September 20, 2010

Review – Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 1:57 pm

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
As the Professor is so fond of saying, few things satisfy like a puzzle solved.

A good story runs a close second however, and the latest dose of Professor Layton to hit the North American DS brings the familiar and balanced mix of mystery narrative and puzzles that has helped make Level-5 a little more known to those not quite as consumed by the RPG genre.

Layton uses an easy style of animation, the stuff of cartoons and storybooks, allowing for humorously exaggerated characters and the occasional talking animal against a rather finely detailed London backdrop that still allows space for drama, offering up something marketing dreams are made of – a title that legitimately has a very natural and open appeal.

From the moment the story begins, it feels like the type of game you could recommend to anyone. And what seems entirely important about this feeling is that the game conveys that broad appeal while still delighting in eccentricities and details, where conventional wisdom seems to so often recommend stripping a product down to increase the sales potential.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

The variety of puzzles within The Unwound Future seem to serve that same open pursuit without dipping into the vanilla, ranging from challenges that demand deductive logic, offer light mathematical trickery, or ask gamers to slide blocks or even chart a path through mazes.

There are times where simply counting objects will do the trick, with the memo feature always at the ready to overlay the puzzle and put the stylus to work as sketch paper – though there are occasions where a scrap of real paper still comes in handy.

More than anything, the puzzles players encounter demand that they slow down and read what is being asked a little more carefully.

Given my tendency to rush through games at times, or get a tad lazy when it comes to any challenge that requires more than a few moments of thought, getting back into the groove of Layton made me feel like a dolt at first.

The Unwound Future isn’t for rushing, even when the drama of the narrative seems to be climbing to a peak, and I had to force myself to relax and take time out to smell the roses. The game really is about taking a more scenic route, with a casual progression that encourages taking the time to meet the inhabitants of London, which affords chances to find even more puzzles.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

That balance between puzzle-solving and narrative is continually impressive. Certainly characters loiter about with the simple objective of handing over another puzzle when given the opportunity, but there are many little stories along the way continually making Layton more than just a puzzle index.

Of course stopping to scratch around with the stylus for hidden hint coins and secret puzzles adds incentive to stroll around London at a more leisurely pace, and the game puts the space on screen to good use, always finding another nook or cranny waiting for a curious hand to uncover another secret.

As the title suggests, the Professor and his apprentice Luke have time on their hands in this release, though not very much in the way of free time while trying to unravel a mystery between the London they know and a ruined future state ten years ahead of them.

Without unraveling it here and saving you the discovery, the key note for me was a story still built on animated Sherlock charms and very open to newcomers, but one that also offers visits from fan familiar characters.

The Professor is still very much able to drive villains mad with his infallible logic and constant preparedness – I sympathize with Layton’s foes, at times the man deals out logical solutions like Adam West with that damn all purpose utility belt.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

Having enjoyed the series to date, there’s a temptation to just rubber-stamp this latest installment with the Layton seal of approval. But it seems worth mentioning that the attention to detail stood out more significantly this time around.

Perhaps a growing frustration with modern RPGs and narrative heavy titles has given me a greater appreciation of the story recap the game provides each time you continue from a save point, or the way the mini-games within the Professor’s trunk weave out of the main narrative to provide an added value reflective of the series, while also offering distractions that actually manage to steal my time.

Luke’s toy car and newly befriended Parrot are fine, but I’m earnestly surprised how much I started craving stickers found throughout the game to help fill in the ad-lib storybook also kept in the Professor’s ever-present trunk.

While the focus on always moving the player forward keeps the game to task and fitted for portable sessions, there are times where this can feel constrictive. For instance, when taking a shortcut and presented by a puzzle blocking the way, quitting the challenge and taking the longer route isn’t an option the game is willing to allow for.

Small occurrences such as this pop up from time to time, the apparent sacrifice of keeping a tighter narrative on course, but in earnest is the only complaint that comes to mind, and certainly doesn’t derail an easily recommended addition to the series.

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
System – Nintendo DS
Release Date – September 12, 2010

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

1 Comment »

  1. I’ll be picking up the game over the weekend. I just started Diablolical Box two days ago after having it in my collection since launch day due to other games that needed to be taken care of first.

    Comment by EdEN — September 20, 2010 @ 8:22 pm

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