Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
For: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild violence)
By Billy O'Keefe
Three titles on, it's easy to take the "Professor Layton" games for granted, and it's temptingly easy to just recommend them out of hand to anyone who played and enjoyed the first two. If that's you, here's your "Professor Layton and the Unwound Future" review: Get it. It's mostly more of the same — and that's probably all you need to hear.
For the uninitiated, the "Layton" games are collections of genuinely clever riddles — picture rainy day brainteasers more than matching blocks and the usual stuff one associates with puzzle games — packaged inside a charming storyline starring the mystery-solving titular professor and his trusty apprentice Luke. By Nintendo DS standards, the storytelling is surprisingly polished, with hand-drawn animated cutscenes, generous amounts of voice acting and a narrative that ties into the puzzles startlingly well considering how many of them there are (165 and counting in this case) and how unique and meticulously crafted most of them are.
All of that still applies in "Future," which finds Layton receiving a letter from London that apparently was written 10 years in the future by an older Luke. "Future" naturally weaves time travel into its storyline, and the device allows players not only to visit an environment that's far busier than the first two games' sleepy locales, but also see London in two dramatically different time periods and states.
Without spoiling specifics, "Future's" story does have some warts — mostly with regard to making players trek back and forth between areas that aren't exactly next door to one another. The plot also struggles occasionally to stay on a sane path while managing all those riddles and keeping a lid on the logistical can of worms that always threatens to spill out of any story based around time travel.
More than not, though, "Future" finds the best things about the series at their very best. The glimpse at future Luke gives fans more insight into our supporting hero, and the change of venue works in tandem with a greater concentration of cutscenes to flesh out Layton's world in a way that will greatly satisfy fans and likely catch new players pleasantly off guard. There really is no other video game that tells stories quite the way these do — an accomplishment on any system, but especially impressive on the little DS.
Most important, though, the story ties into the riddle designs more closely than ever. Stating that "Future" has 165 riddles isn't implying that it has 30 slight variations of the same five or so riddle designs.
The variety here is enormous, and the only thing more impressive than the puzzles' storyline ties is how consistently the game toes a perfect difficulty line. "Future's" brainteasers are ingeniously tricky, but they're always surmountable, and the systems the game has in place — not every puzzle must be solved to see the ending, collectable coins are redeemable toward hints, and there are no time limits for solving riddles — keeps the experience challenging but never frustrating.
Per series custom, Nintendo will sweeten "Future's" already sweet $30 price by releasing additional puzzle packs for free each week via its in-game Wi-Fi Connection pipeline. The company hasn't specified how long it'll do this, but if the first two games' post-release content is any gauge, that should equate to roughly 30 more puzzles for no additional cost.
(c) 2010, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.