PROFESSOR LAYTON AND THE UNWOUND FUTURE is a videogame developed by Factor 5, published by Nintendo and Factor 5 (Japan) for the Nintendo DS. It was directed by USUKE KUMAGAI and JUN SUZUKI.

Reviewing Professor Layton and the Unwound Future is quite the puzzle indeed but, luckily, every puzzle has an answer. Because all Professor Layton games are so alike, the series are always at the brink of falling prey to the so-called Castlevania curse of releasing the same game over and over throughout the years. Each new Castlevania game that comes out, a review that starts with It’s like Symphony of the Night, but… is doomed to be born.

Fortunately, Unwound Future is not The Same Game Again. It is, in the end, a good game. Not caviar, but comfort food at its best.

The problem is the structure of the Layton games themselves, which allow very little margin for innovation. There is a plot and there are the puzzles (of which Unwound Future contains 168 plus some downloadable ones). These are two completely different and independent beasts that are handcuffed together for some reason – just like the best of worst prison comedies. While following the plot, whenever you talk to a local he or she will offer you an usually unrelated puzzle (or brain teaser if you are a Nintendo PR) for no reason other than the fact Layton lives in some sort of puzzle economy – which helps explaining why the Professor is so famous.
There were 3 big improvements on Unwound Future from the series’ 2 past installments Curious Village and Diabolical Box: a much improved memo feature, that allows you make your doodles while solving a puzzle without the need to erase everything if you ever make the tiniest of mistakes; a fourth hint, the SUPER hint, that basically solves the puzzle for you (you lazy bastard!); and, more importantly, some actual character development. The minigames from Unwound Future are also the best the series have offered so far, as they are, believe it or not, actually challenging! Well, the Parrot and Toy Car minigames are. The Illustration Book minigame is very easy, but completing it requires you to finish as many puzzles as you can, so I view it more as a reward than an actual riddle.

As always, the presentation of Unwound Future is superb. The Layton series is clearly the crème de la crème of the Nintendo DS library: it has animated sequences, incredible music, tons of extras, masterful voice acting and that art design a la The Triplets of Belleville that even after 2 games still looks odd, kooky and incredibly charming.

And still… I see myself running out of patience whenever I waste coins on hints that prove to be useless, when I stumble before a puzzle only because its instructions were way too ambiguous, or when I catch the game throwing the same kind of puzzle at me for the 5th time. These are the usual fare of issues one can find in a Professor Layton game but, after playing the two past games, the puzzles in Unwound Future seemed particularly derivative and easy. Too easy maybe, with the only and notable exceptions being the aforementioned mini-games and 2 sliding blocks puzzles from the bonus section. I still could not defeat the puzzle unlocked by using the password found in Diabolical Box, but I don’t plan on giving up or looking for help. A true gentleman leaves no puzzle unsolved.

Unwound Future tells a story with bigger stakes than Layton’s past adventures. It involves time-travel, missing Prime Ministers, an evil Professor Layton from the future and many, many plot holes, which is now a well established mark of the Layton games: logic-based puzzles tied to a logic-void story. The plot drags between the tedious and the inconsequential for a good while as you are required to go back and forth through London with little justification other than allowing the gamer to find some new puzzles or listening to the sobbing story of a talking rabbit that has almost nothing at all to do with the rest of the plot. Nevertheless, chances are that you will carry on like I did, because there are too many interesting mysteries to be resolved in this tale of time-traveling.

Like the previous Layton games (and unlike the false information provided by Corbie Dillard in his nintendolife review), aside from moving from one place to the next, your role is merely to observe the plot. You don’t actually get to offer any input to solve the mysteries presented by the storyline, as Layton will perform most of the deductions himself. This has been not only an old complaint of mine (I wanted to feel like a detective too!), but also a source of relief for I couldn’t possibly compete with Layton’s deductive powers. To put it simply: there is no way for any sane person to guess what will happen in a Professor Layton game. Even after 2 games, when was I finally felling confident enough that my mind was already inside Layton’s zone of weirdness required to take in the solutions presented by the game, the resolution still left me astonished. Its level of absurdness is way beyond the collective hallucination solution from the Diabolical Box.

You know, thank goodness Unwound Future isn’t a Point’n’Click adventure as his solutions usually slaps logic in the face – like conjuring a MacGyver-worthy machine gun from a pair of broken slot machines, while being shot by REAL machine guns. All in a day’s work for our gentlemanly Professor.

It’s hard to be harsh on a game whose high production values support such a soulful cast of characters but I cannot ignore the fact that, as long as pacing and puzzle difficulty is concerned, Unwound Future is certainly not among the best this series have already offered. Behind these issues, the game still offers a great visual and musical experience on the go as well as some interesting character developments. We finally get some insight on the reasons behind Don Paolo infantile bitterness towards Hershel and evidence that the Professor is not, after all, a robot. Or bald.

So I guess this is it: Unwound Future is good because Hershel Layton takes off his hat in it. For a fan like me, that should be enough justification.


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