Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights (3DS)
The similarities between Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights and the Professor Layton series lie in their visual aesthetics alone. Doctor Lautrec borrows its oppositions appealing qualities with reckless abandon, such as art style, setting, and even Layton’s hat. The key difference is that Layton’s gameplay, while repetitive in nature – solving puzzles to unlock more puzzles to solve – is constantly reinvigorated with clever brainteasers that truly challenge. Doctor Lautrec features multiple styles of gameplay to counteract its lack of ingenuity, which results in an even more repetitive game without a single laudable aspect.
Doctor Jean-Pierre Lautrec, Doctor of Archeology at the Musée d’Histoire Natural in Paris, accompanied by his adoring assistant Sophia, venture across 19th century Paris, in search of hidden underground labyrinths filled with treasure and mystery. The narrative quickly focuses on a treasure that connects the royal Louis XIV with a shadowy group called the Knights of the Iron Mask. Because of the game’s reliance on questing, the narrative moves too slowly and the characters are too narrowly defined to keep you consistently intrigued.
Each of the game’s chapters has you exploring an underground labyrinth with a powerful boss – so powerful that Sophia strongly urges you to collect stronger treasures before you proceed. The meat of the game then presents itself in the form of quests that reward you with new treasures and currency. Quest structure remains constant – receive a treasure map, find the hidden underground labyrinth, and capture new treasure. This essentially results in a mishmash of woefully underdeveloped yet playable flash games that grow staler than a forgotten baguette.
Treasure maps are guised as Layton-esque brainteasers. These scavenger hunts require vast knowledge of Paris and its history, so instead you watch Lautrec and Sophia solve them. After wading through textbooks worth of pointless dialogue filled with dense 19th century history, several points of interest are pinned on your map where you must travel to, to gain information. Sometimes there are only a few places you must visit, other times your map is littered with them. Correctly discerning where to travel next is as futile as reading a table of contents in a foreign language. Your persistence, not astute deductive reasoning, is all that is required, but is required often – every quest is padded with this nonsense that lasts for several minutes, yet totals far too much playtime to even be considered as such.
Labyrinth exploration plays like the worst Zelda/Metal Gear Solid hybrid ever conceived. French police patrol the offensively polygonal environments, and if caught, you are brought back to the entrance of the room. In order to survey the area, you must hold down B to move the camera (even though there is a perfectly functional bottom-screen that could have been used to detail each room, guards and all). This, coupled with vision-cone-less security, creates stealth gameplay so archaic and clunky that it makes Vampire Rain look revolutionary.
Incorporating ridiculously time-consuming block puzzles only makes progression exponentially more infuriating. Determining where the blocks go takes a few seconds; pushing the blocks takes approximately an eternity. Inexplicably, leaving and then returning to a room resets the position of the blocks. Worse yet, guards and block puzzles are constantly combined, and if/when you are caught, this too resets the position of the blocks. Waterboarding seems like a more pleasurable alternative to these maddeningly lengthy and dreadfully frequent amnesia-prone ‘puzzles’.
There are traditional puzzles too, but there are only a half dozen types repeated ad nauseum. Make a certain shape with these blocks! Find the differences between these two pictures! Insert these words in the crossword! Discern the pattern of these shapes! If shape A turns into shape B, and shape C turns into shape D, what will shape E transform into? An odd picross/sudoku hybrid is the only unique mindbender among them, as the rest can easily be found in a litany of bargain bin DS games from Majesco.
Treasure Animatus, or living treasure, must first be tamed in order to retrieve. Sophia will inform you of its affinity (why it is not permanently displayed is beyond logic), where you can then drag treasure you have collected on a limited number of spaces to summon your own animati. Battles boil down to heavy examination of the conveniently displayed weakness chart. The tutorial for the battle mechanics is laughably brief and sparse to the point where it leaves out crucial information – for a game that regularly teaches 19th century history lessons, this lack of clarity is jarring.
Inventory becomes a huge issue, as you are only allowed to carry three treasures with you into dungeons. Quests tell you the affinity of the treasure animatus that you will need to capture, so designing a team around that is simple enough. This is not the case for the chapter labyrinths that feature incredibly tough treasures. There is no worse realization that your team is ill prepared to defeat the boss, forcing you to restart the dungeon from the beginning, puzzles and all.
Whether Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights was a labor of love or a misconceived Professor Layton rip-off (or both) is a moot point because Doctor Lautrec ends up being a playable game overwhelming crammed with hours of horribly designed, repetitive, and uninspired gameplay. And when Lautrec admits, “This latest quest was very unsatisfying,” as he occasionally does, it is hard not to feel the same way.