9.0

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future review
The Professor Layton Series Is Still Going Strong!

The good:

~The puzzles are the most interesting and mind-bending yet, and don't repeat many concepts from prior games.
~The plot, while somewhat incomprehensible at times, is just as full of twists as prior games in the series.
~Voice acting is just as superb as always, and even more voiced dialogue has been added to the game. The score is well compressed and has some really lovely songs.
~Graphics and visuals are whimsical, well drawn and well animated, especially in the amazingly clear video clips.
~Plenty of unlockables extend the already lengthy play time somewhat, though the Hidden Door remains just as ridiculously pointless as ever.
~The minigames are fun and engaging, and provide a nice diversion from the main game.

The bad:

~A few of the characters have fairly annoying voices, though it's possible to skip through their voiced lines.
~The plot breaks from Professor Layton tradition by presenting a plot that cannot be explained logically (at least, with our current technology). Though some won't care, I found this a little disappointing.
~The plot is the darkest yet, and as in the case of Pandora's Box, may not be suitable for children.
~Some puzzles require basic knowledge in certain areas, such as mathematics and physics. This may frustrate players without the understanding to proceed.

Summary:

The Professor Layton series has received much praise for its fresh approach to puzzle games as well as its whimsical, imaginative visual style, and it should come as no surprise that its third installment, The Unwound Future, lives up to that praise. However, what both pleasantly surprised and shocked me was the game's willingness to depart somewhat from the tone and almost crushing optimism of the first two games. Buckle up for the ride and bring a hanky as we delve into the future and find out just what makes this game an excellent addition to the series.

As with prior Layton games, the general structure of this game is a simple point-and-click with periodic video clips and cutscenes to advance the plot. You can interact with the environment somewhat by clicking around on the background or on the people you may find. Some fun little additions to this game are the "search" areas, where you might find hint coins (used to receive hints on puzzles) or bonus "hidden" puzzles by poking your stylus repeatedly in a certain area. Another nice addition is the "super hint" feature, which will give you a fourth hint while solving puzzles for the price of two hint coins.

The sheer size of Layton's world this time around is unprecedented, so there's plenty of area to explore and plenty of people to meet - the largest cast yet in a Layton game, in fact. These characters aren't as wild as their predecessors, but you'll still find the occasional oddball (as well as a few familiar faces). However, this also means that more characters receive voiced lines, and that's not always a good thing. For example, Granny Riddleton, who some may know from prior games to be the keeper of "lost puzzles", has given up her post for the game. However, both of her replacements are just downright obnoxious and have terrible voices. You'll find yourself cringing every time you have to go to Granny's shack to solve puzzles because you just can't stand the voices you'll hear here. It's a detriment to what otherwise is solid voice work.

On the subject of the larger area open to exploration, you'll find that this also means a longer play time. If you only do the required puzzles in order to advance the plot, you're looking at a total play time of at least 11 or 12 hours. This will, of course, be longer if you also take time to find all of the hidden puzzles (which is needed for the unlockables you can get after completing the game). This will make the financial investment for the game all the more worthwhile, as the developers have packed quite a bit of game into the tiny DS card.

The plot is a notable feature of this installment, as it departs somewhat from the traditions put in place by prior Layton games. In the first two games the tone was generally lighthearted, death was kept to a minimum and normally caused solely by natural occurrence, Layton always kept a calm demeanor and the game had a generally happy and optimistic ending. However, in The Unwound Future this is not the case. There is untimely death, destruction, an evil group that has more than a passing resemblance to the mafia and a terribly sad ending that has no hopeful or happy resolution. Due to this, the game is most likely not appropriate for some children. In addition, one of the twists is something that just can't be explained with current technology or logic, which is a change from the plots of past games where the plot could be explained in somewhat logical terms. As all of Layton's plots have been far-fetched this won't bother some people, but I found this to be a bit disappointing.

The general plot has Layton and Luke responding to a letter supposedly sent by Luke from 10 years in the future. Future Luke requests their help in meeting with the Layton of the future, who lives atop a tall, mysterious tower. However, not all is as it seems and soon Layton and Luke are working to uncover the secrets of this future London. To complicate matters, Layton also sees a familiar face that brings up memories from his past. If you think you'll have the big twist figured out before it happens in the game, however, don't - chances are you'll be taken by surprise no matter what you think is going to happen. Though the length of the game means that the plot will inevitably drag at some point, it still manages to be both suspenseful and entertaining.

The graphics and visuals for this game are just lovely, and you'll find the characters and environments to be imaginative, whimsical and pleasing to the eye. The cinematics have also improved, and are becoming amazingly clear for such a small screen and disk space. Though everything is still in 2D, it doesn't detract at all from the sense of quality about the game.

Aside from the main storyline and puzzles, the game also offers some minigames that are fun little diversions from the main game. You can have a parrot whom Luke befriends deliver packages to some of the characters you meet, play with a toy car and finish storybooks by putting stickers in the correct places. Once you finish the game, there are also some unlockables like art, character profiles and music tracks. All are worth taking a look, but the Hidden Door area (the area that offers codes to enter into other titles in order to unlock extra content) still offers nothing but a slide puzzle that offers no hints or reward.

Overall, The Unwound Future is an excellent game worthy of the Professor Layton title, and improves upon several aspects of past games. Though its plot may suffer slightly from some ridiculous plot twists, it still manages to be a somewhat solid package combining story, effects and playability. Old fans of Layton will be sure to find this game a welcome part of their collection, and new fans will also find plenty to love. If only all game series could do such solid work even after three games!

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