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Professor Layton and the Unwound Future Review

By Neilie Johnson, 9/22/2010

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It isn't often that danger, logic and impeccable breeding find a reason to come together. That's really too bad, considering some of our coolest heroes (say, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes) are also our most distinguished gentlemen. In 2008, Professor Hershel Layton entered the ranks of fiction's most genteel heroes upon solving the mystery underlying a certain Curious Village and since then he's been a role model for puzzle fans and aspiring gentlemen alike. In his latest adventure, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, our favorite top-hat-wearing sleuth once again demonstrates his commitment to etiquette, as well as his puzzle-solving prowess.

The Unwound Future departs from the series' usual rural settings, instead taking place in the center of London. After receiving a strange letter from someone claiming to be from the future and attending a scientific demonstration gone horribly wrong, Layton realizes the two things must be related. Along with his pint-sized assistant Luke, he sets out to get to the bottom of this mystery and is soon caught up in events that cross both time and space. For the most part, The Unwound Future is much like previous Professor Layton titles. You visit various locations, moving by tapping the stylus on the directional arrows at the corners of the screen; you also tap to talk to people and they serve to advance the story and give you puzzles to solve. Puzzles come in any and all varieties: word, logic, shape-recognition, number—and come in a range of difficulties from easy-peasy to “what the hell?”

As in earlier games, during puzzle mode you can still access a memo overlay that gives you space to make calculations or draw things, and you can still access up to three hints to puzzle solutions by spending hint coins found during your travels. New to The Unwound Future is a fourth hint, a “super hint” that very nearly gives you the answer and can be bought for the reasonable price of two hint coins. Solving puzzles still earns you “picarats” that when collected unlock extras in the game like additional puzzles and mini-game add-ons. Each Layton game has had fun, puzzly mini-games and The Unwound Future is no exception. In this game there are three: Toy Car, in which you move a tiny version of Layton's car through a tricky, maze-like course; Parrot, which has you creating rope platforms for a package-delivering parrot; and Picture Book, in which stickers you've collected solving puzzles can be put into a child-like picture book. If you're not a mini-game kind of gamer, no worries—The Unwound Future has more than 150 puzzles to solve in the main story mode alone. Note: puzzles come from all kinds of people, places and things so if you're one of those gamers who can't stand missing a puzzle, make sure to tap on everything because both puzzles and hint coins can be found hidden in unexpected areas.

Most of the time, games in a series get progressively weaker after their first groundbreaking title, but that's not true with the third Professor Layton. It bucks the trend, easily becoming the strongest of the three games released thus far by retaining the best elements of the first two titles and expanding the series' overall concept. For instance, rather than puzzles for puzzles' sake, more often puzzles are used to do things like navigate obstacles, open doors and create weapons. Also new is the concept of moving around a larger environment by taking buses and trains. The puzzle play remains as addictive as ever, but the new objectives and locations add a lot of interest and expand the scope of the game. The cast of characters has also been expanded and in addition to seeing some old friends (like Inspector Chelmey and his bumbling assistant Barton), you'll also get to meet new and highly amusing characters like a series of Mr. Smith-like (a la The Matrix) thugs and a pushy stalker girl with an embarrassing crush on Luke.

With gameplay this amazing, anything less than sensational graphics would be a let down. Thankfully, the warm, colorful, charming artwork (done in the vein of the animated film The Triplets of Belleville) easily keeps pace with the game design and a slew of cool locations (both interior and exterior) and spectacular cutscenes might make you wonder why the series hasn't yet become a full-length feature film. In terms of quality—and despite some questionable English accents—the sound design is a close third to gameplay and art, and is characterized by the series' now-familiar French accordion music and clever use of sound effects. Finally, the writing is nothing short of stellar. It sounds crazy to say a puzzle game on DS is “epic”, but here the word actually fits. The scope of the story is much bigger than any other game in the series and a lot more emotionally affecting.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future is far and away the best of this one-of-a-kind series. While maintaining the series' standard of puzzle game excellence, it expands to become one of the most compelling adventures you've ever played. With great characterization, witty dialog, excellent pacing, clever sound design, and film-worthy artwork, it easily beats titles on consoles twenty times its size, with one gentlemanly hand tied behind its back.

Overall: 10 out of 10



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