Professor Layton and the Lost Future | Principal Platforms: Nintendo DS | Developer: Level-5 | Publisher: Level-5, Nintendo | Genre: Puzzle | Year: 2008
Professor Layton and the Lost Future — or the Unwound Future if you live stateside — is Level-5’s contribution to video gaming’s impressive run of superior threequels.
Fittingly, this is a game that takes everything about its winning formula to the next level, from its prolific voice acting and deeper narrative, to the subtly enhanced graphics and lengthy runtime. The presentation continues to get better as well, with more animated cutscenes; more voiced lines; and a beefier script that actually starts developing Layton as a character.
An intriguing plot sees Professor Layton grappling with his past, as a mysterious invitation lands him in a new conspiracy that will warp the very fabric of time itself. Time travel is always a challenging theme to work with, but Level-5 use it to give Lost Future an attractive hook where the exciting story moments start happening early. It’s a plot that’s just as bonkers as before — one bit sees Layton building a slot machine cannon! — and you won’t be left wanting for twists by the end of it all either.
There is an argument to suggest the narrative is too twisty at times, and I’d add that it can be a touch inconsistent with its characters. Layton’s former lover gets introduced and claims many of the best cutscenes, though they sooner benefit Layton’s character before that of her own. It’s also a little silly how she is coveted by another two men in the story. Are love quadrilaterals even a thing?
Furthermore, Flora shows up again and she continues to drag everything down with her dumb comments and vacant personality. I really wasn’t a fan of her voice acting here, and the character’s continued lack of arc and her presence when solving puzzles only succeeded in annoying me.
By contrast, I was pleasantly surprised by the turnaround involving Don Paolo. Trying to fulfil that typical Moriarty role, Paolo felt completely unnecessary in previous games, but in Lost Future the writers manage to subvert their own formula and provide a satisfying place for him in the wider narrative. I was impressed by that.
The story is still burdened by filler. There are chapters spent chasing a rabbit; talking to a woman about her husband’s dinner; and there’s plenty of dawdling before the big mysteries are revealed. Still, the ending is mostly good, and the character-driven elements are a promising improvement on the usual story beats. There’s even a post-credits scene thrown in there; further proof that the developers were really getting into the spirit of things.
The memo pad is one of the biggest gameplay improvements to be carried over from the second game, and it’s been upgraded in Lost Future to include more stylus sizes and a range of colours; perfect for solving those complex visual puzzles. Likewise, the addition of Super Hints will delight those who dislike using walk-through guides to find solutions.
These additions have probably eased the overall difficulty slightly, but there are still plenty of challenging riddles to overcome, with the odd puzzle “battle” spicing up the confrontations Layton has with his rivals. And it’s also worth mentioning the new collection of mini games, which are a solid improvement upon the ones included previously.
If my assessment about the gameplay seems brief, then it’s because Lost Future doesn’t deviate from its already solid structure of puzzles and point-and-click adventuring. It’s certainly more of the same in that sense.
The real success here lies in that presentation. The fresh puzzle music corrects the repetition gaff from Pandora’s Box; the new intro cards for each chapter look nice; and the over-the-top portrayal of a cartoony London town; complete with comic lingo and general wackiness, does lend the production a fun aura.
And ultimately it’s just nice to see one of these games that’s willing to act a little less prim. Put simply: Professor Layton and the Lost Future has more bite in its theme. This is a story that confronts more upsetting emotions whilst also making a bigger deal of the hero at the centre of it all, and that’s satisfying.
If those perplexing puzzles from Curious Village and Pandora’s Box didn’t have you entirely convinced, try Lost Future anyway. The familiar gameplay might not sway you, but the audacious story just might.