Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
Posted 12 Apr 2006 at 10:51 by James
PAL DS Review
An initial look at the evidence doesn't inspire much hope. Looking at the boxart for Capcom's latest DS endeavour, you would be forgiven for dismissing it as yet another child-orientated "adventure" - probably with lots of twee little minigames that involve tickling baddies with the stylus. It's only after picking up your stylus expectantly and discovering no obvious criminals that need tickling to you realise that Phoenix Wright: Ace Attourney is a game that shouldn't be judged by its cover.
It is also a game in which judging something by its cover is nearly always a mistake. Between five court cases, five murders and a whole cast of memorable characters lie hidden pasts, secret agendas and ulterior motives that you have to uncover as Phoenix Wright - an inexperienced, new defence attourney. Nearly every witness you question is hiding something, and unless you ask them the right questions and present the right evidence, you won't progress very far.
When in a court case, you have to examine the testimonies of each of the witnesses - who range from the hilarious to the bizarre - and pick out any contradictions in their evidence. By comparing their testimonies to the evidence in your Court Record, you have to find holes in the case set against your client. Everything's handled by the touch screen - but you have the option of using the buttons, or even shouting "Objection!" or "Take That!" into the microphone. As such, the gameplay mechanics are simple and intuitive, allowing even the most dimwitted of players to grasp the basics with ease. Progressing in the game is a whole different case of affairs, however, as you're made to rely on logic and lateral thinking in order to solve each crime - using the evidence you already have to discredit them in the witness stand.
You find your evidence by investigating the crime outside the courtroom. By talking to the people you meet and examining the scene of the crime, you can often uncover vital information that could mean a turning point in the trial. The odds are often stacked against you from the start, and you can only shift the balance by presenting the right evidence to the court at the right time. The satisfaction that comes from discovering how you can play your evidence against the witnesses - some of which will lie about anything to see the defendant behind bars - provides much of the entertainment value. Tying up all the case's loose ends is something you'll strive to achieve right through to the end of the case.
But when you're not feeling particularly sharp, the game can often turn into a slightly tiresome exercise in trial-and-error, particularly on the harder settings. The same goes for the investigation sections - you won't be able to progress unless you've asked the right person the right question, or presented them with the right document that you found earlier. Thankfully, the game's script is so well written that this rarely happens, but when it does you can feel the frustration pounding against your head like a gavel.
Despite the occasional rigmarole of searching areas for a specific clue to progress or what-have-you, the game's script and characters are what make playing Phoenix Wright an exceptional experience. You meet a wide variety of characters along your way to success, many of whom pop up again in later episodes. The loveable Detective Gumshoe, the ruthless Prosecutor Edgeworth (your main opponent in the courtroom) and your exciteable sidekick Maya Fey all capture your heart during the course of the game, and they are so remarkably deep and individual that you can easily relate to each of them. The same goes for the huge cast of side characters, each of whom are distinctive, memorable and often extremely amusing. Not since Super Mario World have a set of characters been so uniquely endearing, and they are likely to remain in your thoughts long after you complete the game. This is coupled with a plot structured so brilliantly that you're left on tenderhooks throughout, always eager to find out what happens next. You acquire the same inherent curiosity as that in Phoenix himself, and as such you can literally find yourself absorbed in a case for hours on end. The unique comic book style presentation keeps the game feeling fresh throughout, and works in tandem with the script to provide a great deal of visual humour.
Unfortunately, your addiction to the game will be fairly short-lived. Although the game lasts a good fifteen to twenty hours, which is perfectly acceptable for a handheld title, you might find yourself playing for extremely long sessions, and so your career in the court will be over before you know it. If you have remarkable powers of self restraint, however, the game should provide a good two weeks of regular play. That said, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attourney is a wonderfully unique, rewarding and entertaining title, with a clever script that will keep you enthralled and characters you will never forget. The game's few flaws can be easily overlooked in what is easily the most memorable, witty and enjoyable games on the Nintendo DS. If you've think videogames have lost their magic, Phoenix Wright is here to remind you why you first fell in love with gaming. The verdict? A must-have.
N-Europe Final Verdict
More magic moments than a night with Paul Daniels; this game is unmissable.
Addictive and challenging
Some trial and error gameplay