Technology is wonderful! Thanks to the wonders of Adobe Flash, I don’t have to buy a money-sink of a handheld just to try out one of the games that I was looking forward to for it! And seriously, thank Bathery, because I had a less than stellar experience playing the Flash demo for “Doctor Lautrec and the Forgotten Knights”.
Konami has been barraged with claims of plagiarism when it became obvious that they wanted a slice of the Professor Layton money-pie. And sadly, this demo doesn’t seem to do much to discourage those claims. I want to get this out of the way before I continue: I might be a tad biased in this little preview, as I’m a pretty big Layton fan. The games have awesome stories as a wrapper around some pretty clever little puzzles, the third game is one of the few videogames I’ve played that’s made me actually cry, and I’m currently playing the fourth game in the series and enjoying it a lot. Now, after saying all that, I can continue: Lautrec just honestly feels like an uninspired knock-off.
The puzzles are bland, and while I know it’s a demo so they’re not going to throw the best stuff at me, these puzzles just feel like cheap cell phone games compared to the opening puzzles of any of the Layton games. The main difference is while the puzzles in Layton are fixed (meaning it’s always going to be the same puzzle with the same answer every time), Lautrec at least takes an interesting route in that it gives you a type of puzzle, and you’ll have to solve one of a number of variations on that kind of puzzle. Case in point: the first puzzle is a kinda dull “find the differences between the two photos” puzzle, but in playing the demo (and accidentally restarting it), I played three different variations on that. At least this means that puzzle fans won’t be completely bored when they’ve beaten the game, as there’s some further variety. However, this could also mean there’s just simply less puzzles in the game, so who knows? Either way, this new way of presenting puzzles both kind of gets on my nerves but also lends itself to a much better improvement on this formula.
See, when you get the incorrect answer on a puzzle in Layton, you’re stuck with that (possibly dumb-or-cheap-as-shit) puzzle until you solve it. Lautrec nicely solves this problem by offering the player a slightly easier version of the puzzle if they fail, which should help with any frustration that comes with multiple incorrect answers.
That’s about all this demo gets right, gameplay-wise, though. There’s hints of a story, but there’s not a lot explaining what’s going on besides that. I mean, again, it’s a demo, but even the Ghost Trick Flash demo explained what the hell was going on. This demo has a few lines of boring dialogue between the good Doctor and his assistant, and then WHOOSH! You’re thrown into a puzzle that’s completely unrelated to the situation at hand. The game gives you the most bare of instructions, where Layton’s top screen is entirely devoted to puzzle descriptions and explaining the sometimes-complicated puzzles as best as possible to avoid confusion. The last puzzle in the demo is a weird mix between Minesweeper and Picross, and the demo barely gives you an explanation as to what your goal is. Clearly the people who developed the game/website/demo knew this and added a decent explanation to a side-bar next to the demo, but it’s worded wrong! I kept losing because I thought (like Minesweeper), the number tells you how many tiles you’re not supposed to hit. In this game, the number tells you how many tiles to hit instead. And the description tells you otherwise, as in, the normal rules of Minesweeper. So, that pissed me off a lot.
Again, I may be biased, but this game just feels like a shameless, uncaring Layton rip-off. And that very well may be what it is. I like the character designs and what I’ve seen of the animated cut-scenes looks stellar, but that’s about all the praise this demo is getting out of me. The character of Lautrec is kind of unlikable in how arrogant he is (claiming he wants an “enigma to test his brilliant mind”, as if to say “OUR GUY IS SO MUCH SMARTER THAN LAYTON”), where Layton comes off as charming in that he’s very humble about his puzzle-solving skills (which are more renowned than his studies in archaeology, I guess, cause he does that too). The puzzles come out of nowhere and have nothing to do with the story of the game, where Layton games have been getting better and better at integrating the puzzles into the story. Even if it’s just a guy saying “Hey, solve this puzzle for me and I’ll let you pass through here”, it’s better than the jarring transition from the caverns beneath Paris to a Photo Hunt mini-game.
And of course, when the demo gets the chance to show off a section of the game that’s unlike Layton, (in this case, a boss battle), it just cuts to a trailer (which didn’t buffer well at all). To be fair, it’s a Flash demo, and I’m not sure how they’d pull off the 3D combat system of this game in Flash (I’m assuming that’s what it uses from screenshots I saw), but it just reeks of being this uncaring money-grab at the Layton fortune.
I really want to like this game. I was looking forward to it since I heard about it, even though my inner Professor Layton fanboy cried foul at how similar it was to my favorite English gentleman. But coming from playing those games, this one lacks the charm almost completely. The lack of puzzle explanation pissed me off, the lack of a story or the puzzle integration into that story disappointed me, and I’m starting to not even like the main character. I dunno, maybe the full game will be good, but judging from this demo, it’s nowhere near as good as any of the Layton games. And I wanted it to be.
And, seriously? Even though this “Professor Layton and the Last Specter” demo site contains zero story, the four puzzles on there are streets ahead of the three in the Lautrec demo, at least to me. Try them both for yourself and see.