February 19, 2008 - The adventure genre isn't as robust and well-populated as it has been in past years. With scant an exception, all adventure games these days are found on the PC alone. But there's another fledgling hope for one of gaming's oldest niches, and it comes in the form of a Nintendo DS. With the success of the Phoenix Wright trilogy, as well as more recent critically acclaimed releases like Professor Layton and the Curious Village, adventure gaming has found a new medium on which it can thrive, and this new handheld tradition is continued faithfully and skillfully in the newest offering from Capcom: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney.
If the latter half of that title seems familiar, it probably is. Apollo Justice is simply the new character in what is essentially the fourth Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney title. For those unfamiliar with who (and what) Phoenix Wright is, imagine an over-the-top anime-style lawyer so popular in three Japanese-only releases on the Game Boy Advance, that his games were redesigned with the DS in mind and released for a second time in Japan. 2006 and 2007 were the first years we ever saw the courtroom trilogy Stateside, however, and they proved to be rather popular with Nintendo DS owners. In fact, finding any of the titles new in stores is quite the challenge.
The first Apollo Justice title plays identically to the Phoenix Wright trilogy. In fact, much of it is identical, from the interface to some of the characters involved (the Judge, anyone?). This was indeed a worry for us going into playing through the game, because Capcom admittedly has the unfortunate habit of rehashing many of its franchises to death. But after playing a couple of cases, it becomes apparent that Apollo Justice is truly something special, even if it feels like a Phoenix Wright game. And as we played through the rest of the title's four cases, all of the familiar characters, writing, and gameplay meld beautifully with the new features Capcom created. Quite simply, Apollo Justice is a great game.
Never played Phoenix Wright? Worry not. The gameplay, while completely identical in almost every way to the series that inspired it, is easy enough to pick up. You play the role of Apollo Justice, a green defense attorney who must defend some of the most unlikely, guilty-seeming clients one could imagine. This is done through two primary gameplay modes: Investigation Mode and Courtroom Mode. In Investigation Mode, Apollo (and his trusty partner Trucy) visit crime scenes, interview witnesses and suspects, and generally navigate the dreary, mystery-filled corridors of criminal defense. In Courtroom Mode, the prosecution and defense trade blows, presenting evidence, examining and cross-examining witnesses, and vying for the success of their side of ever-more complicated, multi-faceted cases.
The beauty of Apollo Justice, as was the beauty of Phoenix Wright, is how it's played. Many adventure games are typically point-and-click, and Justice follows the same premise. While one can pick up and play the game by way of the DS unit's traditional controls, the entire game can also be played with a stylus in your hands. Because many of the choices you have to make involve menu navigation, it's simply easier to do this with your stylus, making Apollo Justice a comfortable game to pick up and play at just about any time. It's not that the gameplay is easy, as the game is actually intricate and, at times, quite difficult. But sitting down to play the game is easy. Playing through Justice is like reading an enjoyable novel. A choose-your-own-adventure novel with a lot of different stories oddly interconnected with one another in the strangest of ways.
So, what of all of that familiarity we mentioned earlier? Well, want it or not, there's plenty to be familiar with if you've played even one of the Phoenix Wright games. If you've played all three, Apollo Justice will simply act as an extension of that trilogy. There are a number of familiar characters (if you catch our sly hint), and static backgrounds, limited character animations and identical Court Record menus will make you feel like you've seen this all before. But then again, there's plenty of newness to throw into the mix, as well.
Veterans of Phoenix Wright will instantly notice some great additions absent from the Wright trilogy, such as animated storytelling sequences. These animated sequences are admittedly rare and oft-replayed, but they're really cool, especially because they show what happened when the crime occurred. As these animated sequences are shown more and more, you'll reveal more of what you're seeing, and it will all begin to make sense. Another interesting addition is Apollo's "version" of Phoenix's Psych-Lock system. This system allows Apollo to hone in on a testifying witness to perceive ever-slight changes that indicate the character is lying or hiding something. The idea is the same as with the Psych-Lock -- to find out who's fibbing -- but the method in which you do so is quite different.
Apollo Justice surprised us. This may just be yet another of Capcom’s infamous rehashes, but it’s so much more enjoyable than most that it’s extremely hard to ignore. Going into playing this game expecting nothing but the same old-same old shtick, I was extremely excited when I realized that old and new could be melded so nicely. Capcom appeared to pay attention to their startling trend and tried to do something about it. The gameplay and static looks of Apollo Justice are just as we’ve seen them before, and the music will be both familiar and new, but Apollo Justice retains a lot of the charm Phoenix Wright held before it, and adds to the series' legacy. What's old is new again, and damn good, too.
|out of 10||click here for ratings guide|
Point-and-click adventuring brings you through static environments. That's okay, though, because the game's strength is in its story, and its charm is its cast of characters
Almost everything in the game isn't animated, but the environments and characters look really nice, and you gotta love the overall design. The animated sequences are a great touch, too.
There's something really awesome about Phoenix Wright's musical score, and Apollo Justice is no different. There's some sharing, but there are new tracks, too.
Adventure purists will find a lot to love here. The difficulty is varied, but the stories are always intriguing and fun to play through. Just don't expect any action.
Apollo Justice isn't always a difficult game, but it is extremely long. For $30, you can't go wrong. There's non-existent replay value, though.
(out of 10 / not an average)
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