Archive for June 20, 2009

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Forget the usual image of attorneys – doddering middle aged men in powered wigs or young upstarts too busy chasing ambulances to be of any actual help: Phoenix Wright is here to prove that the law can be fun.

It’s an addictively simple idea – you search a crime scene for clues, meet with your defendant and witnesses, gather evidence to support your case and take it to trial. The catch is that your client is quite clearly guilty and there’s a whole wealth of evidence against them.

Or is there? Like the five cases on display in this GBA port of a Japan-only game, delving underneath the surface reveals a huge depth to what is initially a simple text-based puzzle game. Each one of the characters you interact with not only has their own, brilliantly written, dialogue, but the cases are so expertly constructed that it’s possible to go into the trial for the final time still with a bare idea of who the murderer might be.

Sadly though, there are quiet a few flaws in the game. The game still bears the scars of the Game Boy Advance’s limitations – for instance, in one case it becomes obvious that the underneath of a receipt is the key clue, but the game doesn’t have an option to turn the damn thing over and find out until the story catches up with you. Likewise, it’s possible to run into a brick wall repeatedly during the investigation sections because you haven’t presented the right evidence to the right person.

The best part, however, is the bonus DS-exclusive final case, which allows you to use all the features of the touch screen to examine evidence, check for blood and even watch videos. It’s a cracking achievement, if only because of the wealth of interesting new touch screen ideas on offer.

However, for all its flaws, what remains is a brave and bold game with genuinely memorable characters and top-notch writing. It’s not a perfect by any means, but an outstanding example of a good idea turned into a gripping game. More, please, Capcom. Take that!

84%

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All

Four new cases? Take that! More of the same brilliant courtroom-based drama? Hold it! Nothing to really add to gameplay for the sequel? Objection!

Yes, Phoenix Wright is back with all the twists and turns that made his franchise such a hit in the first place. The major disappointment is that all the old flaws are still present in this new game.

Seemingly knowing that courtroom shenanigans are the bread and butter of Attorneys, Capcom have added a neat little feature into Justice for All to try and liven up the investigation sections. The idea is that you can now tell if someone is lying and you can try and ‘break’ them outside the courtroom. The upside of this is that, yes, it does make investigating slightly more enjoyable. The downside is that it means you can often be stuck on sections for hours until you’ve found a fresh piece of evidence that will be the key thing you need.

Another downside is that this is just a straight port of the GBA original. Compared to the excellent bonus case attached to the last game, this comes across as pure laziness.

However, this is still a very good, enjoyable game, with writing and twists that easily match, if not beat, its predecessor. It’s not going to win any new fans, but Justice for All will definitely appeal to anybody who enjoyed the spiky-haired defence attorney’s previous adventures. Fun but flawed, requiring just a little bit more patience than last time.

70%

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations

Twice now Phoenix Wright has stood in the courtroom and each time he has managed to escape with his dignity intact. Will he be so lucky for his third and final outing?

In a word, yes. Everything that wasn’t quite up to scratch in Justice for All is here fixed, tweaked and polished to utter perfection. The Magatama – the method for ‘breaking’ people outside the courtroom – here returns in excellent form, easily demonstrating what it was clearly meant to do the first time around. Witnesses and suspects can be broken down and brought to tell the truth long before the court hears the case, only this time it complicates the story, as opposed to bolting on extra information.

The cases are a joyful breath of fresh air as the plot twists back and forth along a spiralling storyline that unravels the more cases you beat, while the game travels through time to slowly reveal a sinister plot that encompasses Phoenix Wright’s past present and future.

Each cases works incredibly hard to bring something new to the worn old table – one case sees you defending a man accused of theft, only to wind up putting him in the frame for murder instead (whoops!) while another travels back in time to tell the story of Wright’s mentor Mia Fey in her first days in the courtroom.

It’s a truly thrilling ride and even the fact that this is another fairly lazy GBA port goes unnoticed above the ingenious storytelling and wonderfully well-drawn characters.

Downsides are the same they’ve been for the whole trilogy: it is still possible to get hopelessly lost, although it is far less frequent this time around, and it still won’t appeal to those who don’t enjoy text-based slightly too hand-holdy puzzle games.

However, this is a startling achievement and a landmark series that will surely stand up alongside some of the great puzzle games of the ages and with any luck, the next trilogy will be even better. Utterly essential for fans of the series and a terrific send-off for one of modern gaming’s most wonderfully fascinating heroes.

89%

Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice

Ever since Capcom demonstrated the wealth of ideas at the disposal of the touch screen in the first Phoenix Wright game, the fans have been wondering what a full-blown DS version would be like.

As it turns out, the result is slightly disappointing. Everything that was present in the first game’s introduction is all here, with very few new ideas. Dusting for prints, spraying for blood, making footprints, spinning evidence – it’s all here, but it doesn’t make a difference to how the game plays out.

The main problem with Apollo Justice is that it comes right off the back of Trials and Tribulations, a masterpiece of storytelling prowess, unforgettable characters and mechanics that made a real impact on the way the game played out. Every gimmick introduced in the previous two games was given such polish that it didn’t matter that it was more of a book than a game – there was just enough interactivity for it to blend.

That’s why it’s so disappointing to note that Apollo Justice feels like such a backwards step. In spite of the character sprites looking much sharper and each case opening with a gorgeous animated introduction, the lack of actual ‘game’ is highly noticeable. New tricks, like ‘perceiving’ nervous habits, could have been an imaginative way to add pressure in the courtroom; however, repeatedly searching through a testimony for a two-frame swallowing animation is tedious and rather unfair.

In spite of all that, the game still supplies an unprecedented level of storytelling and humour, with the many unexpected twists and turns still having an incredible power to stun – even if it doesn’t quite make sense at the end.

It won’t win any new fans, but recurring Wright gamers will lap it up. A flawed first outing – like Apollo himself, suffering from performance anxiety.

79%

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