Phoenix Wright has made me realise there are a lot of under-represented professions in videogames now that lawyer-ing has been lifted to exciting new heights by Nintendo’s blue-suited courtroom hero. I, for one, await with baited breath a thrilling point and click adventure about accountants or an FPS about an I.T assistant resetting passwords all day.
Phoenix Wright originally joined us over a decade ago, and after an initial appearance on Game Boy Advance became one of the franchises that helped make the portable DS one of Nintendo’s many console triumphs. The touch-screen interface also saw a successful port to mobile gaming, and now the trilogy comes to Switch, PS4, Xbox and PC with all three of the original titles; Ace Attorney, Justice For All and Trials and Tribulations.
The basic premise of the game switches between a point-and-click investigate-em-up and the innovatively brilliant courtroom sections. Digging around crime scenes, while definitely not in a defence lawyer’s jurisdiction, is fun enough if a little stilted. Playing through a TV as opposed to the handheld mode you’re afforded on Switch feels cumbersome as the cursor plods around the screen quite slowly, whereas portable mode allows you to tap on what you wish to examine. In addition, anything of interest is highlighted fairly clearly when the cursor passes over it, so these sections are not particularly challenging.
These are just filler areas really though, storing up clues like proverbial ammunition for your assault on the court room. This is where the game really shines, subverting the usual puzzle formula of ‘find item, use item at right time’ to something much more logical, as you delve into your evidence bag to find facts or items that can contradict whatever seems fishy about witnesses’ statements during cross examinations. For the most part this works brilliantly; sometimes in earlier stages the items you need to present are telegraphed quite clearly. In later cases, I found I had to give some deeper thought on how best to unpick the false testimonies. But you can’t just fire off mad theories and present any evidence at any point; if you waste the court’s time by challenging without a solid foundation, the metre in the top right of the screen will deplete, and when it gets to zero you’re finished.
Of less risk is pressing witnesses on their statement to find errors. This is really just forcing them to elaborate on a phrase they’ve said, but there’s no penalty for doing this in error, which might have made it feel more critical and meaningful, and you also get Phoenix (and other characters at certain points) striking excellent poses as they raise objections.
The games’ second major strength lies in its characters and dialogue. Admittedly, the dialogue can be something of a drag at times. The game is, unsurprisingly for a courtroom drama, very speech-heavy. I hope you like pressing the A button, because you’ll be doing it a lot to skip through speech boxes. Luckily, this is pulled through by conversations that are often witty and amusing while still being accessible for everyone. Indeed, it’s remarkable that a game taking place in a court room is so family friendly, usually focusing on murder, which for some reason is a fairly acceptable crime to joke about despite it being, y’know, murder. All the characters are fully realised if a little broad, and it’s easy to become attached to them across the course of the three titles here, if a little concerning that Phoenix and his mentor seem to know so little about their professions on their first days in court.
The game’s major weaknesses are in the presentation. There’s a shiny new HD makeover for Phoenix’s big screen debut, but it’s not really warranted; the major character’s movements are flamboyant, recognisable and infinitely imitable, but animations are limited. Similarly, backdrops are uninspiring, dull and static, and repeat themselves a lot throughout the trilogy. This is worsened by the way you move around the scenes. There’s no fast travel option to miss out areas you need to pass through to get to the actual part you want to investigate, so you’re require to trawl through several scenes and menus to do so. The game also has an annoying habit of only triggering the next event that you need to move the story on by revisiting places you’ve already been to, often leaving me flummoxed and thinking I had missed an important contradiction in someone’s statement when I just had to randomly move around the world until something triggered.
If you want to have a decent chance of enjoying the game, however, you’ll want to mute everything from the off. The music improves slightly from the first entry to the last, but can be incredibly irritating and tinny at times. Couple with this tappy typing noise when the dialogue is unfurling and you’ll just want to save your ears the hassle and supply your own soundtrack. Of all the things that could have used a serious update between ports, the sound is the most neglected.