Sunday, December 18, 2011

Professor Layton And The Unwound Future

A timeless masterpiece and my favorite in the whole series!

As a longtime fan of the Professor Layton series, I was naturally thrilled when at E3 2010, Nintendo unveiled the third and last entry of the Professor Layton trilogy, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, which has met with much anticipation from fans of the series. Now, a few months later and Unwound Future has been released in stores. How does it fare? Read this review and find out.

The story of Unwound Future is as follows: Professor Layton and his apprentice Luke have received an odd letter stating that London in the future is in disarray and that the Professor's assistance is needed to set things right again. Stranger still is that the author of the letter is none other than Luke from the future. Feeling that this letter has to do with the events of a botched time traveling experiment one week prior to the beginning, Hershel Layton and Luke set out to investigate. Following directions on the letter, the two come across an antique clock shop where one in peculiar has sent them 10 years into a future London, a pit of depravity and corruption where there is no law, only organized crime and industrialization is all too prevalent. Unbeknown to the Professor Layton and Luke, this is will present the greatest mystery they have encountered and it is clear that there is more than meets the eye.

I won't spoil what happens from here, but know that the story is well written and can engross you in quite a short time. You'll be eagerly solving puzzles just to see how the plot progresses and there are so many plot twists that you'll be awe struck by the time the story ends so that you will be trying to piece every single detail together. What also makes this story great is its length. It feels as though it's the longest out of all the games in the trilogy during which you will scour every last corner of future London and even present London. Another strong point of the story is its characters. Unwound Future brings back several returning characters, like Inspector Chelmey and also manages to develop not only the main characters (and they do a superb job at that) but new characters as well, giving them a lot of depth and soul that you will feel sympathy for some. 

It also makes it so they are real and by the time the game ends, you will not forget about the story or its characters. Needless to say, if you were a fan of Curious Village and Diabolical Box's stories, you will love this game's story. Another thing I should mention is that you do not need to have played the previous games to understand this story, although you might be confused at the appearance of certain characters and this game actually throws in random shout outs to Curious Village and Diabolical Box. However, these are not vital to the story and they're more like Easter eggs for veterans of the series.

Now on to the gameplay. If you have never played a Professor Layton game, know that this is game focuses on puzzles and that gameplay is strictly about solving puzzles. These puzzles are mentally stimulating and can be challenging, but the majority of these are actually fun and leave a player satisfied. As the Professor says: "Few things satisfy like a solved puzzle!" There are a variety of puzzles ranging from creative math problems where you must input an answer to sliding puzzles that have you move a block to a designated place. However, if you are stumped, no problem, use a hint coin. A returning feature is the hint coin system. Throughout the game, you'll come across hint coins that are obtained by tapping on suspicious or very subtle areas. 

This game also has you tapping on objects multiple times to find an extra hint coin. These hint coins are then used to unlock hints that help the player solve the puzzle. Be warned though, there are only a limited amount of hint coins, meaning that you must use these rather conservatively. A new addition to the hint coin system is the superhint. After unlocking the usual three hints, a player can use two extra hint coins to unlock a superhint if s/he is still stuck. The superhint will often tell you the answer outright or lead the player into finding the definite answer. Now what happens after solving a puzzle. The player is rewarded with picarats. Picarats are an indicator to the puzzle's difficulty. The higher the amount, the more difficult said puzzle is. At first, puzzles will award a measly 10 or 15 picarats but by the end, they will dispense 60 or 70. Picarats are also the game's currency. Rather than buying objects, picarats are used to unlock post-game material, like music or videos of the game. The more picarats you have, the better. 

However, should you solve a puzzle incorrectly, the game will detract picarats by a set amount. Not to worry though. You don't need every last picarat, so you are allowed some error and still end up with everything. Also, if you miss a few puzzles (as some are hidden) not to worry as there is an area where you can find lost puzzles. Although be warned that not every puzzle will be in this area. Only puzzles that were lost forever, such as in areas that can no longer be accessed, are found here. The others must be found normally.

In addition to puzzles, there are three minigames that must first be unlocked and then can be played in the Professor's Trunk. These are fun little distractions that are puzzles in themselves. The first minigame that the player is likely to encounter is the Picture Book. There are three storybooks here. In order to complete these storybooks, the player needs to place stickers that s/he can obtain by solving puzzles in the right place, similar to Mad Libs. If the player succeeds at completing a storybook, s/he can then read that story, which in my opinion excel in their simplicity, in its entirety. Complete all three storybooks to solve the minigame. The second minigame the player is likely to encounter is the Toy Car minigame. In this minigame, the player needs to place arrows on tracks in order to avoid obstacles and complete the objective, which is to collect all the objects in that level before reaching the finishing point. There are a total of 10 tracks that the player must complete. Finally, the last minigame is the Parrot minigame. 

