similar to the side quests in the first game, can be built from various parts found across the game’s path. The difference here is the bonus when you fix the camera. While the mechanical dog in the first game sought hint coins, the camera activates spot the difference puzzles which lead to hidden puzzles that wouldn’t normally be seen. Luke will also at one point obtain a hamster which has been suffering from dietary issues for a long time. Here it is more a case of placing the items in the right place, but also figuring out how each item interacts with the hamster. The most promising puzzle feature is the tea based one. By gathering ingredients, you will gain access to new brews which in turn can be used to elevate the mood of one of the game’s inhabitants. The issue here though comes in the brewing of new teas. It is very experimental with the potential to fail more often than not. With the rest of the game being associated with critical thinking being the key, why is this segment more about pot luck?

Puzzles can now intergrate with the story. This is one of the first.

Puzzles one might have missed along the way will come back in the form of the travelling shack. This is very helpful in terms of getting 100%. As for unlockables, owners of the previous game will be able to enter a code to unlock some concept art. There are also the hardest puzzles of the game available upon story or mini-game completion, while on the downloadable side there are a host of weekly puzzles to keep one entertained. There is even a baffling piece of cross game interaction with the previous game to unlock the top secret puzzle. If you need a hint, it involves a hidden door. This cross game idea is a great marketing ploy, but also is a great reward for those who like the franchise. If this was a bad game, it would be a stunt at best. But because the series is consistently good it is a novel idea.

Just like the town of St Mystere, Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box carries on the tradition of testing the world with brainteasers whilst providing a truly magical story. The returning cast seem more developed this time around, even if in one instance he is now the real deal. There is a lot to do in this instalment of Layton’s adventures and plenty of unlockables via Picarat and mini-game completion. It is a shame that some of the puzzles aren’t as diverse as I would have liked, but then again the chance to wander around mysterious settings with such attention to detail almost makes up for it. Since this is seemingly a trilogy of games, those who are committed to Layton’s puzzling journey will have waited in baited breath for the sequel to finally get released. It was worth the wait. The third instalment probably won’t see the light of day until next year at least. Hopefully this will keep you occupied until then.