- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 20, 2009

A world-renowned archaeologist with a fondness for wearing silk top hats returns to exercise noggins in Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (Nintendo, for DS, $29.99).

When a mentor of Professor Layton is found dead, the well-dressed hero and his young apprentice, Luke, investigate, leading to a turn-of-the-century quest for the Elysian Box, an object that kills anyone who opens it.

More than 150 puzzles await the player, who clicks around environments on a train and in various European locales to help the pair of detectives find clues and encounter various characters and hot spots. The action excels at tossing out puzzles, often with a high degree of difficulty. Players can thank famed brain-teasing master professor Akira Tago, who helped create the fantastic selection that’s integrated into the story.

Be it assembling a jigsaw puzzle to view a map, selecting a key with the right shape to open a door, circling an item that looks out of place in a room, drawing a line to get through a maze or sliding pieces around to get a bag of trash into a garbage bin, each puzzle taxes the junior detective as well as his DS touch screen.

Brains really go into overdrive with plenty of illustrated number and word problems that further hone logic skills and even do a bit of teaching. For example, position a stack of pancakes onto another plate in the fewest moves possible and learn that the challenge is based on the famous Tower of Hanoi puzzle invented by a French mathematician more than 100 years ago. Or use an equation to compile a final price for food items ordered by Luke after figuring out the total cost of a meal.

For those befuddled by a puzzle, a handy on-screen notepad can help the player keep track of his ideas for solutions. More direct, a steady stream of hint coins found among objects can be collected and used three times during each challenge.

Parents will appreciate the abundance of reading in the game, as well as the constant critical thinking required.

A generous amount of animated cut scenes and narration embellish the action along with a never-annoying musical soundtrack boasting accordion and violins.

The additional beauty of the Layton franchise is the seemingly never-ending amount of stuff to do besides solving within the main adventure. Among a trio of additional tasks, the player will come to own a fat hamster and must find ways to motivate it to lose weight. The rodent needs to move a certain number of spaces on a game board and is plied and directed with various items collected when searching the story’s environments.

Also, DS owners near a Wi-Fi access point can download a new puzzle every week.

Fans of Professor Layton’s work in the Curious Village will find the Diabolical Box even more addicting while casual gamers will gladly join his new adventure.

Joseph Szadkowski’s ROMper Room is a place for children and their parents to escape the world of ultraviolent video games and use that gaming system or computer to actually learn something while having fun. Send e-mail to [email protected]

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