I like to play it like Golf

This was originally published as part of a game roundup on 28 February 2011.

Once the novelty of being able to summon Cthulhu wear off, Scribblenauts is rather uninteresting. Almost every level can be beaten with a half-dozen or fewer common objects. My eventual strategy was to start almost every level by summoning a black hole and probably a few lengths of chain or rope. So much for “thousands of unique objects”.

Scribblenauts: 0

Professor Layton and the Meaningless MacGuffin

Originally Posted 12 July 2010

Last week, I finished playing through Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. If you missed the first one, the Professor Layton games are puzzle games for the Nintendo DS. Diabolical Box is the second one released in the US with a third one coming to the US later this year.

Once again, the Professor has gotten himself stuck in a closed circle with mysteries all around him. The game begins with one of the Professor’s old friends finally obtaining a box which said friend had been researching and searching for. The box has a reputation for killing anyone who opens it, so said friend thought it would be a good idea to open it. Needless to say, the expected happens and the Professor and Luke go off in search of the secret behind the (now lost again) box and the death of the Professor’s friend.

The gameplay is almost identical to the first iteration of the series. You wander around a world, adventure game sytle, and periodically encountering people with puzzles for you to solve. This one includes about as many sidequests as the former did, but they are at least different this time around. Rather than assembling a robotic dog, you get to train a gerbil so that it loses weight, for instance. The other two sidequests involve a set of spot-the-differences puzzles and a tea brewing/serving quest.

Unfortunately, the game suffers somewhat due to the fact that I had played the former so recently. Although none of the puzzles in the first game were repeated verbatim, many of them were using similar gimicks just repeated with slightly different constraints or with a different framing device. As an example, the first game had a number of variations of the eight queens puzzle on progressively larger boards. The second game replaces this with the knight’s tour at various board sizes. This is actually one of the better examples as it is a relatively distinct (if somewhat related) puzzle. Others are “yet another logic puzzle” or “yet another sliding block puzzle”.

Given that the plot of any Layton game is mostly just a framing device for a large pile of puzzles, this one continues the tradition of crazy plot twists. I might even argue that the plot twists here are even crazier.

Ultimately, Diabolical Box is mostly a carbon copy of Curious Village. If you enjoyed the first, you’ll probably enjoy the second. Similarly, if you didn’t like the first, you won’t find anything here to encourage a second look at the series. If you aren’t sure about the series, I would suggest starting with Curious Villiage as there are numerous references to the first game in the second that are spoilers for the first.

It is difficult for me to come to a numeric value to represent this game. On the one hand, there is nothing bad or wrong with the game itself compared to its predecessor. On the other hand, the game takes no risks and introduces next to nothing in terms of new gameplay. It is the very definition of a “safe play”. I think ultimately, I wouldn’t recommend the Diabolical Box outright. The former is just as good and a fan of it would likely pursue this one regardless.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box: 0