Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami / Played on: Nintendo 3DS / Price: $29.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Mild Suggestive Themes, Alcohol Reference, Use of Tobacco, Mild Violence]
What sort of tomfoolery is this? A video game on a Nintendo handheld featuring a wise doctor and a young sidekick solving puzzles and unraveling a mystery that isn’t a Professor Layton title? Rubbish! A definite imitation of the sublime puzzle solving of the Professor Layton series, Konami’s Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights distinguishes itself with a variety of gameplay methods, unique visuals, and a handful of interesting puzzles. Is there room in this world for two top hat wearing puzzle solvers with British accents? No. No there is not.
It’s a normal day for Doctor Lautrec and his assistant Sophie: navigating through the underground passages below Paris, looking for treasure, and avoiding the police. You know, the norm for a history buff. When the Doctor and Sophie come into possession of a treasure map showing the lost treasure of Louis XIV, the duo set out to discover what is sure to be the find of the century. Before long, however, Lautrec meets complications with the Knights of the Iron Mask, a secretive group also seeking Louis XIV’s treasure. The story is primarily told through dialogue (both spoken and written) between missions, but a slow pace and boring conversations make Doctor Lautrec’s journey one you won’t be interested in. Side missions and pointless conversations between characters will sidetrack you from the main plot, especially in the beginning and middle portions of the game. Characters are interesting, such as fellow adventurer Claude and his fondness of Sophie, but more often than not their talking sections feel pointless and have little to do with the plot. Sorting out the mystery will take several hours of gameplay, but it doesn’t feel particularly rewarding.
Doctor Lautrec is split into three distinct parts. First you get a mission and a treasure map. Upon getting your information you guide Lautrec through an overworld map of Paris seeking out your destination. You can stop at a location on the map to enter that area and explore the area more thoroughly. The game surprisingly offers a fine representation of actual geographic landmarks in Paris, like the Cathedral at Notre Dame and the many treasures obtained by Napoleon, complete with information about each historic piece. As you investigate these areas your goal is to find the secret entrance to the catacombs below the city to find the lost treasure marked on your map. Here, the game’s second element begins.
When underground you’re goal is to avoid detection by police and to solve the spare brain teaser. These sections of the game amount to simple running around, and are really more of a nuisance than a challenge. If the po-po’s catch you they send you back to the entrance of the room, forcing you to sneak past them all over again. Locked doors are usually accompanied with a puzzle. These moments are some of the better parts of the game, but they are few and far between. Nowhere near the breadth of variety seen in Professor Layton titles, Lautrec’s puzzles are things like find the change in two sets of pictures, solve a number based puzzle, or rearrange blocks to make this shape, and all these puzzles are repeated throughout the game. While fun, there just aren’t enough of them to engage you for a long time. Finally, when you discover the treasure, you enter a turn-based RPG battle of all things! By placing stones and trinkets found earlier throughout the dungeon on a pedestal you fight the animated spirit of the ancient prize. An initial tutorial attempts to guide you through this process, but battles usually come down to trial and error sessions that will test your patience. When you come out victorious you claim the riches as your own and go back to the surface to do it all over again.
My biggest complaint aside from the disappointing puzzles is the minimal interaction you have in the whole experience. Characters discuss actions and objectives that need to be completed before starting out on your adventure (like escaping a home unnoticed), but then when you start the missions these supposed objectives are magically completed. I’m all right with plot and story being driving forces for a game, but scenes between actual gameplay take upwards of 20 minutes to complete. This method of tedious “gameplay” doesn’t draw the player in. I actually forgot I was playing a video game and was thrown off when I finally got to take control of Lautrec.
Much like how the gameplay is split into three parts, the visuals in Doctor Lautrec are also split into three parts. Bright and colorful character pictures are shown during the game’s many dialogue sequences. These portraits look great, with a comical appearance to them thanks to thick black outlines and simple designs. In unison with this style is full motion animated sequences. These anime-like movies are used sporadically to progress the story and are a welcome change to the static images of the characters. The final visual style used is during gameplay. The camera takes an isometric view and everything is represented as 3D polygons instead of flat, 2D images. These graphics look fine but lack the charm seen in the 2D portions of the game. Overall the game has several visual styles that all look decent.
Something that Doctor Lautrec has over Professor Layton is more persistent voice acting. Just about every character you interact with (aside from NPCs like townspeople) is fully voiced. Not only that, but the cast does a great job delivering their lines with emotion. Doctor Lautrec in particular does a great job with a mesmerizing lexicon spoken in a delightful British accent. It seems voice acting was where the entire budget for sound was spent, because the rest of the game doesn’t feature any other sounds or music that is noteworthy. Sound effects and music are average, and you probably won’t even notice them unless you’re listening specifically to hear a sound, like a rock or crate grinding against the ground as Lautrec pushes it forward while solving a puzzle.
Professor Layton this is not, but imitation it tries. Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights fails to capture the magic that it is trying to emulate. Repetitive puzzles and a lack of player interaction during gameplay will leave you wanting much more. Visually the game looks great, and the sound isn’t bad either, but I didn’t play the game to look at stuff and listen to character chat. I played the game to be engrossed in a story and have fun, and Doctor Lautrec isn’t the game I wanted it to be.