"...Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights has a few unique things going for it and the potential to be a sleeper hit."
During E3 while venturing around the Konami booth, I stumbled upon a little 3DS game called Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights. It's a graphic adventure title with a lot of puzzles to solve. It gives off a strong Professor Layton vibe at first glance, which got me intrigued enough to give it a shot. The similarities are apparent, but it has its own unique elements, and more importantly, its charm left me with feeling positive.
Doctor Lautrec takes place in 19th century France and stars the titular character. Lautrec is an anti-social archeologist who's an avid fan of puzzles and solving mysteries. He also has a young assistant named Sophie who helps him out in archeological sites and solving mysteries. One day, a mysterious woman visits their office and specifically requests Lautrec to help with her dilemma. She provides Lautrec with a mysterious box with a puzzle built on it. Upon completing the puzzle, the box reveals a treasure map of the late Louis XIV. Afterwards, Lautrec sets out to find this treasure, but little does he know, there is a lot of mystery and danger surrounding it.
Though the structure and style of the game has similarities to Professor Layton, the puzzles it provides differ, making extensive usage of the touchscreen. Instead of riddles or problem solving, the puzzles shown at E3 were more straightforward, traditional types. One example shown was a crossword type puzzle where you have to place words in the correct slots. There was also a type of fill-in puzzle where the player has to correctly fit in every square piece in a grid. The game provides three hints per puzzle, but they automatically solve parts of the puzzle instead of giving descriptive clues. However, using them will lower Lautrec's information, although I couldn't get any detailed information about that aspect. Konami proclaims that there are over 250 puzzles to solve, so there is bound to be a variety of different types and increased difficulty.
The more unique aspects of the game lay outside of the puzzles. In his travels, Lautrec can explore various locales and search the environment for clues. There are also stealth portions where Lautrec has to bypass people in various ways to progress further in the area. In the demo, Lautrec has to get past the police to venture into a restricted area. Lautrec can also collect treasures, and they serve a major purpose. Instead of being just swag, treasures are used in the combat portion of the game.
Occasionally, Lautrec encounters hostile guardian spirits, and he must use the treasures to take them down. On the bottom screen are several slots to place treasure in. After placing a treasure, a little monster is summoned, and each has their own set of HP, attack points, and defense points. Each treasure and guardian spirit has an elemental attribute that is strong or weak against another type (such as water beating fighter). The slots themselves also differ; clear slots can strengthen a treasure while cracked ones weaken it. Putting treasures in cracked slots might seem pointless, but there are actually good, tactical reasons for doing so. Guardian spirits can be tamed, but they have to be weakened to a certain point, as indicated in a blue portion of their healthbar. Taming them provides the player with a unique treasure. If the player happens to overkill a guardian spirit, the treasure is lost forever, hence the use of cracked slots. Treasures used in battle also gain experience points, which strengthen them.
Another standout aspect of Doctor Lautrec is with the art style. It has an old, cartoony, western look to it, which fits very well with the setting of the game. The character designs shown are all quite varied, and stand out in their own way. 3D graphics are also used during exploration and occasional cutscenes. While they aren't as striking as the 2D visuals, it makes use of the 3D effect to give a greater sense of depth to environments and scenes.
I'm quite impressed with the bit of time I've spent playing Doctor Lautrec. It's a bit of a shame how low-profile it seems to be, and it might seem like a copy of a more popular game series, but it has a few unique things going for it and a lot of potential to be a sleeper hit. Keep an eye out for Doctor Lautrec when it comes out this September.