Games for Lunch: Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

Posted by Kyle Orland (September 13, 2010)

Games for Lunch chronicles the first hour of a different game every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each hour ends with the answer to the only question that matters at that point: Do I want to keep playing? For more information, check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

Developer: Level 5
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: Sept. 12, 2010
System: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E-10+
Official Web site

In a nutshell: Simple puzzles, even simpler protagonists.

0:00 I liked the first Professor Layton DS game for its mix of clever puzzles and cute British charm. I put down the second game midway through, though, as the prevalence of sliding puzzles began to grate on me.

0:01 The piano and violin music on the title screen is ominous and catchy at the same time.

0:02 "This is a work of fiction," says the disclaimer. What, people were confused by this? Fade to an animated video of a bustling London street. A double decker bus trundles by. Cut to the bus interior. "It just doesn't seem to add up professor," says toe-headed Luke. "I honestly thought you were pulling my leg," Top-hatted Professor Layton replies. "What? I wouldn't dream of it." Um, what's going on?

0:03 Cut to a shadowy figure that looks like Luke, writing a letter. "Professor, I hope this letter finds you well. As for me, I'm in quite a predicament." The letter writer is from ten years in the future, when London has been thrown into turmoil. He tells the recipient to go the the clock shop. It's from "Your student, Luke Triton." Whhhaaaaa?

0:04 Layton's voice sounds a little more gravelly and less British than previous games. Maybe it's just my imagination? Anyway, Luke and Layton joke about time travelling postmen and how even future-Luke is too stupid to do anything without Layton's help. The "strange letter" gets filed in "Unsolved Mysteries." I loved that show!

0:07 Flashback to a week ago. A professor spouts some physics mumbo jumbo about "artificially distorting the flow of time" by "punching holes, or hivegaps, into the fabric of spacetime." Inspector Chelmey eats messily through the talking, and complains about his caseload to a blue-hatted copper named Barton.

0:08 Luke tells Layton he feels a bit out of place at this fancy science banquet. The Prime Minister is there, after all. Also, science requires smarts, and Luke is incredibly stupid. I might have added that last part.

0:09 "So professor, do you believe that someone has really built a working time machine?" Wait, so they knew someone claimed to have built a time machine, then they were surprised when you got a letter from the future? Put two and two together, geniuses.

0:12 Layton sees a guard looking for an intruder at the event, and offers to help. He helps via Puzzle No. 001. We get a picture of the banquet layout and three clues about the intruder's choice of flower and tablecloth color, as well as that of his neighbors. Don't ask me how the guard knows all this information but doesn't know who the intruder is. Anyway, it's not too hard to reason out.

0:14 Presentation time. "Thank you for taking part in an event that will no doubt go down in scientific HISTORY!" says the presenter in a great, over-the-top voice. Dr. Alan Stahngun (Pronounced stungun, of course) comes up.

0:16 The Prime Minister is invited up on stage. "Since the beginning of time, we humans have strived to transcend our natural limits. ... but the one frontier that has always eluded us is... TIME!" I can't tell if it's the voice actor or the character that's overdoing the rhetoric.

0:17 Stahngun asks the PM to take part in the demonstration. He hesitates. "I realize it's been some time since you traded in the hard sciences for the softer variety," Stahngun says. Damn... that's like the scientist equivalent of a "Yo Mama" joke. The PM reluctantly agrees to take part. His wife is not happy...

0:19 As the PM steps inside the flowering orb compartment, an old-fashioned printer paper readout comes out the side of the machine. Steam comes out the huge clock atop the orb as the compartment slowly closes. Stahngun pulls a big red lever and the exterior crackles with electricity. Inside, steam is thrown in the PM's face and then the whole contraption explodes! There's smoke and screaming everywhere as the huge clock crashes down on a fountain. "Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm and refrain from panicking."

0:20 Back to the present.... Luke: "Wait, maybe if the time machine was real, this letter is real too!" WAY TO KEEP UP, LUKE! Layton mentions a rash of disappearing scientists. As they step off the bus, the title appears.

0:22 "Somehow, a single letter had made its way back through time. And it's sender, strange as it sounds, was me. The future me, that is." Oh my God, Luke, didn't we JUST go over this? Gawd this story is repetitive so far. "Prologue: The Clock Shop and Midland Road."

0:25 Finding the shop on the map is Puzzle 002, worth 15 picarats. My clues are "12:00; 3:00; 12:00; 9:00; 6:00." They're obviously clock-based directions to guide me along this map, but I'm unclear whether the first intersection (right after the starting arrow) counts. I make an educated guess and end up with the right answer.

