Review: Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
While a lot of the focus concerning Professor Layton has now shifted to the in development Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright title, gamers shouldn’t forget that Layton currently has a new adventure on the market. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, the third game of the quirky puzzle series, does not add much novelty in terms of gameplay, but does include something the previous two titles did not: a narrative that is both gripping and heartwarming.
Professor Layton and apprentice Luke are mysteriously invited by scientist Dr. Stahngun to the unveiling of a time machine. While the pair have their doubts about whether or not the machine is truly for real, their suspicions are put to bed when the machine explodes, and Dr. Stahngun as well as prime minister Bill Hawks have completely disappeared.
One week later, Layton receives a troubling letter… from the future. In the future, London has become a cesspool of crime and depravity, and the man behind it all can only be stopped by Layton himself. Layton is not ready to accept such a ridiculous letter as real, but his interest is piqued when he discovers that the letter was written by the future version of his young apprentice. After a visit to a quiet clock shop, Layton and Luke embark on a wild time traveling ride to save future London.
In Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, the puzzling duo has a strict business as usual policy when it comes to gameplay. They travel throughout town screen by screen, tapping arrows for movement and discovering puzzles along the way. The puzzles themselves, while adequately varied, are similar to what fans have seen in the past: moving block puzzles, optical puzzles, wordplay, etc. Keeping the considerable amount of puzzles the first two Layton titles had in mind, it would be nearly impossible for Unwound Future to introduce something totally new. However, some puzzles are merely old concepts with different numbers or pictures involved.
Added into the mix is Unwound Future’s three mini-games:
Toy Car: Using a set number of arrows and jump spaces, Luke must direct a toy car around a 2D map, collecting items while avoiding pitfalls and dead ends, finally leading the car to a specific finishing space.
Parrot: Luke constructs a path of bungee ropes to control the path of a delivery parrot. While the first few levels were intuitive and simple, the later stages are solved not with logic, but essentially by trial and error with wild combinations of ropes. Solutions in later levels are of the frustrating variety.
Picture Book: A story book is missing key parts of the plot! By following context clues, Luke restores the story by placing character and item stickers in their correct places.
Despite the same-y feel of the puzzles, they are fun to find and complete, and nothing is quite as satisfying as discovering the solution to a difficult puzzle with your very own “eureka!” moment. For players that would rather skip puzzles to travel faster through the story, all puzzles can be skipped and returned to later, but beware! There are multiple points in Unwound Future that require Layton and Luke to have solved set amounts of puzzles before moving on.
The major complaint of the Professor Layton series thus far has had to do with is completely bonkers narrative. In the past two titles, Layton would generally remain silent all game, and then right at the end would spout off an explanation for all the seemingly supernatural things that had befallen him and Luke, in an almost Scooby-Dooish fashion. Unlike the Saturday morning cartoon, however, Layton’s explanations were of the LSD-induced variety, forcing players to roll their eyes by game’s end.
While I’m not going to say that Layton doesn’t have a similar speech at the end, Unwound Future’s plot is easily the best in the series. Beyond the fate of future London, Unwound Future deals with themes such as the importance of friendship, the anxiety of separation, and the terror of coping with catastrophic loss. It may sound silly to get emotional over a portable title, but as UF’s ending sequence went on, I found my eyes watering, and by the epilogue, I was actually in tears. Never has a game (or anything else, for that matter) affected me to this degree. The plot is a little crazy, sure, but the emotional themes it deals with are very real, and are sure to keep the player engaged. In a world populated by titles such as Final Fantasy XIII, Unwound Future proves the notion that a great story will always trump great visuals (hear that, game developers?).
For those uninitiated with the Layton series, I highly recommend skipping this game for now and instead play Professor Layton and the Curious Village. While the Laytonseries is admittedly not for everybody considering its slow progression (by today’s standards, anyway), for fans of the series, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future is a complete revelation. Its tried and true gameplay coupled with a heart-wrenching, whimsical story is the perfect combination to put a cap on the first three games of the Layton franchise.