Now let me start by saying I hope this doesn’t come across as a biased review. I say this because I unequivocally, hand on heart, spit in your eye if I tell a lie, love Professor Layton. And the game too. I love, riddles, puzzles and the British sense of etiquette and soI was blown away by the first in the Layton series, The Curious Village. The heady mix of dry wit, top hats and riddley, puzzley goodness, ensured I did not surface from my DS for days.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t trust this review. In fact, you should trust it more, because, in my eyes, the next Layton instalment has so much to live up to! Short of pouring me a whisky and giving me a foot rub whilst bamboozling my mind, I struggle to see how Pandora’s Box can improve on the first game. It really does try to live up to its predecessor, though – and almost succeeds too.
The storyline is similar, very similar, in fact. Murder, mystery and a famous, legendary artefact shape the tale. The Professor’s mentor has been found dead after sending a letter detailing his research into the infamous Pandora’s Box – which supposedly kills all who open it. Layton decides to investigate the murder/curse and takes his old, unconvincing cockney sidekick with him.
The structure of the game is pretty unaltered from the original too, but is still very enjoyable. Played out like an interactive book, you potter around, clicking on characters, listening to their views or versions of events and also accepting puzzle after puzzle from them which, if you solve, progress the story forward. Solving puzzles also gets you Picarats, the Layton equivalent of Mario’s stars or Sonic’s rings, only slightly more posh and academic.
It’s a beautifully written little gem, twee at times, but in a genuinely heart warming way. It’s almost like a panto for the DS; you hate the baddies, love the goodies and laugh at the idiots. The system of using Hint Coins to unlock clues to the puzzles is still firmly in residence and just like before the little beauties are obscurely hidden in the game scenery. This ensures you spend the first few minutes of a new location frantically poking every inch of screen until one flies out.
Now, this is all standard Layton stuff but the new game introduces a few new mini games into the mix, which I think start to show the slight weakening of the solid old formula. The ideas behind the games are good, but the execution’s lousy. One mini-game, for example, sees you mixing different blends of tea for the Professor depending on his mood. It sounds like a brilliant idea for the setting, but in reality it means a long and monotonous guessing game of measurements and ingredients – like cracking a combination lock, only without the loot afterwards.
Sadly, there’s also the slight worry the Layton brand may be running out of puzzles, as the overall quality of challenges seems diminished with this latest instalment. There’s an awful lot of trace the route puzzles, which I’ve been able to complete since the age of five, as well as some which seem so far out of the range of common sense you’re left feeling mystified and cheated. Some of the larger puzzles too are so obvious the real riddle is trying to work out whether you’re meant to see them coming or not. One of the very early mini-mysteries you have to solve was so blatant I thought I was meant to be in on it from the off – yet the game had me jumping through hoops for a full half-hour, even though the answer was simple for the poor sod with the stylus.
That said, this is still a very good game and one that keeps on giving too, as you still have the option to download a new Professor Layton puzzle every week. It’s this and the overall style and content of the game that make it so well suited to the DS and its audience, even though the Professor’s latest outing feels a tiny bit tired.
There’s no needless gore or elves in skimpy armour – just tea, history and riddles. If you like all these things, you’ll love this game. The answer really is that simple.
Professor Layton And Pandora’s Box is out now.