Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box

Carrying on the trend that the DS isn’t for serious gamers (I’m sorry, but it isn’t), Professor Layton 2 is the newest games in the latest series of games that are for kids, but also for adults, allowing those older members of the family a perfectly reasonable excuse to get a DS and not feel bad when they get accosted for it (Along with Brain Training, Brain Training 2 and Professor Layton 1). If I were a lesser man, I would wonder how the hell they could possibly manage to pull off a sequel to a game with a shoddy plot, but with a load of puzzles, with only 20% or so being ‘bad’ puzzles. You’ll never guess what happened.

As it turns out, Professor Layton and his young cockney assistant have managed to find out about another puzzle in the form of ‘The Elysian Box’, called Pandora’s Box by some. This puzzle amounts to ‘Everyone that opens it dies. Discuss’. This is just the beginnings of the fun plot device though. One of Layton’s old friends finds out about the box (Oh no!), finds it (Gasp!) and dies (Bigger gasp!), which of course leads the Professor onto a trip to find the box after someone steals it, and find the truth. The rest you can work out without playing it. As you might have guessed, my personal cynicism makes it very difficult to enjoy a plot like that. There are the odd plot twists and such, but all in all, you know what will happen. The plot twists (Or lack thereof) feel like they were written because the writers were half asleep when they were writing, but the big boys came in every so often just to check what they were doing, and gave them a good kicking.

The artists, however, have done yet another sterling job with the backdrops. All the playable scenes (How they managed to make an FMV in this situation, I’ll never know), are completly hand drawn or have the odd bit of animation in it, in the odd times a fountain decides to appear. It feels all pretty and nice. The game wouldn’t work in a full 3D environment, and the developers knew it. These hand crafted scenes really do make it more fun to play, and allow you to forget about that stupid plot. The occasional FMVs are also well animated, and fit in. The backdrops are still there, in the same detail as before, and whoever happens to be in the scene don’t lose any noticable quality, though whether that just happens to be because there wasn’t as much detail in them in the first place is a question worth asking.

The real question, however, is whether the main problems from the first game is still there. The Layton games are about puzzles and so you should make sure that your puzzles are good. A fair few from the first game had issues, mostly that they were tedious picture games, or had logic problems (Though I might be slightly biased towards those picture puzzles, mainly as I found them difficult). Well, in the sequel, there still are those issues, but I think they took heed of the fact they weren’t the best. There appear to be less of them now, and the more interesting ones get to shine through. One of my favourites involved the train problem, where you needed to switch two trains of carriages from their side of the track to the other. There’s also the fun word puzzles, where you just have to sift out tons of crap to get to the useful stuff. That might drive some people insane, but I happen to like that. The only puzzle that I thought was stupid was one where the answer was a ratio. I cancelled down because I worked mathematically (and I wasn’t the only one that did). I got it wrong.

If the puzzles are starting to drive you insane, you can have a walk around whichever town you’ve got to, and give those who are thirsty some tea. If ever I saw a game that was English, this is it. Only in England would 2 people walking around a town which worries about Vampires and proffering a cup of tea to those in distress be considered a normal thing to do. If I had a hat, I’d take it off in respect. The other minigames are fun too. One which I confess to losing a large amount of time to is the hamster minigame, where you have to place toys in a box for the hamster to play with, making him walk a long distance and somehow making him thinner after he takes 16 steps in one go. The premise might be flawed, but it turns into a highscore contest between you and yourself. However, I wasn’t a fan of the last on, but its plain to see why. After fixing a camera, you can take photos of 9 locations and play spot the difference. After doing that, you get the chance to see hidden puzzles. The reward is nice, but the actual spot the difference was annoying. One difference was that there was one less clove of garlic in the distance. That caused no rage at all. No sir. All these games require you to complete some puzzles, but once they’re unlocked, you at least have a different way of spending your time, and gives you some rewards. The hidden puzzles in the case of the camera, or a pointer to hint coins with the hamster.

These hint coins are found by clicking anywhere, so the haster is a great boon. I struggled in the later stages of the original, when I needed hints, but I’ve now got enough to keep me going. These hint coins allow you to unlock a hint for any puzzle you like. There are always 3, and each should (In theory) be more helpful than the last. Some spell the answer out backwards, and tell you to read backwards (the third usually), whereas others encourage you to think about the puzzle in a different manner. When desperate for a hint, they never feel patronising, until you get to the third hint and the designers are clearly thinking ‘What a twit. Can he not read?’. My only grind with the hint system is that later iterations of the puzzles (Peg Solitaire is featured 5 times, as is the Knight’s Problem) are just telling you facts about the game, instead of giving you hints, but you still have to pay for them. I liked the hints for when I needed them, but if I’m asking for a hint, can’t I just have a hint?

All in all, Layton’s second outing does its job well. The puzzles are varied enough to keep you interested, and all, bar the picture puzzles, are simple and easy once you know the thinking. The plot may grate, but really, you’re paying for a game which just has 150 different puzzles for you to play, and a chance for a new one every week if you get desperate. The backdrops make the game worthwhile while you aren’t playing, and the puzzles really shine. The trouble I have here is whether I recommend the game, or just say go to a puzzle site.  The outcome at the end is worth the ride and the plot twists are good when they appear. Its just a shame the rest of plot is so plainly a children’s game. The premise might be stupid, but it ties together into a nice game, so it is recommendable, however, I wouldn’t pay the full £30 or so for the game. Wait until a good drop to about £15 (which is probably about now), and then give it a go.

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