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]

Friday, March 4, 2011

Most Overlooked Xbox 360 Games - Part Two

I don't generally cover the Xbox 360 anymore as mine crapped out on me, and the urge to reward Microsoft for their gross incompetence is not on my top things to do on my to-do list. The Xbox 360 is home to tons of unplayed, underrated, overlooked games, and this list is to help you identify those titles and maybe even track them down to play. Let's get to this list, shall we?

Blue Dragon


The very first project from Hironobu Sakaguchi's (the creator of the highly-popular Final Fantasy franchise) studio, Mistwalker, Blue Dragon was a clever and cute RPG published by Microsoft. In Japan the game did respectable numbers, but elsewhere the game was in bargain bins faster than you can sing "prick your hand until it bleeds". Battling and summoning dragons was a cool aspect of the game, and it's a shame more 360 owners did not get a chance to play Blue Dragon. Fun-fact: the IP actually found its way to the Nintendo DS in Blue Dragon Plus.

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing With Banjo-Kazooie


The kart racer that outclassed Mario Kart's current gen effort, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing featured Banjo-Kazooie and avatars as exclusive playable characters. The game also reintroduced various long-forgotten SEGA characters into the mix from Jet Grind Radio's Beat to Space Channel 5's Ulala to even longer-forgotten characters in Opa-Opa and Alex Kidd. The track design might have featured the same five or six themes, but the courses themselves were out of this world. It was a balanced racer that many Xbox 360 owners missed out on.

Blur


Blur was a Mario Kart game for big boys as the ill-fated promotion suggested. Players gather power-ups on each course like blowing up other cars with a gigantic blast of energy, mines to drop behind your car, and Nitro boosts to give your vehicle an extra boost of speed. What separated Blur from other games was the ability to team up online in multiplayer with up to twenty players online. There was even good old fashioned four player split-screen for those who wanted to party locally. Bizarre Creations has since been disbanded, and the poor sales of Blur seem to be the culprit.

Split/Second


The third and final racer on our list for part two is Split/Second, published by Disney Interactive of all publishers. You race on destructible courses vying for the number one spot on a reality show. The racing was intense with obstacles spawning in your way as you madly tried to dodge them as well as worry about the other racers on your butt. Back when Blur and Split/Second came out, there was a bit of a rivalry between both games. It turns out though that both games would go on to sell a menial amount of copies on all systems they were released on, including the PlayStation 3, PC, and PSP.

Prince of Persia (2008)


Also mentioned on the Most Overlooked list for the PlayStation 3, Prince of Persia (2008) was unlike any PoP game before it. You literally could not die. When you'd fall into a chasm or hole, your female companion would save you with her voodoo magic of some type. The game came across as one gigantic series of quick time events as you'd press different buttons to climb across ledges and chasms alike. The game was gorgeous even in standard definition. The colorful cel-shaded visuals popped out at the player, and they were simply sensational. Bad sales meant a new turn for the series; it went back to its roots with the next installment.

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Did I overlook one of your favorite overlooked Xbox 360 games? Let me know in the comments section.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

SPC Mailbag - March 3rd, 2011

We haven't had this feature for a while. It's the SPC Mailbag where we take questions from e-mail and comments and answer them in as witty a fashion as possible. It's been a long time since we last opened the mailbag. Too long if you ask me. We'll rectify that with this edition. Today we have three questions that put my mental mettle to the ultimate test. Tonight it's a plethora of portable questions from iOS gaming to the 3DS and the PSP NGP.

What do you think of iOS gaming? Do you think Nintendo's and Sony's handhelds are in trouble?


I'm one of the people who believe that iOS and more traditional handheld gaming can coexist. I mean, why can't they? When the Wii was released, idiots were saying core gaming was doomed and HD gaming couldn't compete. Wii would make them obsolete. This did not happen. Now the same Chicken Littles are worried that iOS gaming (iPhone/iPad gaming) will make Nintendo's and Sony's handhelds obsolete. I don't see this happening. I think it's a foolish proposition. Facebook gaming is free, yet video game sales on the traditional platforms are still booming. Suddenly, ninety-nine cent gaming is going to overtake more expensive means of gaming? I don't think so.

