Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Nintendo DS) - Review by Andrew
It's probably true that most people didn't anticipate a Lawyer Sim in those early days of the DS although titles such as Under the Knife have proven the variety of games available on the dual screen platform. I first played Phoenix Wright over a year ago at a Nintendo press event and although I'd read about it, the game really needs to be played in order to get a true sense of what it's all about. I have always been a fan of courtroom TV shows such as LA Law and the wonderful Boston Legal. Putting this level of excitement (and courtroom drama) into a tiny cart seemed like a daunting task to me but Capcom are no strangers to quality products for handhelds. Guilty or not guilty? As the judge would say...
As you'd expect this title places you in the role of Phoenix Wright but he is hardly an Ace Attorney in his first few cases and unluckily for him the whole thing starts with a rather complicated murder. Each of the five cases begins with a crime of some description and a rather pathetic defendant who is generally the number one suspect and (you guessed it) your client. So you'll need to gather evidence and talk to witnesses to build up your case in order to try it in court. This will take you to the scene of the crime and to the various individuals who in some way witnessed it and it's essential you cover everything to give yourself the edge in the courtroom. Unfortunately you not only have to get by a humourless and very unforgiving judge there but also Miles Edgeworth, a 24 year old with the office of public prosecutor and every inch an Ace Attorney.
Although the odds appear to be stacked against you there is help at hand in the form of Mia, your boss and mentor, although your greatest tools are your eyes and ears especially during the courtroom session. This has many similarities with 'real' law although on a far more simplistic level so while you have to listen to a witness' testimony you'll also have the opportunity to cross-examine. You must listen for discrepancies and contradictions in what they are saying and you can either 'push' for more details, or 'object' if something really bothers you. Be warned though, if you do object you must have a reason or better still, some evidence to back up your claim and this is were the Court records come into play. Quite simply these contain everything from photos to physical evidence, testimonies to autopsy reports. Obviously it's up to you to familiarise yourself with these documents before you enter the court but some details will occasionally mean nothing until you compare them with a statement.
Forget your traditional controls. This is all touch-screen.
Visually the game is more like an animated comic book than a true animated title. Not that this is in any way a bad thing and the whole game is brought together with some beautifully designed anime style characters against some truly stunning backdrops. The animation (what little there is of it) is incredibly OTT and definitely inspired by the 1940s Tex Avery cartoons. When surprised, for example, your characters mouth will drop wide open whilst their eyes follow suit appearing impossibly large, even for a drawn character. Get your characters worried in any way and they'll start to shake, sweat and almost shrink in stature. It's all very amusing stuff but it also improves the realism meaning that if you are at all aware how you've made a character in any way concerned or frightened then you may wish to push them that little bit further for a full confession.
The music here is best described as like a 1970s TV detective series (Rockford Files, Starsky and Hutch etc) that plays quite happily in the background and is pleasant enough. More essential are the sound effects, which can indicate that you're on the right track with your line of questioning. This is a little difficult to explain without actually hearing them but you will get to recognise them very quickly.
This is really at the heart of the games design and while it could be done with traditional controls it's far easier and quicker with the stylus especially when the game becomes dialogue intensive. You'll also require the stylus to examine locations and utilise some evidence in the courtroom so it's never really out of your hand throughout the game. In fact the only time you'll actually need something other than the stylus is when you need to save the game after a particularly bad court session. One final point here is the use of the microphone where rather than simply pressing the corresponding button, you can shout 'objection' during the court proceedings although we wouldn't recommend it if you are playing anywhere outside of your home.
It's been some time since a game has come along that you can say is truly original but in all my years of gaming I've never played anything quite like this. Immersive, challenging, rewarding and just all round good fun. The only thing you could criticise it for is maybe being a little too repetitive but the with the cases and characters being so well crafted it's easy to overlook this minor flaw. I really can't recommend this enough both as an outstanding game and a showcase for the type of unique gaming experiences only the DS can provide. If you do actually buy it (and finish it) there's little problem there too because Capcom have just announced that a sequel is in the works if proof were needed just how successful this title has been.
Pro: Unique Experience, Loads of Gameplay.
Con: Not For Everyone, Can Be Very Difficult.
Final score: 8.2