Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (WiiWare)

“Objection!”

Renowned primarily for its storytelling and unique style, it’s hard to say for sure whether the Phoenix Wright series are games at all or rather interactive short stories, but the medium in which they exist lumps them into the game category, and so as a game we must review it. There’s nothing we can say about the Phoenix Wright series on the DS that will change the minds of its legion of rabid fans - not that we would want to, as one look at our earlier review will show that we’re among them. But if you enjoyed reading about Phoenix Wright on the DS, you’re not going to like what you’re about to read now.

Though known for its DS releases, the Phoenix Wright series actually began its life on the GameBoy Advance. Although later ported to the DS with touchscreen controls that would presumably work well with the Wii Remote, that is not the version we have here. What we have instead is apparently a port of the original GBA release. While the story is the same as found in the DS release, the game lacks any motion controls or any other upgrade for Wii users with one exception: instead of a using the IR pointer in the Wii Remote, the game menus are instead navigated entirely with the D-Pad. This is no small issue due to the fact that the playable part of the game consists of nothing more than selecting options from a menu.

The only motion control comes into play when Phoenix raises an objection in court. As is depicted in the artwork, players can elect to swing the Wii Remote as if pointing their finger in the air to object. It’s the only motion control in the game and they got it wrong: if you elect to use this feature prepare to wave your arm around ridiculously until the motion is finally recognised.

Of course, motion controls are not absolutely necessary for this sort of game and scrolling around works just fine with the D-Pad. And to play devil’s advocate we could point out that there is so little for the player to do in this game besides read a line of text, click the A button and repeat that it doesn’t really matter how the controls work. But come on, Capcom - what are you doing with our 1000 Nintendo Points if you’re offering nothing but a virtually unaltered port of a last-gen handheld game?

The game play revolves around playing the role of an attorney. You uncover evidence and then present it while questioning witnesses on the stand during trial. Sounds exciting, but unfortunately the game mostly plays itself and there are very few moments where the player actually gets to make any choices. And when that moment comes, the choice is usually far too obvious. Even the real meat of the game, interrogating a witness and submitting evidence that contradicts that witness’s testimony, is not terribly difficult to figure out.

Worse, because this is a simplistic menu-driven handheld game and not the complex courtroom simulator it deserves to be, the act of entering evidence must be done at the correct moment to trigger the next event in the story. If you figure out the solution too early, there is no way to explain this to the simple-minded judge. Instead, you can only enter your evidence in response to a specific sentence spoken by the witness. This means that even if you have already figured out the solution to the mystery and know the evidence that needs to be presented, you must still figure out which sentence the witness says that you are supposed to respond to. Failure to do so means you must replay the interrogation ad nauseum until you enter your evidence in response to the correct sentence.

Perhaps some fans of Phoenix Wright games feel that they are doing something educational and learning how the court system works. Let us dispel that notion right away: this game is nothing more than a time-filling diversion that plays well on a handheld, but in no way works as an educational tool for the justice system. Watching reruns of Matlock would be more useful for that purpose, and would include fewer examples of a defence attorney defending his client by finding the ‘real’ killer.

If you learn about the legal system from Phoenix Wright, you will learn that it is okay to lead a witness because Phoenix will certainly not object to any improper procedure on the part of the prosecution. On the other hand, a simple, straightforward answer to a question such as “what time was it?” will draw a successful objection from Phoenix because apparently, in the world of the anime justice system, objections are used for interjecting the attorney’s own testimony over that of the witness. Between these two lawyers interjecting their own opinions everywhere, what’s the point of even having witnesses at all?

But, like Phoenix, we may be exaggerating for effect here. Of course Phoenix Wright is not a very good educational tool, but that wouldn’t be a problem if it were at least a fun game. As we said, gameplay consists almost entirely of mashing the A button while reading line after line of text. Although the stories are catchy and fun to read, as an e-book the game is decidedly not user friendly and requires far too much button pressing. On the plus side the four stories included are short and manageable, and you can save your progress along the way.

Episode 5 is intended for release in May for a mere 100 Points. This extra content for a fraction of the price of the core game will significantly add to the value provided, however it’s worth pointing out that this additional 25% more content will only require 1 block of space. The core game requires 301 blocks. Doing some quick math, it seems to us that this extra episode is more likely unlockable content rather than downloadable and is already included within the game.

This block size is truly staggering considering that it is, once again, just a port of a GBA game. The size of the average SNES game on the Virtual Console should have been larger considering the visuals here are essentially all still images and text, presented in their original aspect ratio. As you can imagine, low-resolution handheld graphics blown up on the Wii look like a crime against humanity that even Phoenix couldn’t argue his way out of.

Conclusion

As a low-resolution port of a last-gen game with barely any Wii Remote functionality tacked on, were this any other game we would be all too happy to drop the score further. But it barely escapes contempt of our court on the strength of its enjoyable storytelling which is, after all, some of the most entertaining dialogue available on any console.