Saturday, March 5, 2011

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (DS) Review

Also known as Professor Layton and the Last Time Travel, Unwound Future released last fall in North America, and I finally have it off of my backlog after so many months of putting it off. How does it compare to past Layton games? Let's seek out that answer with this review.

A Puzzling Adventure Worth Solving

Popular on both sides of the world, the Professor Layton series has sold millions upon millions of copies thanks to its ease of play and satisfying brain teasers. The third game in the Professor Layton series has hit the world like a hammer. Whether you're familiar with it as Professor Layton and the Unwound Future or Professor Layton and the Last Time Travel, is Layton's latest puzzle worth solving, or is it an enigma best left unsolved?

Professor Layton and his young apprentice, Luke, attend a showing of what appears to be the unveiling of a time machine. When the time machine explodes during the demonstration, causing both the creator and prime minister to disappear, it appears it's up to Layton and Luke to figure out the whereabouts of the pair. Their investigation leads them to a clock shop where a gigantic clock sits. The colossal clock chimes, lighting the room up in a bright fog. When Layton and Luke step outside, the whole city of London has changed. It appears that they've been sent ten years into the future! Is this some clever ruse, or has Layton and Luke actually wound up in future London? The story is told mostly through still-frame text sequences, sometimes accompanied by dialogue. In fact, there's more spoken dialogue in this game than either of the past Layton entries. Other times, the story progresses through gorgeous hand-drawn cutscenes similar to a Studio Ghibli film. All in all, you'll be on the edge of your seat as the mystery unravels. Don't be surprised if by the end of the tale you're choked up as the story does end on a downbeat of a note.

In Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, Layton constantly writes new entries in his journal as progressions occur in the story. Furthermore, as new mysteries present themselves such as why some of the townspeople walk around with wet pants and shoes, that mystery will be placed in Layton's suitcase. As the story unfolds, these mysteries are solved without needing the player to do anything but continue with the tale. Some of these mysteries end with a far-fetched conclusion requiring the player to suspend their disbelief for a few moments, but truth be told (literally), the Unwound Future's story is one that will resonate greatly with players.

Unwound Future features simple enough gameplay for the newest of gamers to comprehend. You as the player click on the shoe icon on the lower right of the touch screen. You then tap on an arrow or finger icon as to where you wish to travel. At the beginning of your journey, there's a small part of future London to explore, but as you progress through Layton and Luke's adventure, a large portion of the map will be open for them to travel. Speaking of progression, game progression consists of tapping villagers and other folks to advance the story. The town of London has townspeople obsessed with dishing out puzzles for Layton and Luke to solve. You usually won't get information from them unless you solve their particular brain-bender. Even doors possess puzzles that won't unlock until they're completed. As you solve puzzles, new information regarding the game's overarching mysteries are unveiled to you throughout the game's fourteen chapters, including the epilogue. Traveling through London is a breeze, especially thanks to the bus system that transports players around the bustling metropolis without the need to cycle through dozens of screens. Also important to note that getting lost is next to an impossibility as there's always an objective and location clearly marked on the top screen map.

Not every puzzle is mandatory. Several puzzles are hidden and are not required to complete the game. If you miss out on a puzzle or two (or ten), you can always go to one of the Granny Riddleton locations throughout London to solve missed puzzles. There's over 150 puzzles in all to complete, and each one is more difficult than the last.

The puzzles themselves run the gamut from simple to complex, logic problems to math problems, some with trick answers to trip up even the most intelligent puzzle-solver such as discovering which color on the wall was represented the most. The trick here is that most wouldn't even think of counting the background as a color-- which was the answer. Layton aficionados will most likely be familiar with some of the puzzles. They're not total rehashes, rest assured, but they are similar to puzzles from past games such as several sliding block puzzles which require you to move blocks around to get a jewel from point to another. Other puzzles include logic problems where the premise is that you need to find out which person is the liar through the powers of deduction and several clues (such as "A" is lying, "B" and "C" are telling the truth, and so so forth). The mathematical problems tripped me up the most as math was never my strong suit. I was more in line to simpler puzzles like moving Professor Layton through a maze filled with bananas. Each time Layton crossed a banana, he'd slide until he hit a wall. The goal is to get Layton from point A to point B while maneuvering through the labyrinth of bananas. Another amusing series of puzzles included cutting wood in a specific spot to form two pieces that would make up a perfect 5x5 square. Furthermore, the instructions as well as the hints of each puzzle are well-written even when they're purposefully obtuse or misleading.

Each puzzle is worth a particular amount of picarats. By solving puzzles on your first guess, you earn the maximum amount of picarats. Get an incorrect answer, and the next time you attempt that puzzle, the maximum of picarats you can receive lowers. Picarats are used in bonus menu to unlock new content from a music and movie player to listening to the various character voices heard throughout the game. Each puzzle also can be solved with the help of hint coins, hidden all over the game's static backgrounds-- just tap in the right place to pick one up. Each puzzle has four hints. The first three hints cost one hint coin each. The last costs two coins, and usually gives you the best assistance in solving that puzzle. Hints serve you well, and they don't affect how many picarats you earn by guessing the correct answer to that given puzzle. They also give just the right amount of help without completely spoiling the puzzle for you.

In addition to the over 150 puzzles are weekly downloadable puzzles via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and also Layton's Challenges which unlock after accumulating enough picarats. These are much more sinister puzzles that require your complete devotion and determination. Additionally, there's three mini-games to play featuring Luke's toy car, parrot friend of whom you can name, and a trio of picture books. The toy car mini-game features ten courses. The goal is to collect all of the doodads on the course and make it to the goal. The catch here is that you have a limited number of arrows to guide your car around the track to reach the goal. The parrot mini-game requires you to draw lines to form ropes for your parrot leap on and make it to the other side of a bottomless pit. You only have a set amount of ropes to use, and you have to get the angles just right to solve each of the fifteen different puzzles. Finally, the picture book mini-game has you using context clues of the picture book's story to place the appropriate stickers in their correct spots. For instance, you wouldn't place a well-groomed butler sticker in a spot that the story dictates a white object should go. Completing each mini-game opens up three new puzzles each in the Layton's Challenges bonus menu.

Visually, Professor Layton is full of charm. Layton's beady eyes and top hat distinguish him from the rest of the cast as does Luke's short and thin build plus blue cap and overalls. Each character oozes with personality not only thanks to the interesting art style, but also the excellent voice work. It's amazing to think that only four voice actors worked on this entire game, voicing all parts. As stated earlier, the animated cutscenes bring the presentation package up a few notches with their stunning and entertaining animation. The music is also very good as expected from a Layton game by now. Nonetheless, composer Tomohito Nishiura does not disappoint.

Overall, if you've played a Professor Layton game before, you pretty much know what to expect out of this game-- great, brain-busting puzzles, charming characters, clever dialogue, and beautiful presentation. There's more meat in the end-game with more mini-games, harder puzzles, and weekly, free DLC. There's no puzzle to be solved here as whether or not you should purchase Professor Layton and the Unwound Future is crystal clear. Buy it today.

[SuperPhillip Says: 9.0/10]

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