The first Professor Layton title came out of nowhere. When Professor Layton and the Curious Village was released no one really knew what to expect, and everyone was impressed with what Nintendo and Level 5 had created. It was an assortment of puzzles tied together with a plot, something that wouldn't have been so entertaining if it wasn't done so damn well. The story and characters were incredibly charming, and the game had some of the best animated cutscenes on the handheld. When the game's instruction manual was cracked open, gamers were met with the promise of not only an entertaining game, but a another title within a year or so. As it turned out, Layton was nothing new in Japan, and a sequel was already released by the time the first game reached American shores. Now, finally, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box has been released, and should hold us over until we get the third game in the series. Then the fourth.
After receiving a letter from a friend named Dr. Schrader detailing a mythical artifact called the Elysian Box, Professor Layton and his apprentice Luke travel to the doctor's home. In the note, Schrader explains the box's story, and mentions that he believes to have discovered the secret. See, the Elysian Box supposedly kills anyone who dares open it, and Schrader mentions that he plans to do just that. When they arrive, they find that the Doctor has, indeed, died, and the box is gone. The only clue in the room is a train ticket with no destination, which sets the duo on their adventure. Just as is the case with the original, the charming cast of characters carries the story, which is told through still frames and the occasional video. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it should keep Layton fans well entertained.
Very little has changed since The Curious Village. In terms of gameplay, Layton and Luke still wander around different locales, poking everything in hopes of finding a hint token or a puzzle. Yes, a puzzle, be shocked. Puzzles are everywhere in the Layton series, and expecting not to have every object and person cue some long division is expecting too much. Sometimes it's tasteful, like trying to find the route a person took to retrace their steps, and other times it's as blatant as someone saying "You look like you need a puzzle!" and asking the good Professor to do their math homework. On the whole, they feel very similar to the ones in the first game in terms of quality. There aren't any repeats or anything, just more well-developed puzzles to sharpen the brain on.
The only noticeable change in terms of answering these puzzles is a Memo pad that can be accessed, which overlays the puzzle and allows room to jot down notes or do quick math. It solves one of the biggest issues of the first game, which was the occasional need to take out pen and paper to answer a question. It's been solved, and Nintendo and Level 5 has earned themselves some picarats for the improvement. Beyond that, there are some new games that are unlocked for Layton and Luke to mess around with that involve collecting objects throughout the game. Building a camera, brewing tea, and helping a hamster exercise are all entertaining pastimes, with the tea brewing section actually occasionally working its way into the story. From time to time, a certain type of tea needs to be made for a parched stranger, something which ends up being about as entertaining as it sounds. It's mostly trial and error, and might be the only real misstep in The Diabolical Box. My only hope is that, in the future, they either blend the mini-games into the story more or keep them further away, since the current system really doesn't seem to be to the game's benefit.
Past completing the story, weekly downloadable puzzles (which are likely already on the cardtridge) and other unlockables help flesh out the product, not that anyone should really need more reasons to check it out. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is certainly more of the same, but I don't think anyone is going to complain. Change the formula too much, and there's a chance the allure of Layton is lost, which is something I doubt the developers are comfortable messing with. Because of this, it's all pretty similar; everyone has a weird mustache, a strange nose, and a puzzle to solve, and as long as Level 5 and Nintendo keeps making Layton titles I'll keep buying them.