We don’t object to Phoenix’s latest, we just wish it brought something new to the court room
From the smiling senior citizens in those silly Brain Age ads to the Mario Kart-cruising diehards, everyone seems to be embracing Nintendo’s hand-held behemoth. In fact, hardly a day goes by where the Internet isn’t buzzing with news of the Nintendo DS selling another gazillion units, continuing its number-one-hardware-sales streak.
With all the hype surrounding the portable powerhouse it’s easy to forget the DS’s struggling salad days, and the folks–including the star of this review, spiky-haired defense attorney Phoenix Wright–that helped separate it from the portable-play pack. Before the pixilated puppies of Nintendogs helped put the DS on the map, its library consisted of a pretty lean and lame line-up. Anyone remember Ping Pals or Sprung? You’re not alone. But on the paws…er…heels of Nintendogs, the fledgling dual-screen, touch-screen, voice-recognizing gizmo began to blossom as innovative offerings, like Trauma Center: Under the Knife and Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, proved the DS had more to offer than cookie-cutter puzzlers and weak console ports. Between removing tumors with its stylus to yelling “objection” into its microphone, the DS quickly became the go-to platform for fresh gaming experiences. Now, just two years–and countless litters of Nintendogs–later, the very experiences that made the DS seem so fresh are, ironically, beginning to feel a bit stale. Case in point: the latest effort from our favorite digital defense attorney.
Don’t misunderstand; Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations is by no means a bad game. On the contrary, it retains most of what we loved so much about Phoenix’s DS debut which, by the way, like all games in the series, is a translation of a popular Japanese title. But, what seemed so refreshing two years ago now feels a bit tired and rehashed. That said, if you liked the last two entries, and are a bit of a Phoenix fanboy, then you’ll definitely enjoy this one; albeit with less enthusiasm and sense of wonder than the original might have inspired in you. On the other hand, if you’re new to the Phoenix franchise then we highly recommend you start with the first title. More on that in a bit.
Like the original, and early 2007’s Justice for All, you play as the titular defense attorney through a text-driven (expect to do lots of reading) adventure separated into two distinct gameplay modes: investigation and court room. The first phase has you gathering evidence and questioning witnesses, while the second has you utilizing that obtained intel to cross examine a long line-up of quirky, lying, deceiving, but most of all, amusing characters. In fact, much of the enjoyment derived from Trials and Tribulations–as with the first two titles–is its sense of humor, charm, and over-the-top attitude. If you’ve never played a Phoenix game before, be prepared for a surreal journey; one character actually wears a visor reminiscent of the one LeVar Burton sported in Star Trek.
The writing, a brilliant blend of Japanese influence infused with occasional stateside pop-culture references, is complemented by a twisty plot and some crazy characters. Many old favorites–Gumshoe, Butz, and the always entertaining and sometimes infuriating judge–as well as plenty of new faces–the aforementioned mysterious, visor-wearing Godot–are brought to life by the same anime/manga inspired characterizations supported by limited, mostly mouth-moving animations.
The quirky writing and fun characters are further supported by great music and sound effects putting you right in the cross-examining action. Similar to a televised court room drama, the music plays a significant role in setting the mood; you’ll know when it’s time for closing arguments not just by the on-screen action, but also by the tense audio cues rising from your DS’s tiny speakers. By its nature this series really isn’t able to spread its wings with technical prowess or innovative control, but it’s always made up for this with its oozing style. And again, the attention paid to storytelling, characters, and sound are what successfully separate this franchise from other text-based adventures.
As always, controlling the Phoenix fun is a point-and-click breeze. The entire game can be navigated with the stylus and touch screen; you’ll tap prompts such as “present” to offer evidence in the court room, or “examine” to strut your CSI stuff during an investigation, just as you would in a mouse-clicking PC-based adventure. Occasionally, you can even ratchet up the legal drama by spouting exclamations like “Hold it!” into your DS’s microphone. While Trials and Tribulations doesn’t stray far from the series’ tried-and-true formula it does, for the first time, offer additional playable characters. Faithful fans will be delighted to turn back time and step into the high heels of Phoenix’s mentor, the oh so Japanese-anime inspired (see over-the-top cleavage) Mia Fey. The Mia flashbacks also serve to introduce new gamepad legal eagles to the Phoenix franchise by opening the game with a Mia trial tutorial. However, as stated earlier, we recommend first-timers curious about the DS’s court room sim start with the first title in the trilogy. While it’s certainly not essential, it will be slightly confusing and less satisfying to jump in with the second or third title since many characters and themes appear throughout the series. Plus, the franchise hasn’t evolved much since its first iteration, so it’s not like you’d be missing out; it’s not like we’re recommending Doom over Doom 3.
It actually sort of makes sense to think of Trial and Tribulations as an expansion pack–a 20+ hour one–to the original. For those who’ve been yelling “objection” into their DS since 2005, then we definitely recommend Phoenix’s latest, as long as you’re not expecting anything new. This Phoenix, while more entertaining than a season of Law and Order, feels very familiar. And while we hate to see Phoenix go–this is supposedly the last title he’ll star in–we can’t wait to see what Capcom has in store next for stylus-clenching defense attorneys
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Simple but satisfying anime-style visuals. 3.0 Control
Intuitive, but it’d be nice to see some innovation in the three-game-old series. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Excellent. A big part of the overall experience. 3.5
No real replay value or multi-player, but adventure is lengthy.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.