Review by corran450
Corran450's Review Series Vol. 14: Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
Since its original release in 2008, the "Professor Layton" series has become one of the most popular series of games available for the Nintendo DS. Some cite the series' simple, fun gameplay, others love the creative and engaging stories. Either way, every game in the series improves on the previous one, both in scope and innovation. "Professor Layton and The Unwound Future" continues this trend, improving on the already high standards of the preceding two games.
The gameplay of "Professor Layton" hasn't changed much since the first entry: a point-and-click adventure bookending the true meat of the game, the puzzles. The main point of the game is to solve brain teasers, trick questions, and riddles (using the touch screen and stylus) posited to you by various characters in the game. These puzzles range from block sliding (get the ball from point A to point B in as few moves as possible) to complex math equations (if a train leaves Chicago going 40 m.p.h. heading towards another train leaving New York going 30 m.p.h. etc.).
I've spoken in my review for "Professor Layton and the Curious Village" about that little thrill of accomplishment you get when you discover the correct answer to a tricky question. This remains unchanged. I love feeling so smart when I finally nail that answer. As before, there are some major stumpers. Each puzzle also has three hints that you can purchase with "hint coins" found scattered in various hiding places. These coins are limited in number, adding to the difficulty of the game. New to this entry is the "super-hint", available after purchasing the first three hints. Costing 2 hint coins, this super-hint practically solves the puzzle for you, making this entry easier than the first two, provided you have enough hint coins.
There are over 165 puzzles to be found in the game, all of varying degrees of difficulty, measured in the number of "picarats" you receive upon solving the puzzle. These picarats are used to unlock bonus materials, like character bios, sound bytes, even the ability to view the animated videos featured in the game. The customary trio of collection minigames returns. This time, Luke collects stickers to place in a storybook in the proper order to complete the stories, trains a parrot to deliver packages in order to build its intelligence to help find hint coins, and completes collection missions with his toy car. All three minigames, once completed, unlock bonus puzzles outside of the story.
This adventure begins in London, as Professor Layton and Luke attend a scientific demonstration of a time traveling machine put on by Dr Alain Stahngun. Also in attendance is the British Prime Minister, Bill Hawks. After the demonstration goes up in flames, Dr Stahngun and the Prime Minister are nowhere to be found.
One week later, the Professor and Luke receive a letter that claims to be from Luke, 10 years in the future! The two journey to a rundown clock shop operated by an old couple and examine the large clock in the basement. When they leave, they find themselves in London of the future, 10 years later. This adventure spans a lost decade, in a future where nothing is as it seems. Luke and the Professor must delve into this new world, where a mysterious figure from Layton's past may hold the key to saving the future...
The storylines of "Layton" games are always top notch, and "Unwound Future is no exception. I firmly believe that the writers at Level 5 must be the best writers in the business, because these games are so engrossing. The characters are so well-fleshed out, and you actually care about them. This game brings the trilogy to a proper close, with some very touching scenes at the end, demonstrating the special relationship between teacher and student that Luke and Layton share.
As in the first two games, the graphics of Professor Layton are highly nostalgic; they remind me of some of the cartoons I used to watch as a kid. The characters are all drawn very uniquely, and you'll have no trouble telling them apart. The scenery is colorful and interesting, and very well-detailed. Most of what you will be seeing, though, is the puzzles, and they are well developed. Any time there is a graphical element to the puzzle, the "pieces", so to speak, are clear and easy to evaluate. If the puzzle is just a verbal riddle, they are usually accompanied by an amusing drawing depicting the situation. Bottom line: the graphics are perfect for the intent of the game.
The game also includes some animated cut scenes featuring voice acting that are very well done. These videos are viewable from the main menu, if you win enough picarats from solving puzzles.
The musical style of the first two game remains. Whimsical, vaguely French-sounding music, relying heavily on accordion, is the accompaniment to your quest, all new tracks, and a nice vocal performance on the closing track "Time Travel". Unfortunately, the same issue the first two games suffer from is present here, namely, the puzzle theme, reminiscent of the "Jeopardy" theme, which can be very distracting while trying to solve a puzzle.
Once again, the best sounding parts of the game are the cut scenes, featuring very well-cast voice acting and superb sound effects. The incidental music in the cut scenes is also well-tailored and pleasant.
One problem is that whenever you solve a puzzle, either the professor or Luke will exclaim one of a limited number of phrases that basically mean "Good Job!" Normally I wouldn't mind, but after 165+ puzzles, it gets a little repetitive, especially since they're still using the same ones they recorded for the first game...
This game is longer than the previous two, but I still wrapped it up in about 12 total hours. That's still a pretty good length for a handheld game, especially since the story is fun and solving puzzles is so satisfying. As I mentioned before, there are tons of puzzles to unlock, including over two dozen that are downloadable via a wireless access point. That's a lot of puzzles to solve. Naturally, your playing time will vary based on how long it takes for you to solve a given puzzle.
Unfortunately, I'd have to give this a low replayability rating. Sure the story was great, and yeah it was highly satisfying solving puzzles, but once you've solved a puzzle, it's done. You already know the answer, so solving it gives no more satisfaction. Sure some of the block-moving-style puzzles ask you to try to complete it in fewer moves, but I don't really know anyone that masochistic. Still, it can be fun to foist a tough one off on your friends and watch them sweat over the answer.
Rent or Buy? The entire "Professor Layton" series is oozing with excellence. Almost every aspect of each game is well-made and enjoyable. If you've made it through the first two, there should be no question about picking this one up! Whether you rent or buy depends on whether you want to see the stories again. I imagine I will want to view it again. If you have a DS, all three of these games should be in your library.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (US, 09/12/10)
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