Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box | Principal Platforms: Nintendo DS | Developer: Level-5 | Publisher: Level-5, Nintendo | Genre: Puzzle | Year: 2007

Professor Layton’s first sequel starts with a bang and ends just as well. A solid improvement, though one spoiled by some tedious middle chapters.
Professor Layton and Pandora's Box Nintendo DS PAL Box Art

Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box

Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box (more fittingly called Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box outside of Europe), continues where its prequel left off by ushering the Prof. and his young sidekicks — Luke and Flora — into a brand new mystery loaded with taxing brainteasers.

It’s a classic setup this time, as Layton investigates the eponymous box foretold to slay anyone who would dare open it. It’s a colourful journey with more varied locales than the previous game. You’ll get to ride an express train in the early going and later explore dark quarters overlooking an equally ominous township where the bulk of the investigation takes place.

The presentation remains strong when you consider the mechanical elements. The inclusion of a memo pad is the biggest saving grace because it allows players to work out their answers via a handy touch screen overlay. It’s a superb addition that the previous game sorely needed.

Elsewhere things are easier to get along with thanks to some subtle yet elegant changes. The map markers that tell you exactly where to go next; the fact that you can return to the title screen to access bonus material; and especially the new side-on character portraits which reinforce who Layton is addressing in any given conversation.

Characterisation feels better on the whole actually, mostly because of the increase in voice acting and touched-up sprites. Many of the supporting characters still love to talk nonsense though, and I can see absolutely no reason for Flora’s presence considering how meek and uninteresting her character continues to be. It’s even worse for Layton’s supposed nemesis. Whereas Don Paolo’s appearance felt jarring before, here he felt downright intrusive.

I also yearned for some fresher music. Everything still sounds lovely, but the same puzzle theme from Curious Village is recycled to mildly disappointing effect, and if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t enjoy hearing accordions…well, you may as well just mute your console altogether.

Professor Layton and Pandora's Box Gameplay Screenshot

There’s a general consensus among fans that Pandora’s Box is a more difficult game than its predecessor. Much of that has to do with the sheer number of sliding block puzzles; some of which being a real pain to figure out.

The gameplay in Pandora’s Box is similarly familiar but no less accomplished than the audio. The puzzles possess a greater level of interactivity this time, though there are a few which get players to spot differences in photographs and other compressed-looking images. It’s a minor gripe, but I do feel compelled to berate that one puzzle which thought it clever to split up an already fuzzy picture into four tiny quadrants!

Luckily, Pandora’s Box still has some innovative moments. One puzzle gets you using the console microphone for the first time in the series, and another involves a physical prop which is hidden within the pages of the game’s instruction manual. These strong numbers compliment a string of plot-related puzzles that get Layton actually taking part in the action. This — along with a new menu that reveals Layton’s thinking behind the deeper mysteries at hand — lend the proceedings a less abstract and more personable flavour; a quality that would help define later games in the series as well.

However, it’s not enough to fully counter the game’s repetitive middle portion — a stretch that sees the principal cast dawdling on minor twists and in one particularly mind-numbing stretch; chasing after scraps of paper blowing about in the wind.

Hang in there though because the final act of Professor Layton and Pandora’s Box is worth the effort. There are some wonderful puzzles towards the very end of the game, and even with the resolution being delightfully weird and nonsensical, the finale is exciting and brings the story to a satisfying enough conclusion.