Are you planning on purchasing a 3DS?


Not immediately. It's not a question of the launch titles not being up to snuff. I have plenty of games I want at launch including Nintendogs + Cats, Pilotwings Resort, Ridge Racer 3D (I've never played a Ridge Racer game before), and Super Monkey Ball 3D to name four off the top of my head. It's more of a cost issue. There's too many current gen games I still want to obtain, and the 3DS is $250 plus the cost of new games. So don't expect any 3DS reviews any time soon here on SuperPhillip Central.

What are your thoughts on the PSP NGP?


Personally, I feel that Sony has learned nothing from the PSP. Software sales are laughable even if hardware sales are good. The PSP was console-quality gaming on a handheld. That's not what I want in a portable. If I wanted to play console-quality gaming, I'd play on a console. Odd concept, I know. The games shown on the PSP NGP are just portable versions of their console "hits". This strategy failed with the PSP, so why will it suddenly work with a more expensive handheld? I'm thinking it won't. Feel free to disagree with me though. Be respectful though in your comments, or they will be deleted.

Regardless of all that, I'm very intrigued by Sony's new handheld. I love the touch screen, trophies, horsepower, and you know I'll be there when Hot Shots Golf hits. Even the augmented reality shown impresses. Depending on the price, I'll be sure to own one when it comes out.

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That's enough mail. Some of the mail were bills anyway. Not cool, Central City Cable. Not cool. Nonetheless, there goes that edition of the old SPC Mailbag. Hope you found it interesting as always.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS) New Screens

Today at Satoru Iwata's keynote address at GDC, Nintendo revealed a June 7th release date for their remake of the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. Not too much of a stretch there. The game features new, upgraded visuals, the ability to switch items on the fly via the touch screen, and who knows what else. June 7th also happens to be Nintendo's E3 press conference.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii) New Trailer

GDC is here, and a new trailer for the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword has surfaced finally. Some find it underwhelming. What camp are you in? I find it cool enough, showing some of the gameplay possible with the Wii MotionPlus accessory. Though waiting nearly a year for a new trailer, it's understandable why some folks might be underwhelmed.



Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Review Round-Up - February

LittleBigPlanet 2 proved it wasn't just a game--
it's a platform for games!

February was a big month in reviews at SuperPhillip Central. The winner this month was LittleBigPlanet 2 which is not only killing it in sales, but it also received a 9.5 on this site. Next, WiiWare's Fluidity scored an 8.75 followed by Marvel VS. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds. Thanks to its lack of modes it got an 8.5. Finally, we hooped, scooped, and pooped with Mario and the Mushroom Kingdom gang in Mario Sports Mix for Wii which earned an 8.25 for its simple to learn, tough to master depth. Additionally, after nearly a year's hiatus, One-Sentence Reviews returned. Overall, a five-star month for SuperPhillip Central.

LittleBigPlanet (PS3) - 9.5
Mario Sports Mix (Wii) - 8.25
One-Sentence Reviews - Round Two
Fluidity (WiiWare) - 8.75
Marvel VS. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds (PS3, 360) - 8.5

The old S.T.A.R.S. team is reunited for Marvel VS. Capcom 3.

Central City Census - March

The air this morning in Central City is crisp and cold, but temperatures are expected to heat up later within the day. Regardless, it's a new month-- March-- therefore, it's time for a new Central City Census. Before we start with that, however, let's take a look at last month's results.

At $249.99, do you plan on purchasing a Nintendo 3DS?

Yes, a black one.
9 (17%)
Yes, a blue one.
7 (13%)
Yes, another color.
3 (5%)
No, not right away.
20 (38%)
No. I have no interest in a 3DS.
13 (25%)

Votes so far: 52

The "No, not right aways" have it in the month of February. Many of you are waiting to purchase a 3DS, perhaps waiting for a better selection of games or a redesign. In second place, the "Yes" crowd reigned supreme with nineteen voters expecting to buy a 3DS whether black, blue, or a different color by the end of this month. Finally, thirteen of you, a quarter of the vote, have no interest in a 3DS at all. Let us get to March's Census.

