Adventure Gamers Awards
Characters do not run or even walk during the game. There are rudimentary facial and hand movements that occur while they are talking or testifying. Emotions are conveyed by highly exaggerated simple animations; if a character becomes distressed, worried, or fearful, tears will stream down their face in virtual rivers. If they are enraged, they momentarily morph into some demonic-looking façade. This is a bit visually extreme with a few characters. One in particular is so overblown I cringed when I realized that person was a key figure in that level. However, the dialogues turn even that eyesore into a champ. Humor is hard to nail in any medium, and this script had me laughing more times than I can remember. The script takes a poke at cultural stereotypes, movies, and even a few games along the way. Sometimes the jokes wear thin, but the campy fun is also balanced by more serious moments and observations in the game.
The gameplay in Phoenix never feels static, which is a testament to the developers taking a versatile, innovative game system and pairing it with a game carefully designed to take advantage of those features. To understand how this works together, consider the basic game features. It is really a graphical text game, with no voice work other than certain repetitive command words, background crowd noise, and other simple sound effects. There are no elaborate cinematics, and characters are largely stationary except for repetitive quirky mannerisms or exaggerated facial expressions. The display consists of near-slideshow frame-to-frame sequences, all rendered in 2D old school graphics. To top it off, a large part of the challenge is dialogue-based. And you will spend a lot of time talking to an equally large cast of characters during the game.
Much of the gameplay consists of dialogue puzzling through a series of cross-examinations of the various prosecution witnesses. These courtroom confrontations are set up as "battles" in a style common to other anime-influenced games. You don't just ask a witness for more, you press them. The payoff is a vivid red "HOLD IT!!" or "OBJECTION!" that rings out, accompanied by gasps and collective reactions around the room. Although this could get monotonous, it isn't overdone and I got a charge each time it happened. You trigger these events by touching the screen selection with your finger or stylus or pressing a button, then saying the words into your microphone. Unfortunately, the voice command seemed a bit glitchy or hard to trigger in some instances, so it worked out to be more of a novelty. Using the stylus and forward button is easier and less distracting.
Players won't feel more than illusory panic at the need to make choices, as there is no timer and you can save at any point during the game. You can push through the game or sit back and think whether you should produce that inventory item or merely question the witness more deeply at each and every turn. The questioning itself is set up quite well. Your sole goal is to trip up the witness and force them to change their testimony. Every time they do, you get a fresh shot at the witness on a new round of cross-examinations. You challenge these prosecution witnesses until you have demolished the prosecution's case. At the beginning of each case and in between courtroom battles, you investigate the crime.
The investigative portion of the game involves everything from examining locations for clues to interviewing people to making phone calls and other interactions. In the last level of the game, newly created especially for the DS (the early cases are ports of older games released in Japan), the interactive options are expanded to include creative applications of "investigative tools". One such tool is a fingerprint application. You spread the powder by touching the screen and remove the excess by blowing into the microphone. Do it just right and the revealed fingerprint locks in place and is added to your inventory. There are also a few assorted traditional standalone puzzles thrown in for good measure. Though none are designed to truly stump the player for long, they are fun and well clued. I would have preferred more puzzling like the investigative tool challenges, because a few of the more traditional puzzles involve positioning inventory items in a particular way to reveal some new clue or information vital to your case. A few are very finicky about getting the exact orientation, and it's difficult to see much difference between what seemed right but failed to work, and what finally succeeded. Not much of a quibble, but the parameters could be a bit more generous on what triggers a successful solve.
The anime look is appealing, though not everyone fancies the style. Others may think Phoenix seems dated with its lack of elaborate cinematics, mobile characters, voiceovers, and its reliance on 2D graphics. However, this game is anything but stale. If there was ever proof that what makes a game great is the sum of its parts, Phoenix Wright makes the case. By the time I worked my way through to the last successful verdict -- and this is one very long game -- the overall impression was a solidly made and engaging game in all respects, with tender moments and dark details thrown in to balance the campy aspects of the characters and cultural spoof references. If there was any doubt over whether to invest in a DS, the verdict is in: grab yourself a DS and go to court with Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. While games like Another Code opened the door, the strength of Phoenix Wright's debut and the prospect of further episodes in the series should seal the deal. Great adventures aren't gone, they just switched platforms.
What our readers think of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Posted by TimovieMan on Mar 8, 2013
Well written, full of twists and memorable characters, and above all: hilarious!
'Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney' is a really fun game. You play as the titular Phoenix Wright, a rookie attorney with a bit of a doofus persona who's always caught up in bizarre cases, defending clients that have all the evidence stacked against them. But...