Professor Herschel Layton lives in a fantastic, magical world. A world where time travel is possible in the quaintest of English country gardens. A world where every one of life’s problems can be solved by puzzles and brainteasers. A world where no one questions the jolly old man and his young, impressionable apprentice. Yep, it’s business as usual in Professor Layton and the Lost Future.
The third in Level 5’s series of whimsical puzzlers, Lost Future promises an impressive 165 challenges plus additional mini-games to confound and perplex. In this sense, it’s nothing new – players solve puzzles in order to progress to the next part of the story and collect picarats to unlock rewards at the end of the game. For most other titles, this stalwart refusal to innovate and build on its predecessors’ features would be suicide – surely nobody wants to pay for three separate titles only to play the same game? The saving grace of the Professor Layton series, however, is its charm and the clear dedication Level 5 have to creating a complete and beautifully detailed universe with its own unique style. I normally save this for the end but by now you should already know if you’re interested in playing Lost Future so, if you enjoyed the first two games, you’re bound to find this one even more enthralling.
Set in the jolliest London I’ve ever seen (in all my time living there, not a single soul offered me a shiny gold key provided I helped them count their matchsticks…), Lost Future, somewhat predictably, features time travel, a run in with the mob, old friends and a forgotten romance. The story itself is rather chintzy and, as with previous Layton adventures, the conclusion is easy to guess with ample time left on the clock. This doesn’t matter though – the game is so beautifully presented that you’ll find yourself reeling as melodramatically as young Luke every time a predictable twist rolls around.
Painted in their trademark, unplaceable European style, London (both present and future) is filled with tumbledown architecture, impossibly shaped citizens and is crammed with enough cartoon charm to provide even the most downtrodden smoke-dweller with a sense of pride and nostalgia. The most expansive of the Layton games, you travel all across the city, using the underground map to visit locations outside of the usual urban sprawl. Navigation is as easy as before, requiring a few decisive taps of the stylus, but the tube travel feels somewhat contrived and unnecessary as your freedom to roam is often curtailed by the need to solve puzzles that form barriers to your next goal.
As well as the static environments, there are also the sublime animated cutscenes that make you wonder why Level 5 don’t pack in this whole videogame business and focus on film. With plenty of wonderfully acted, spoken dialogue, Lost Future has a real premium feel to it, truly an impressive feat when you consider the limited space in a humble DS cartridge.
I said earlier that the game doesn’t really offer anything new and must admit that this is only mostly true. While the puzzles are all new, it does all feel the same as before. There are additions, however, to make it more accessible to anyone concerned that they may find themselves stuck and without internet access to help guide them through the tricky spots. As well as the usual hints system whereby players can receive assistance by spending collectible hint coins, they can also unlock a “super hint” that all but solves the puzzle for them, allowing you to progress – albeit shamefully knowing that you have failed. As before, there is nothing to stop you from saving, unlocking all of the hints, rebooting and solving the puzzle without losing any valuable coins but that’s hardly sporting is it?
As well as the revamped hints system, there are also new mini-games to enjoy. My favourite was a series of picture books that required you to add stickers to flesh out the story. Experimentation here produced some amusing results and I was always excited to get a new sticker to help me complete my stories.
The other modes, a driving puzzle where you guide a toy car using limited directions and another where you must provide a safe route to guide a parrot across a level, were both fun but felt more like an excuse to include multiple variations of the same type of challenge without making it look like characters were repeating themselves.
With all of these different challenges and the many puzzles featured in the main story itself, Professor Layton and the Lost Future is sure to take some time, but there’s hardly any fun in completing the same task twice, resulting in little to no replay value. Still, while it lasts, this second sequel is just as enticing and entertaining as the first title and a splendid way to while away time on your DS. Just don’t be surprised when the next installation offers more of the same yet again.
Rating: 8/10 (Review scores explained)
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