Sony announced the PSP NGP in an attempt to undercut the hype of the 3DS. Looking at Japan, that doesn't seem to have mattered. Regardless, are you interested in getting the PSP NGP? Cast your vote now.

Monday, February 28, 2011

SuperPhillip's Favorite VGMs - The 25th Birthday Edition

Get it? It's like the 3rd Birthday (the upcoming third installment of the Parasite Eve series) except it's the 25th Birthday! My birthday was yesterday, and I am now 25 years old (a quarter of a century old). This blog is three years old (not a quarter of a century old). Everything is getting closer to death, and that saddens me. The VGMs are here though, so that makes me happy. Last week, Kirby's Epic Yarn was finally released in Europe. To celebrate, let's dive in with five songs from that very game. I didn't even plan for this to work out this way; it just happened. Without further ado, here we go!

v666. Kirby's Epic Yarn - Flower Fields

What better way to ring in 666, the number of the devil, than the lovable powder-puff, Kirby! The next five songs are a tribute to one of the better soundtracks of 2010, Kirby's Epic Yarn! Sure, the game might have been on the easy side, but the single-player mode was nice and relaxing, co-op gameplay was great fun, and as I stated already, the soundtrack was superb. Flower Fields borrows the title theme's introduction, but it quickly shifts into something more substantial. It's a great song for a leisurely walk or something of that sort, don't you think?



v667. Kirby's Epic Yarn - VS. Fangora

Fangora is the boss of Grass Land, the first area of Kirby's Epic Yarn. Being the first boss of the game, Fangora has an easy attack pattern. Kirby simply needs to leap over its extending tongue, grab its weak point, pull, and destroy! The theme itself features synth horns which bring off the epicness of this battle. Yeah, I'm using non-words in epicness. What are you going to do about it?! That withstanding, the boss battles in Kirby's Epic Yarn weren't too challenging. Of course, if you were going for a high bead count, they could definitely be a difficult task!



v668. Kirby's Epic Yarn - Lava Landing

Lava Landing is the very first level where Kirby transforms into a fire truck. With this power, he can put out fires with a hose placed atop his cute engine exterior. Lava Landing's theme is solely supported by the piano. It starts out in the bass clef with a stirring baseline. Then it transforms into a beautiful melody on the higher end of the piano. It's a really cool, relaxing tune that gets your pulse beating to the music as you drive through a menacing volcanic atmosphere. In challenge mode, one of the challenges requires you to fly through this level, taking out lavafalls and other enemy pests in your quest to reach the finish line first.



v669. Kirby's Epic Yarn - Mushroom Run

Mushroom Run is another piece that heavily uses the piano. The piano is an instrument that is used a lot throughout the soundtrack. It's one of my personal favorite instruments. Regardless, look at dat cute Kirbeh! Look at those puppy dog eyes, yarn body, and pleasant smile. When the sinister Yin-Yarn used a magical sock to suck Kirby and friends into Prince Fluff's land where everything is made up of either fabric or yarn... and the difficulty of the game isn't that high either now that I think of it...



v670. Kirby's Epic Yarn - Outer Rings

Outer Rings is the final level in the Space Land. It's unique in the fact that it plays at the end like a vertical-scrolling shmup. With a cooperative partner, the minigame is even more thrilling and exciting! At the conclusion of the gameplay segment, you take on a boss, Kracko, a boss that has been the thorn in the side of many a Kirby player. Outer Rings' theme is particularly peppy and full of wonderful musical goodness. Give it a listen, and let me know what you think!



Kirby says peace out as he hibernates for awhile. Hopefully you snag a copy of this delightful (albeit easy) gem. Next week we're kicking it new-school with music from Marvel VS. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds, Super Princess Peach, and Mega Man Legends! Stay tuned, faithful listener!

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