0:26 Just noticed that the "Correct" message on the top screen is now a hand-drawn pic of a bearded guy painting the word "Correct" on a wooden board. Cuter than the previous games.

0:27 Out on the street, old lady Florence tells me to tap a car. It's destroyed, but it produces a hint coin in the process. Oh my god, Layton is Superman! I-I didn't berak it! It just fell apart! Honestly!" Suuuure it did, Luke...

0:28 Interesting... when I tap close to a hint coin (but not directly on it) I get a little droplet sound until I find it. Some nice little interface tweaks over the previous games in the series.

0:30 Down the alley, red-bearded Vito has a puzzle that we have to help clear out of his brain so he can remember where he saw the clock shop. Sure, that makes sense.

0:31 Wow, this puzzle was less a puzzle and more a grade-school level time-telling exercise. I know it's early in the game, but this is just insultingly simple.

0:32 I've already found five hint coins about town. That's in addition to the ten the game starts me out with. They must be really worried people will have trouble with these simple puzzles, eh?

0:33 Mustached Stachen claims to have never seen us, despite his being in the previous games. Luke says he looks familiar, then mentions how another woman already told them how hint coins work "But... explaining hint coins is just about the only time we ever get to chat. How could you let someone else give my speech." Luke get him to admit he DOES recognize us. The whole exchange is a nice wink at fans.

0:36 Tapping the stairs reminds Layton of a stair-based puzzle, about two guys lifting boxes up to the third floor of a house at different rates. More relatively simple math, but this one requires me to break out the "memo" function to jot down notes, at least.

0:37 Up to nice hint coins, plus the ten I started with. Wow.

0:39 Found the clock shop, but "Puzzle No. 005, The Timepiece" is blocking the entrance. "Tap the panel with the timepiece" someone tells me. The big ornate clock is spread across many panels, but not the one in the corner, which hides an hourglass. Kinda clever, I guess...

0:41 Luke and Layton step into a room full of clocks, like the opening of Back to the Future. "Oh gracious, we haven't had a customer in ages." Says an old purple-haired woman named Spring. She knows Layton from the paper. She demands proof he;s not an impersonator... in the form of Puzzle 006.

0:43 OK, tracing one of a couple of twisting threads and counting how many needles it intersects doesn't really count as a "puzzle" in my book. More like a test of basic visual acuity. "Few things satisfy like a puzzle solved," Layton says for the first time.

0:45 The large broken clock in the back of the shop inspires Puzzle No. 007, which involves figuring out the time on a clock with no numbers. Kind of tricky, but as the game explains after solving, "Once you notice exactly where the hour hand is pointing, the rest is pretty easy."

0:48 Hunting around the shop finds me Puzzle No. 008. It's a pretty simple variation on the last puzzle... I have to find time on an unlabeled clock. These puzzles aren't really showing the variety of first game, yet.

0:49 I now have 30 hint coins burning a hole in my pocket.

0:50 Spring's husband, Cogg, returns. He wanted to fix up the big clock in time for Luke and Layton showing up. Unexplained (and un-remarked upon) is why Cogg was expecting them at all. Did they phone ahead when I wasn't looking?

0:53 Puzzle No. 009 comes as Cogg recruits Layton to fix the clock. It's a simple matter of tracing gears and figuring out which one will lead the final gear to go in the right direction. Unfortunately, I misread the image, thinking two gears are connected when there is a small gap between them. My mistake costs me 10 Picarats.

0:54 The clock starts and shakes the ground. Luke and Layton run outside, while Spring and Cogg stay stone still. Outside, London is much steam-punkier than it was when they entered. "Chapter 1: Is This The Future?" My guess is that, yes, this is the future.

0:56 A guy in a wifebeater says their construction crew has been working for a year, even though Luke and Layton saw no signs of construction when they came in. The clock shop is locked to re-entry, of course.

0:57 Quote of the moment, from a very British passerby. "Holy Stilton on a stick! Great Cheshire on a chimney!"

0:58 In an unlocked pub, Purple-suited Alfie is overjoyed to have Luke's attention. He presents Puzzle No. 010: What day is it? "If yesterday's day after tomorrow is Sunday, what day is tomorrow's day before yesterday?" If this takes you more than 30 seconds to figure out, perhaps you need to go back to first grade.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? The story has been a bit slow, and the puzzles ridiculously easy, but I'm relatively hopeful at least the latter of those will change soon.

This review was based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.

Check out hundreds of archived Games for Lunch reviews on the official Games for Lunch blog.

I've been writing about video games for 17 years now and for some reason they're still paying me


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