I know, it was too easy; sorry for the play-on-words but the software house that created Castlevania and Pro Evolution Soccer many years ago is following a plain strategy on the DS, alongside dating sims and tie-in productions: make a copy of successful concepts on the console.
The proof showing Konami has a lot of pleasure in committing this behaviour is in the last Famitsu, where it has been introduced its new (and first) adventure novel for 3DS, Doctor Lautrec and and the Forgotten Knights. Does the title remind you something? Well, let’s see: a high brow person as the protagonist; a cute assistant; a story full of mystery set around the late XIX century; puzzle to solves, dialogues to read… Mmh, perhaps Konami has chosen Level 5’s Professor Layton as inspiration? Trivial question, I know. Even because this is the second time in a year the Tokyo-based company tries to replicate Hershel Layton’s success by copying him.
Indeed in October it published Zack and the Ombras: The Phantom Amusement Park (above the two main characters) directed by Junko Kawano (Suikoden, Shadow of Memories), an adventure game plenty of logical tricks and quiz to clear up which debuted in a very low position in the weekly Media Create chart (38th, with 8-9,000 copies sold approximately); Layton’s big numbers were obviously quite impossible to reach as a new IP but Zack and the Ombras opened even less than some other similar structured games, such as Sloan to MacHale (58.513 copies in the first week, Famitsu data), Project Hacker (33.199 copies) and also Time Hollow (25.827 copies), a game by Konami itself from the same director.
Forgetting this failure, maybe Konami has thought that the path to follow was right and there was a large fanbase to feed; actually, Doctor Lautrec is more well-promising than Zack (it has a good 3D graphic and more game elements), but it looks too much similar to Layton and this might be a double-edged sword: 3DS is still a rich soil to be exploited and starting with so high (at least, in terms of design) production values it might be fruitful; but the release date is set in 2011 Spring, the same as the first Level 5’s game, which is just Professor Layton, namely The Mask of Miracles, and this is not a smart move.
In every case, the first Konami fake attempt on DS remains a large success even in its second round. I’m evidently referring to Magician’s Quest, a simulation game which was built on Animal Crossing concept both aesthetically and structurally.
The first episode of the series, Magician’s Quest: Mysterious Times had been out in November, 2008 in Japan and some months later in the rest of the world (March in Europe and May in North America) and it became one of the best-selling new IP so far in its homeland; it sold a total of 451.588 copies (Famitsu data), starting slowly with just 50.981 units but catching attention and fans over time. For the West, we don’t have clear data but it seems that the game has been very well received, looking at the retail orders and the online sales.
The sequel, Magician’s Quest: The Merchant’s Store of Sorcery,was released in November, the 11th in Japan and while it has started a bit lower than the first one (around 40.000 copies), it’s showing great legs which have brought the game pick over 130.ooo copies in its first month since the release (MediaCreate data, waiting for Famitsu).
Many factors has led to this outcome: the void in the genre left by Animal Crossing, which got just one chapter many years ago, Wild World, on the DS; the combination of sim parts (collections, creation of the own character, etc.) and the adventure part, following the nature of the story which deals about a magic academy à la Harry Potter; moreover, the game has been perfectly tailored for the young audience, well presented on the console, and both chapters were launched under Christmas holiday, perfect time for children’s presents.
We’ll see how far the Merchant’s Store Sorcery will go, but the bases for a successful IP have surely been created, hoping that Konami will move away the series from the original source of insipiration to create a solid identity.
In conclusion, Konami must still learn how to copy efficiently; sometimes it may work, sometimes not. Even shameless imitations might be instant successes (after all, Final Fantasy was born along the lines of Dragon Quest) but there are so many circumstances to count (e.g. receptiveness of the fanbase, strenght of the original IP, etc.) that it’s impossible to easily predict the response of the market.
To fit in with a popular genre is much easier because it follows the natural ecology of the video games system, so why don’t you try to do that, Konami?