Critical Play: Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future is the third game in the original Layton trilogy for the Nintendo DS. Released in Japan in 2008 and in Western countries in 2010, the game was developed by Level-5 Studios and published by Nintendo. In 2020, a mobile port was released for Android and iOS. The Layton series targeted the more casual demographic that the DS appealed to and leaned heavily into the then-novel touch interface the system afforded its users. Gameplay generally takes place in two ways: the titular Professor Layton and his apprentice Luke exploring areas for clues and talking to NPCs, and solving dozens of unique puzzles with the system’s touch screen. The gameplay is set against a larger mystery involving the environment and the characters inhabiting it.


The bottom screen for a puzzle in the game showing the UI overlay.


In Unwound Future, Layton and Luke receive a letter from an individual claiming to be Luke from ten years in the future. They are summoned to a clock shop which transports them into a future London controlled by a future version of Layton and his mafia, ‘the Family’. Players explore and solve puzzles to unravel the mystery of these events.

One of my favorite design choices in the Layton series is the hint coin system. Sometimes puzzles are tricky and players may get stuck, so the game allows you to purchase increasingly helpful hints for each puzzle. These hints cost hint coins, which can be found outside of the puzzles while the player is exploring the environments. The system really motivates players to engage with the intricately-crafted spaces the designers created and it helps encourage player investment in the world and the story, which enhances the payoff when the game’s mystery is resolved.

The story of Unwound Future is fantastic and the framing of it as a large puzzle the player slowly solves by solving smaller puzzles is very effective in enhancing the experience. I haven’t played the mobile port, but if the game is intact, I strongly recommend the entire trilogy.

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