Now, I’m not one to throw around the word “charming” willy-nilly. Why not, you ask? Is it because I run with hooligans who would beat me up (or worse, judge me in a negative light) for using such a word? Yes, partly. But regardless, I’m in a tough spot here, because there’s just no adjective that better describes the Professor Layton experience. These games are simple, absorbing, addictive, and... wait for it”¦
Cut from the same cloth as its predecessors (and its successors, there are still Layton games that haven’t been released in North America), the third entry, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future (Nintendo; DS; rated everyone 10+)—which was released September 12—basically exists to work your brain, entertain your kids, and charm the crap out of you, all at once.
If you liked the panel-based anime style seen in previous Layton games, you’ll love Unwound Future, because it features more of it, and it’s even nicer this time—higher production values, more ambitious scene design, and even some 3-D models—and it’s just utterly charming. There, happy? Unwound Future’s visuals will make you smile, and literally pull you in, compelling you to fully explore the game’s world.
Said world is the domain of Professor Layton, a renowned archaeologist who also happens to be terrific at solving brain teasers. He travels the countryside in the company of his wide-eyed “apprentice” Luke, who is about 12 (if child protective services aren’t concerned about the specifics of their relationship, why should you be?) and together, Layton and Luke visit charming villages and talk with charming people (the voice-over work is also top notch), many of whom present them with puzzles.
For Professor Layton games are really about puzzle-solving. The story, in which you help strangers by solving small puzzles, and progressively unraveling the broader mystery at hand (which, this time, involves a time machine, and Luke receiving a letter from his future self) is really a vehicle for presenting the game’s 165 “mysteries”, which usually consist of traditional logic puzzles and brain teasers. You’re awarded points for correct answers, and must solve enough mysteries (and earn enough points) to advance the story.
The puzzling aspect also means Unwound Future works well as a team game. While it’s actually single-player, having a girlfriend, wife, child, or nosy bus companion peering over your shoulder, and solving the riddle together, can be a nice little moment; similarly, books of brain teasers are more fun if you read them out loud in a room full of sociable people, rather than scratching your head alone pathetically, in a darkened room.
While “charming” may seem like a tough sell in the “blood on the hud” era, it’s actually little shock Professor Layton games have a strong following—they hit several demographics. Gamers like them because they’re engaging, well-made games. Educators like them because they make you use your brain. Girlfriends, because they can play with their boyfriends in a fashion that almost constitutes “a couples thing”. And parents, because nobody gets his head blown off.
Chris Vandergaag is a Vancouver-based freelancer. When he's not gaming, writing, or forwarding links of questionable moral repute, he's asleep.