When Professor Hershel Layton discovers his close friend has died whilst in search of the infamous Elysian Box, he decides to take his trusty side-kick, Luke, on an intriguing ride on the wondrous Molentary Express to investigate this supposedly lethal antique. Little does he realise, though, this particular train ride is not going to be of an ordinary nature and the people aboard are not all exactly as they first appear. Mystery and deception abound, Layton and Luke set off on an adventure that is as gorgeously animated as before, with plenty of video sequences that looks like Studio Ghibli's work, and has an increased amount of extremely strong voice-work to ensure players become more immersed in the tumultuous journey.
Level-5 has once again teamed up with Professor Akira Tago to bring a whole host of brain-teasing puzzles to the table, with the majority being sourced from his multi-million-selling Mental Gymnastics series of books, but also a selection being specifically created from scratch to be exclusive to Pandora's Box. Player's not only get the chance to work their way through the ones included in the main adventure, though, but also can download a new extra puzzle each week via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Additionally, should any be missed whilst working your way through the story (ones that are no longer accessible due to backtracking in the main story being disabled from a certain point onwards) are stored up, ready for consumption at a later stage. In doing this, Level-5 has tried its best to avoid alienating its audience, letting them still do puzzles even if they were missed. The company also guides players by the hand during the exploration of the various locations found throughout. This is done via the top-screen, where a map of each new area is shown, how many people are currently in Layton and Luke's company and usually some form of hint towards where the next area to search will be. The whole experience is thoroughly intuitive.
Whilst Curious Village was undoubtedly a fantastic experience overall, its puzzles felt disjointed at times, not as perfectly aligned with the on-going tale as they could have been. This has been rectified in Pandora's Box and the brain-teasers now flow almost seamlessly alongside the story, with characters and situations leading to logical puzzle situations in the majority of cases. There are still instances where a random villager will simply say 'Oh, and whilst I have you, here is something I need you to solve!', but on the whole it is abundantly clear that more effort has gone into the integration side of development. Another pleasing aspect is that the developer went to lengths trying to include extra elements that give gamers a break from the main journey.
In this respect, at varying stages of the game, upon finding the solution to a specific conundrum, Layton is gifted with a toy, piece of broken camera or special key. The toys are used in a small maze where strategic positioning results in a chunky hamster, temporarily in your possession, waddling along a certain number of places. The objective is to lure him around the maze further and further until he 'Levels-Up' and subsequently loses a little bit of flab. The camera 'extra' is a case of revolving the numerous collected parts around and moving them in different ways until the right places are found so that they form a camera in its entirety once more (which then unlocks another special mode in the main game…). The little extra touches such as these really do help to give gamers a much needed break from the brain-aching action from time-to-time.
But, of course, the heart of the game is the Akira Tago-led puzzles, with the stylus and touch-screen coming into play each time, as the player has to unravel the complex riddles placed in front of them. Puzzles range from simple ones, such as having several pathways intertwined and needing to determine which one is actually connects point A to point B, indicated on different areas of the screen, right through to those that require greater thought and a higher degree of cerebral prowess to reach the correct solution. Some of the puzzles require quick use of mathematical skills (which is where the ability to make notes on the in-game memo pad comes in very handy), whilst lateral thinking comes into play more often than not, and all of them will provide a sufficient amount of challenge to keep players of every standard on their toes. For those that struggle, however, each one has three hints that can be unlocked using one of the coins found dotted around each locale visited. Tapping on the screen in odd looking areas can result in the discovery of these Hint Coins and they prove to be vital additions to your inventory when stumped by a nightmarish problem that must be resolved before moving on.
As mentioned briefly before, just like with Curious Village, the standard of presentation for Pandora's Box is through the roof - truly spectacular! There are far more video sequences that look as if they are straight out of an expertly drawn animated motion picture, whilst the locations and characters in general are full of verve and personality, brimming with colour, visual vibrancy and a sense of unique quirkiness that leaves a strong impression on the player. On top of this aesthetic achievement, the soundtrack is simply splendid, mixing in the first game's French-tinged themes, complete with obligatory accordion accompaniment, but also blending in some exceptionally melancholy, emotional pieces of music that can easily be left playing in the background without ever growing old or annoying. Level-5 has succeeded once more in developing a fantastic piece of software that shines brightly in every area and thoroughly deserves to be firmly lodged in everyone's DS systems for months to come.