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Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Level-5
Release Date: Sept. 12, 2010 (US), Oct. 22, 2010 (EU)

About Brad Hilderbrand

I've been covering the various facets of gaming for the past five years and have been permanently indentured to WorthPlaying since I borrowed $20K from Rainier to pay off the Russian mob. When I'm not furiously writing reviews, I enjoy RPGs, rhythm games and casual titles that no one else on staff is willing to play. I'm also a staunch supporter of the PS3.


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NDS Review - 'Professor Layton and the Unwound Future'

by Brad Hilderbrand on Sept. 28, 2010 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Professor Layton and his apprentice, Luke, receive a confounding letter -- from Luke 10 years in the future. But the message inside is even more troubling: London of the future is in disarray, and the only person who can help set things right is Professor Layton.

There's nothing a proper English gentleman loves more than tea, top hats, and head-scratching puzzles. That's the case in the world inhabited by Professor Hershel Layton. One of Nintendo's more unlikely protagonists has made quite a name for himself — not by saving princess or slaying space pirates but by using his razor-sharp intellect to unravel mysteries set before him. Now the Professor finds himself in his most complex adventure yet, and Professor Layton and the Unwound Future has proven to be the high-water mark for the series.

Layton's latest adventure kicks off when he and his faithful apprentice Luke are invited to the maiden voyage of a time machine. Unfortunately, things go horribly wrong, and the lead scientist as well as Britain's Prime Minister disappear after a blast rocks the demonstration site. If that weren't problematic enough, Layton soon receives a letter from someone purporting to be none other than Luke, 10 years in the future. The future of which Luke writes is bleak, ruled over by none other than Layton himself, but a twisted, dark version who's bent on achieving his goals, even if it means destroying the very city he once loved.

As anyone who has enjoyed the series knows, the truth behind what's going on isn't that straightforward, but half the fun comes from discovering the twists and turns along the way. One thing that Unwound Future does that no other game in the franchise has achieved is humanizing Layton and showing him to be a man with feelings and emotions, not just an aloof, puzzle-solving machine. A combination of flashbacks and an extremely poignant ending make this title the most powerful yet in the series, and Unwound Future does a magnificent job wrapping up the trilogy that started with Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Those who are hoping for a worthwhile plot will not be let down by this game.

Of course, the main attraction in any Professor Layton title is the puzzles, and Unwound Future has them in spades. There are over 165 brain-teasing challenges, and they run the gamut from slide puzzles and mazes to mathematical acrobatics and the classic "Who's lying" challenges, where you must follow a convoluted chain of logic to find the answer. There is a great variety to the puzzles, and only a few archetypes are repeated over the course of the game. Sure, you may have to do three different variations of block rotating or sliding on banana peels to find the exit to a maze, but the puzzles are varied enough that they never grow stale. Of course, in addition to the plethora of puzzles packed in the game, there are also downloadable weekly challenges to keep your mind engaged for a long time to come.

With so many puzzles, there are bound to be at least a few that'll stump you, but Unwound Future makes things as painless as possible thanks to an improved memo system and the exceptionally helpful and ubiquitous hint coins. This time around, players can utilize different colors and line thicknesses to keep their thoughts straight while jotting memos. You can also erase only specific parts of your musings rather than being forced to start from scratch simply because you forgot to carry the one. It's definitely much improved over the old setup, but the fact that you still have to completely remove your notes in order to go back to solve the puzzle leaves a few issues unresolved. The jump from puzzle to note screen can be jarring, and if you aren't paying attention, you may accidentally tap an answer when you think you're getting ready to take a memo. Even though the system is leaps and bounds better than previous games, it's still not totally there.

The game also has 300 hint coins scattered about the landscape, which players can use to spur their thinking on the trickier challenges. In addition to the three traditional hints, the game also includes a Super Hint, which costs two coins and does most of the heavy lifting for you. While the Super Hint won't come right out and tell you the answer, it will do everything possible to point you in the right direction while still letting you have your "Eureka!" moment.

On top of all the other content, the game also features three different minigames, each of which brings a unique challenge to the table. The toy car section is very similar to the hamster from Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, but the other two are totally different. The parrot game challenges you to deliver a package to someone across the screen before time runs out by stretching ropes across gaps to reroute your bird. Meanwhile, the sticker book minigame (a personal favorite) feels sort of like Mad Libs, but you must determine precisely which item fits in each description. For instance, when the book wants a [white thing], is it asking for a white mushroom, a white raincoat or a pitcher of milk? This example illustrates the charm of these minigames, each of which starts off relatively simply but quickly ramps up be immensely challenging.

Another charming thing about Unwound Future is its positively darling animation and music. The game's art style has always been a strength, and the animated cut scenes are so gorgeous that you could easily find yourself digging through the main menu to watch them again. Couple that with the mellow yet peppy accordion-centric soundtrack, and you have an absolutely delightful experience in the palm of your hand. Level-5 has found a terrific niche with the art and music, so here's hoping it never changes.

Really, the only thing terribly un-gentlemanly about the game is the obscene amounts of backtracking required to move through the story. Unwound Future is the biggest Layton game yet, and it shows when you have to go from one side of the map to another, one static screen at a time. Things are even more irritating when you're jumping from present-day London to future London and back again for seemingly inconsequential reasons. While there are buses and trains to shorten the hike, the stations are almost never near where you need to go, and you can ultimately make it to the destination in roughly the same amount of time by merely walking. The game does a nice job of providing you with a constant goal indicator so you're always headed in the right direction, but getting there can sometimes take a lot longer than you would like.

If you don't mind the extra walking, then Professor Layton and the Unwound Future is every puzzle-lover's dream. The game is absolutely overflowing with content, and the emotional, intriguing story will keep you hooked right through the end. After you've finished the game, don't be surprised if you have an overwhelming urge to buy the biggest top hat you can find. No proper gentleman would ever be caught dead without one.

Score: 9.0/10

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