In this minigame, the player will often receive deliveries from random characters. In order to successfully make these deliveries, the player must place a limited amount of ropes between points. These ropes will serve as makeshift platforms and trampolines that will help the parrot reach its destination. This is probably the hardest minigame as the player must use these ropes in creative ways. This is probably why there is a tutorial level in order to help the player adapt to the minigame. Complete all twelve deliveries to finish the minigames. As a bonus, the player can name the parrot and in similar fashion to the dog and hamster from the other two games, the parrot can sniff out hint coins. As a final bonus, completing each minigame unlocks its respective puzzle house. Each of these houses can be found in the bonus section of the game. There are three puzzles in each house and they can be some of the most challenging puzzles, but the most rewarding as they give the player those much needed picarats. 

A minor complaint I have with the puzzles is that they're more or less the same, only that the game has introduced more puzzles this time. (nearly 170 puzzles in comparison to the 150+ from Diabolical Box and 135 from Curious Village) However, they've added a few nice twists, such as a move limit to sliding puzzles and some other plot related twists. Other than the superhint system, the game also has some other subtle additions, such as a notepad to either draw or jot down notes and the ability to return to the title screen as opposed to turning off and on the DS system. The memo function (which allows the player to write down notes that will help him/her in solving the puzzle) has also returned but this time allowing the player to change the thickness of the lines as well as their color in order to make a few of the puzzles easier. 

The next area that I will address is the graphics area. As with the previous games, Professor Layton and the Unwound doesn't have pseudo-3D graphics that other DS games have. Instead, they have simple 2D cartoonish graphics, which actually helps the game and makes it seem like eye candy. And in this game, the graphics help bring out the steampunk setting of the game. There are large buildings, factories, gears, pipes, machines, train stations and even a casino, all with the motifs of industrialization, deteriorating nature and the future in mind. On top of that, this game offers a plethora of fully fleshed out FMV cutscenes that are so well drawn and animated that in combination with the music (which I will get to in a moment)and setting, makes you feel as though you are seeing a children's storybook come to life. It helps that these cutscenes are used to emphasize key plot points. In addition, a nice little graphical touch is that some of the non-FMV cutscenes will have characters having voiced lines and their lips actually move while talking. All in all, the game looks fantastic. 

This brings me to my next point: music and sound. The music in this game is top notch and so amazing that no words can fully convey how awesome the music is. Tomohito Nishiura manages to make accordion music sound phenomenal. The accordion is also blended with other instruments to render a variety of different ear pleasing musical tracks that grasp or capture the mood and ambiance very well. The soundtrack ranges from the urbane and catchy London Streets to the fast-paced Puzzle Battle to the eerily mysterious Suspicions. From the moment you hear the menu theme (which, by its own right is one of the best tracks of the series) you will start to hear the various songs even when not playing. Even when you're puzzled (pun intended) by the riddles, you will enjoy the songs as you work them out. As I've mentioned before, this game introduces voiced lines and when combined with the aforementioned lip flaps manage to produce quality cutscenes. However, there is a bit of a difference in the voice acting and it takes some time to get used to it. Furthermore, professional voice talents such as Yuri Lowenthal and Liam O'Brien have joined the cast, so fans of their work will definitely enjoy their voiced roles. 

Finally, this brings me to the replayability factor. All puzzles that the player has solved go into the puzzle index so that the player can solve them again if s/he wishes. These are meant to be replayed so they no longer have a picarat value and all the hints are unlocked free of charge. The player can also categorize his/her favorites by marking the box next to them. These will be seen in the Picks tab. While knowing the answer does take away replayability, it's still worthwhile to replay certain kinds of puzzles such as the sliding block puzzles or the jigsaw-like puzzles. Now, after the game ends, there's still a lot to do. The picarats that the player has collected will unlock those juicy bonuses. In addition, the player can solve the bonus puzzles and after the player has solved every puzzle, s/he will unlock three more puzzles, which at the end will reward the player with a few little touches. All together, that's almost 170 puzzles and even after you solve every last puzzle, it's not over for the player can download weekly puzzles (which have already been put up) via Nintendo Wi-Fi. There are rumored to be around 52 weekly puzzles which means that there will be puzzle solving for a whole year. It's every puzzle nut's dream come true. Combined with the length and captivating story, this game will be in many a gamer's collection for a long time.

Overall, this is a must buy for players and fans of the series, despite a few flaws. Engrossing story, fantastic music and a myriad of fun puzzles make this one stand above the rest. If you're a puzzle maniac, then this one is a must get. If you're a fan of video games in general, I'd consider giving this one a look. If you're looking for a great DS game, definitely get this game. It's well worth the money and can be enjoyed for all. With another Professor Layton trilogy coming out, I can say that the future of the Professor Layton series is definitely unwound

SYSTEM: Nintendo DS



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