In one of my very first posts for this blog back in 2008 I called the original Professor Layton and the Curious Village "just the thing to let someone like my wife straddle the fence that separates casual and committed gamers."
Indeed, it became the first real game (by which I mean a game that has a story and characters and involves more than just stacking blocks or matching jewels) that my better half ever finished, and I was hoping it might be a first step toward her eventually becoming, I don't know, perhaps a Gears of War battle buddy.
Sadly, it didn't go as planned. The only other games I've managed to get her into since are Rock Band and Lego Harry Potter.
But at least her fascination with Nintendo's professor hasn't waned. When the sequel, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box, came out in the summer of 2009 we regularly wrestled for possession of the cartridge. In fact, that's why I didn't tell her that I had an early copy of the latest game in the series, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future, until I was nearly finished with it. If I had, it likely would have disappeared and you'd be reading this review weeks from now rather than a day after the game's release.
All of this preamble is my way of saying that Professor Layton remains, as ever, a terrific crossover franchise with the ability to appeal to a wide range of demographics-game-disdaining wives included.
Unwound Future finds the doctor and his young apprentice Luke unwittngly travelling into the future by following directions provided by Luke's future self in a letter. The vigilantly doubtful duo are at first unconvinced of something as unlikely as time travel, and explore the strange streets of future London with sceptical eyes.
The setup and presentation will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played previous Professor Layton games. Players tap their way through streets and buildings in a vaguely point-and-click-ish manner, chatting with everyone they see in hopes of obtaining answers to their questions. More often than not, the people they bump into will offer up information only if they can solve a puzzle first.
The word "puzzle" in relation to video games typically conjures up images of Tetris' tetraminos or a certain British adventurer pushing blocks around ancient tombs, but the puzzles in Unwound Future-and indeed all Professor Layton games-are much more esoteric. You may need to examine an X-Ray with an eye to determine what's amiss with the patient, decode a cleverly worded riddle about the days of the week, or maneuver a set of ornate keys around the screen until you can see the number hidden in their design. Some are better than others, and not all of the game's 165 highly diverse conundrums will appeal to everyone, but with ample hints and the ability to skip many, chances are you'll rarely get stuck on any one puzzle for too long.
The puzzles are, by and large, on par with those in previous Professor Layton games. However, improvements have been made in other areas. For example, the neighbourhoods we explore aren't quite as labyrinthine as they've been in the past, which results in less accidental backtracking as we work our way from street to street. I'd still like to see a good top-down, annotated master map upon which players could mark places of interest for themselves, but the improved city design makes its absence less lamentable.
Plus, the bonus games in Professor Layton's suitcase are the series' best yet. I wasn't a big fan of Diabolical Box's tea mixing diversion, but I can get behind Unwound Future's clever driving puzzles, which involve placing a limited number of arrows on a map to make a toy car correctly navigate a maze, and a sticker-based brainteaser that has players reading picture books filled with blank spots in the prose and figuring out which stickers need to be placed in a scene in order for the narrative to make sense.
I've little doubt that my wife will gobble up Professor Layton's latest adventure. What's more, I have hope that its mysterious time-bending tale-my favourite of the franchise-might capture her imagination. She regarded the story in the first game as a nuisance to be tapped through between puzzles, but by the second she was showing slight signs of curiosity in the professor's doings (I actually caught her reading the dialogue; just don't tell her I told you).
Baby steps, yes, but still steps. With the help of a few more Professor Layton games maybe I'll be able to get her to suit up for a little Call of Duty by the time we have grandkids.
Professor Layton and the Unwound Future
Platform: Nintendo DS
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