A bit less Layton-like than it seems.
Konami's Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights has become a bit infamous for its resemblances to the more famous Professor Layton series. The good doctor studies archaeology, solves puzzles, and unravels mysteries in a slightly-enchanted European capital city. Each has the help of a young apprentice, to whom they impart wisdom and from whom they receive a great deal of respect. When I first approached the doctor's game it was not without some level of skepticism, it would seem that the title does try to do some things its own way.
Doctor Lautrec takes place in Paris at the end of the 19th century. The doctor, and his apprentice Sophie, have come into the possession of a map for the catacombs beneath the streets of Paris. This map is thought to lead to the treasure of Louie XIV, however Lautrec is not the only person hunting for the treasure.
The E3 2011 demo showed the beginning of the story, as well as three gameplay modes.
The game begins with Lautrec and Sophie exploring the catacombs while trying to avoid security. This plays as an isometric 3D dungeon explorer. Lautrec is moved via the Circle Pad and the objective is to get him to the end of the hall without being spotted. The guards move about the floor, but their view is obscured by stone obstacles within the caves. The polygonal graphics were designed to resemble the games cellshaded art, but they look a bit primitive compared to other titles on the 3DS. The isometric perspective, when coupled with the 3D effect, makes it seem as if you're looking into a Lautrec diorama, which is a nice feeling. This mode seems to be the primary exploration mode, but it seemed a bit barren in the demo. This is, however, the very start of the game so it could become more involved later.
At the end of the hall Lautrec and Sophie find a dead-end, which he indicates to Sophie is nothing of the sort. He presents Sophie with a list of words and the frame of a crossword puzzle. This is the first of the game's 200 puzzles, but it seems a bit simple. All that is required is the sliding of words into the appropriate slot of the crossword. The instructions indicate that there are multiple puzzles of this style throughout the game. A later puzzle tasks Lautrec with arranging a set of tetromino style blocks into a frame so that they all fit. Again, the tutorial indicated that there are other puzzles of this style throughout the game. It was challenging enough that I had to use one of the three hints that come with each puzzle.
At one point Lautrec and Sophie had to battle a spirit that was residing inside a piece of treasure. Called the "Treasure Animatus" (living treasure), only Sophie is able to see them. According to the plot in the game, many famous pieces of treasure contain these spirits and if they are not defeated the person who takes them becomes cursed. In order to pacify the Treasure Animatus card battle-like mini-game is played in which the player uses the treasures they've already collected against this new treasure. Each turn the player may place one more treasure on the board, after which it attacks. Once the enemy is defeated the treasure is added to Lautrec's collection. There is an element system; the demo mentions humanoid, flying, sea, and terrestrial types but there could be more. It seemed a bit simple, but it was the very first battle in the game.
The game's story was delivered in three different ways. It begins with the doctor and Sophie wandering the catacombs, rendered in the polygonal engine of the exploration mode. Later establishing shots were delivered via beautifully animated sequences that have a slight resemblance to Tintin, but with a darker outline to the characters. The third way story is delivered is via static drawings of characters conversing with each other. The characters and the background are all nicely drawn and the characters are interesting to look at.
The game is fully voiced and the demo featured some very nice music.
Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights is clearly inspired by the Layton games, but after a playthough its clear that Konami does have ideas of their own they plan to implement. While the demo seemed a bit slow paced there is some promise in the demo. Doctor Lautrec is due out this September.