Jeff and Scott hop on the Molentary Express: Hands-on Professor Layton 2 for the Nintendo DS

CNET gets deep into the second game in Nintendo's puzzling top-hatted adventure series.

Nintendo games: you either like them or hate them. For most of the world, it's like. Among Nintendo's various cutesy-quirky franchises, a recent one--and one of Nintendo's best--happens to be the gorgeously designed puzzle adventure series known as Professor Layton. Although Japan has already seen four installments of the top-hatted man and his chipper little boy companion, English-speaking territories are only up to installment No. 2.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village, which hit the DS in early 2008, was a surprise critical hit and successfully balanced old-fashioned brainteasers with a graphic adventure. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is now in stores, but CNET editors Jeff and Scott got a chance to play over the weekend. Their takes are below.

Scott:
Finally, a DS game worth buying! No offense, but it's been a rough couple of months since Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars and Rhythm Heaven hit in the spring. Nintendo's been very quiet with its own first-party releases, and Professor Layton 2 is one of its first big titles to sink your Nintendo fanboy teeth into. But even if you're not a fan, you might want to consider becoming one.

As in Curious Village, the game opens with beautiful voice-acting and a hand-drawn animation style, a throwback that almost looks like work from Hiyao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli. While it's not exactly clear what the mystery is and why exactly Professor Layton and his boy wonder Luke end up daytripping on a train called the Molentary Express, give the game some patience and enjoy the random (and sometimes forced) puzzles. Soon enough you'll fall into the rhythm and enjoy a pretty excellent hybrid casual/adventure game.

The Professor Layton games make excellent use of the touch screen, both in navigation and puzzle-solving. One hundred fifty new brainteasers are part of the package, and Nintendo promises more available as free downloads like it did with Curious Village. It's a meaty but not epic amount of gameplay, and the 150 puzzles will take some time to figure out. In terms of the number of mysteries of sub-games available in Diabolical Box, it easily meets Curious Village and at times exceeds it.

Right now there's nothing that comes close in terms of new games worth buying on the Nintendo DS. As a franchise, this exceeds even Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney in terms of strangeness and quality. Make sure you give Diabolical Box a shot, and let's hope those other sequels are quickly on their way.

Jeff:
To say there has been a dearth of solid DS games lately would be the mother of all understatements. To be totally honest, 2009 has not been very exciting for any handheld releases, regardless of platform. However, it does appear the summer has been saved with the release of the new Professor Layton title.

We first got a chance to check out the latest from the professor earlier this summer at a Nintendo event in New York City. Now with a week of puzzle-gaming with the retail version under our belts, we can safely say Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is the satisfying sequel you were hoping for.

Reprising the role of Luke, you'll once again follow your mentor through another mystery, solving all kinds of logic puzzles and brain teasers along the way. As you get closer to finding the truth about a box that supposedly kills anyone who opens it, the puzzles become more challenging.

Not only are there more puzzles than ever, but you'll notice some minor graphical improvements as well. There are plenty of animated cut scenes and an impressive amount of voice-over work, mostly absent in games prior.

But perhaps the most attractive element of Diabolical Box is its appeal to gamers of all ages. The Professor Layton series is special in that sense--virtually anyone can pick it up and challenge themselves. The mind-bending puzzles range from easy to very difficult, though you'll have the option of using hint coins that you collect along the way.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box is available now for $30 only on the Nintendo DS.

 

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