Oct 19, 2011

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Professor Layton and the Unwound Future Review

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future Review

*Originally published October 21, 2010. Republished here for your convenience.

Is The Unwound Future my favorite Layton game yet? I’m not sure, but if you had told me a few weeks ago that the ending of the professor’s latest adventure would have me reaching for my handkerchief, I would have laughed you out of the room. Unwound Future doesn’t always fully succeed in its lofty story goals, but it definitely attempts far more than its predecessors, which is admirable in itself. Add the improvements to the puzzle interface, and Unwound Future is one of Layton and Luke’s best adventures yet.

As with any good Layton game, this one starts with a mystery: in this case, two, actually, as the game begins with the professor receiving a note from Luke that is apparently from ten years in the future. As if this isn’t mystery enough, shortly thereafter the professor and his apprentice witness a terrifying time machine demonstration gone array. A horrifying explosion occurs, seemingly killing the prime minister along with several scientists. Soon, Layton and Luke embark on yet another puzzle-filled adventure to find out the truth behind the letter, the explosion, and the mystery of a similar accident that occurred ten years in the past.

Those who have played the first two Layton games will immediately recognize Unwound Future has far more voice-acted dialogue and more frequent, more lengthy animated cutscenes than its predecessors. This definitely helps further engage you in the story (which is more developed than ever before), and the quality of the anime cutscenes is such that I’m sure most fans will be more than happy to see more of those. Everything else will feel very familiar to veterans, as nothing has changed, although the memo section in puzzles has been greatly improved, and a new “Super Hint” has been added. During puzzles, you now have the option of several color choices for your pen, as well as two thicknesses, and the opportunity to switch to an eraser that will allow you to selectively erase certain areas, rather than having to erase the entire memo. This definitely comes in handy and helps with puzzle solving, although it would be nice to have the chance to have a blank memo (that didn’t overlay the puzzle) for working out more complicated solutions, as the puzzle can sometimes leave you with little room for notes. However, this is a minor quibble, and the interface works very well.

As for puzzles, the main game has 153 in total, with some of those being “story” puzzles (puzzles you complete simply working through the story itself) and the rest being bonus puzzles (puzzles you get from going back to talk to NPCs, for example) and hidden puzzles (which you must scour the environment for). In addition to those, you also have approximately 10-12 more bonus puzzles that unlock after meeting various requirements, such as completing the mini games, plus the weekly downloadable puzzles over WiFi. And, unlike Diabolical Box, the puzzles are a bit more varied (although you will see certain themes reappear several times, like finding a path based on a set of rules or remembering that “6″ and “9″ can be the same if you turn them upside down). Still, I really enjoyed the visual puzzles that involved manipulating objects with the stylus, and the game had far less math puzzles than previous titles. Another important thing is the puzzles aren’t nearly as brutal as they were in Diabolical Box, although I did feel sometimes as if the picarat scores (which measures difficulty) were a bit off. For example, some puzzles that were rated as only 30 picarats felt fairly challenging, while others that were rated much higher were easily solvable without much thought. One thing I really enjoyed about the game is that although the whole concept of NPCs giving you puzzles felt more contrived than in previous games, the development team did try to integrate the puzzles into the story. For example, in one part of the story you must make your escape from a shootout. This pops up a puzzle that you must solve in order to get out of the situation. Also, you have a few “battle puzzles” throughout the game in which you must match your wits against another character. These two examples occur several times throughout the story and really worked well.

I did find myself frustrated a few times with “cheap” puzzles, however. For example, one puzzle involved plain and pork soup, and you needed to move the bowls so the two types were alternating. The trick was to do so in the least number of moves. Immediately I thought of simply moving the pork, thus giving me zero (or one) move, however, the game did not allow you to do so. Infuriatingly, when the harder version of this puzzle reappeared later in the game, I immediately dismissed the possibility of moving the pork (since that seemed to have been an established “rule”), and it turned out that was the solution to the puzzle. It felt cheap because I had basically thought of that solution previously, but been “told” that wasn’t a possibility, only for the rules to suddenly change later. This didn’t happen often, but it definitely soured my taste for the game momentarily and I felt it was worth noting. Also, disappointingly for some purists, though, the game still does not punish you for resetting, so there isn’t much to stop you perfectionists from restarting if you want to make sure you get that perfect picarat score.