Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
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We got Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box a week ago. Actually it's the quickest game purchase I've made in years - I just mentioned that it had come out after I finished work last Wednesday, and Whitney immediately booted me out of the flat to go and retrieve it from the local Gamestop. Shortly afterwards, we've completed it - but that was playing it for just over 12 hours in total, and it's still only in the same completedish state that you could get in the first game - once you've reached the end there are still the bonus puzzles to get through, and it gives you your puzzle list to encourage you to go back and scrape together the ones that you missed from the main story.

This is just wonderful
It seems to be pretty much what a sequel should be, which is more of the same but nicer. And it's much bigger than the original game, as well - I think the second-last general location you visit is as big as the entire town in the first one. As far as the interface goes, characters now actually look like they're having conversations with each other rather than having their portraits swap in and out, but that's the only difference that I can actually name.

Once again, it's a game that just charms you into loving it, through the combined (and very international) efforts of the Japanese artwork style, British setting and French atmosphere. If you've played the first, you know what happens - it's an interactive puzzle book where you solve completely arbitrary brainteasers and use the standard Doom secret-finding method of zipping around belting the entire screen to collect the hint coins placed in people's chimneys and light bulbs. One of the details that felt wrong about the first game was that the mystery of the storyline was solved entirely independently of you while you ran around rearranging matchsticks - this one still does that, but it has at least a couple of puzzles that are at least vaguely related to the storyline (it starts off very well and then goes back to comfortable irrelevance while Professor Layton works out the plot for you).

My favourite part is one of the new sub-games, mostly because of how British it is (or rather, what other countries think the British are like). Throughout the main storyline, you encounter people with sweat icons hovering over them - talking to these people gets them to vaguely tell you the type of tea that would make them feel better, and you're then given a strangely Son of the Empire-like mixing screen (with the mortar and pestle replaced with a teapot that bounces enthusiastically as you add ingredients to it) on which you have to combine your ingredients according to their names, flavours or properties to match up with what you're asked to produce. If you manage to come up with one of the twelve correct recipes it's added to your list and you can then serve it to people - if not, then a skull and crossbones will float out of the teacup and Luke and Layton will give their opinion of the tea you've made as if it's my cooking ("That's odd, I've never seen tea congeal before." "Let's write this recipe down so we never try to make it again."). There's just something indescribably wonderful about setting people's problems right one cup of tea at a time.

Equally glorious for people who were playing games in the 90s is the way that you get something physical in the box that helps you to solve one of the puzzles - I won't say what it is because you don't even realize you have it until it's mentioned. I can't remember things like that being used since the code wheel copy protections of things like Monkey Island, although the likes of Metal Gear Solid had a go of reviving it a bit later on. And unlike the very automatic conclusion of the first game, where you climbed the ominous black towaaah and had everything explained to you piece by piece, the Phoenix Wright-ish ending is really something special - you tend to forget about what the DS is capable of, and realizing what it's asking you to do is a great moment.

In the end it's just a puzzle book in cartridge form - but it's amazingly nice about it.