|Professor Layton and the Unwound Future|
GOOD: Great music and characters
BAD: Emphasis on trick solutions
FINAL: You NEED this game.
Courtesy Nintendo of America
"Professor Layton" is a beautiful series. You can immediately tell why Nintendo moved away from the stark, nerdy "Brain Age" franchise and chose Layton as the DS's brainteaser banner-holder. The "Layton" games wed lobe-tingling puzzles with sumptuous music and art, not to mention the engrossing story and likable characters.
"Professor Layton and the Unwound Future," the third release in the DS-exclusive series, offers another round with the Professor and his apprentice, Luke. This time out, the duo must tackle the disappearance of England's Prime Minister during a botched time travel experiment. Transported ten years into the future during the investigation by a clockwork time machine, Professor Layton finds a London under the grip of a Mafia-like "Family." Their evil ringleader is apparently none other than Layton himself.
The "Layton" games all work in the same way - and yes, after three games it would be nice to see some spice added back into the stew. Utilizing both fully animated movie clips and talking-head cutscenes, Layton and Luke introduce the mystery and its major players. Everything is operated via the stylus, creating a simple and intuitive interface. The game leads the pair from point to point across an interactive map, filled with local people who offer clues for the case. In the world of Professor Layton, everyone is into puzzles. From the charwoman to the CEO, every person will tempt the brainy Professor and his ward with some kind of stumper.
Although sometimes awkward ("I'd be glad to help, Professor, provided you solve this puzzle involving frogs jumping over each other!"), the game's peculiar universe softens the rough edges of delivery. These people just love puzzles.
"Unwound Future" provides over 160 puzzles, and many are quite, quite fiendish. Math puzzles, logic puzzles, physics puzzles, mazes and games... you'll need a completely working brain to figure them all out. Many are required to complete the game's story, but plenty can be skipped. The game provides built-in hints for every solution, purchased via hidden coins that can be found while playing. Fair warning: this franchise is definitely getting more difficult, with many of Unwound's puzzles willing to lead you to red herrings while the actual solution is right in front of your face.
There are three sets of mini-games, each an ongoing series of puzzles that you unlock over the course of the core mystery. Luke's Toy Car brings a series of screens where you must direct an R/C car using a limited set of directional arrows. The parrot mini-game involves drawing trampolines to help a laden parrot deliver an object to one of the game's characters. Best of all is the sticker book, where you must complete a children's story by placing noun-based stickers at the right passages, sort of like a visual Mad Lib.
Your success at solving the storyline's puzzles unlocks even more brainteasers in the bonus material section. Nintendo also provides a weekly WiFi-downloadable puzzle, and if "Unwound Future" operates as the previous two Layton games, that means another twenty to thirty extra posers to solve.
The "Professor Layton" series is no stranger to bizarre plot twists, but Unwound Future deserves special attention for the attention to the story. The plot is by turns thrilling and poignant, something quite unexpected for what would otherwise be written off as a mere brainteaser delivery system. Hand this game off to someone who enjoys riddles but doesn't usually play video games and prepare for astonishment at how deftly Layton wrangles great puzzles with a great story. Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times