By Spencer . September 14, 2010 . 6:57am
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future begins with Layton and his young apprentice Luke reading a letter on a bus. A man who claims to be Luke from the future asks Professor Layton to visit a clock shop. Being a gentleman, Layton and Luke investigate and are whisked away to a new world when they step underneath a giant clock. A newspaper informs them they’re still in London, but now ten years in the future where a puzzle mafia controls the streets.
Seriously. A family of gangsters that intimidate people with puzzles in The Unwound Future. Like the other Professor Layton games, everyone has a puzzle for Professor Layton to solve. Level 5, with assistance from Head Gymnastics author Akira Tago, created a diverse batch of brainteasers for the game. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future’s mental workouts involve logic, math, spatial reasoning, riddles, and every once in awhile tricky instructions. Some puzzles gave me vague directions and instead of risking picrats (your score) I spent hint coins to clarify just what I was supposed to solve.
Hint coins are collected by poking the background with the stylus. Since you can’t see the coins on screen finding them is a bit of a pixel hunt. but Level 5 hid most of them underneath notable background objects. Most of the time, the first hint sent me in the right direction towards the answer. Each puzzle has three hints plus one super hint, which practically spells out the solution. The super hint is a nice feature for players who get stuck, but I imagine using it too much could spoil the heart of the game. Most of the puzzles in Professor Layton and the Unwound Future have a single solution. (Bonus semi-puzzle: What does the above screenshot say? Hint: Ambiguous instructions!)
The memo is Hershel’s best friend in Professor Layton and the Unwound Future. When you press that button you can draw on top of the puzzle with different colors of ink, an especially useful feature for all of the mazes. This is a good way to test a solution before Luke blurts out, “Here’s my answer!” and smacks his face when he realizes he’s wrong. You need to solve a certain number of puzzles to pass milestones, but that number is far from all of the puzzles. The story is told in chapters so it is possible to skip puzzles, but you can go back to them. A talking bee keeps track of the mind teasers Layton missed.
If restaurateurs and talking rabbits pleading for puzzle solutions aren’t enough brain workouts, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future has even more puzzles stored in the Professor’s trunk. There’s a Mad Libs-like picture book to fill with stickers earned by liberating Londoners from puzzles. Toy car missions have Layton set tiles to change a car’s direction so it can grab flags and reach the goal. Parrot deliveries, my favorite of the three, has players create springy perches by connecting dots. The parrot follows this path, jumping and bouncing on lines, until it makes its delivery on the other side of the screen. While these trunk-teasers are optional, they’re a decent diversion for all of the walking around through two time periods. (There’s quite a bit of backtracking.)
One idea Level 5 tends to include in their portable games that other story heavy game developers should pick up are startup summaries. Professor Layton and the Unwound Future is a short game, less than ten hours if you race past unnecessary puzzles, but if you happen to put the game down story summaries get you up to speed with the plot the second you turn it back on. Another icon inside Layton’s trunk keeps track of all the unsolved and solved mysteries, usually revealed in voiced cutscenes. Speaking of the story, it is (surprise?) a puzzle too. Pay attention to little details and you might be able to crack some of the case before Layton explains it to you. I’d like to say all of it, but some story twists come out of nowhere without much pretext.
While Level 5 didn’t tweak the Layton formula, fans will be rewarded with a delightful ending that wraps up the first Professor Layton trilogy nicely. Newcomers could jump in the series with The Unwound Future, it is probably the most friendly out of the three with super hints, but by now the game assumes that you know characters and their charms. I recommend starting back at the beginning with Professor Layton and The Curious Village.
With this case solved its time to move on to the next challenge, Nintendo’s weekly downloadable Professor Layton puzzles. They’re not online now, but they should be soon.