Game Review

Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Zach Kaplan

Take the case! ...I think.

If you're a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, job security should be the least of your worries – just as long as you don't mind your occupation's title changing a bit. In 2000, winged warrior Birdman saw a resurrection in the suit and tie of a third-rate attorney. Other characters from the low-budget animation house came along for the ride, most often as the titular lawyer's clientele.

This was Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, airing in eleven-minute episodes on [adult swim]. Viewers would come to expect a hilarious marriage of brilliant writing, off-colour innuendo, blissful nostalgia and sharp cultural commentary, all within a semi-erratic rapid-fire framework animated in Flash. Blink and you might miss a joke or three.

When the game comes the closest to recreating the feel of the original program, it's at its best, and often it does a fantastic job. Most of the original cast returns with the notable exception of Colbert, who played the paranoid, miniaturization-obsessed Reducto as well as hyperbolic, euphemism-revealing boss Phil Ken Sebben. While the creators found a suitable Sebben sound-alike, the fan favourite former is largely absent from the proceedings.

Many of the laughs, however, come from the protagonist's text-based observations. While not a clear-cut point-and-click adventure game, Birdman takes many gameplay cues from the genre. You'll spend a lot of time observing environments and collecting clues, the descriptions of which are often downright hilarious.

For example, when the firm is in financial woe, his thoughts on a nondescript tarp overhanging half of the building's front door are "This is the greatest tarp I have ever seen. We should get one for the other door, and then it will be like entering a Big Top!" And when Birdman spots a bust of his absent boss, he thinks "The plot thickens. Perhaps Phil didn't go on vacation, but instead he had a run in with Medusa! Damn you Medusa! At least she only got your head."

While the game usually captures the tone and intelligent silliness of the television program well, when it comes to the rapid pace from which the show derived a large portion of its humour, it struggles as it's not an easy fit for a video game. This sees more success during sections driven by in-game videos, which, of course, take control away from the player.

Presentation-wise, it feels like the original show. Anyone expecting to be blown away by the graphics should definitely look elsewhere as while not ugly or glitchy, the visuals and animation are what you would expect of a small, Flash-based studio. The navigation system, music and sound effects are all quite smooth and attractive, while the controls unproblematically utilise the point and click method.

You start by visiting and observing locations, collecting clues and talking to characters. Each segment leads to a trial at which you're tasked with examining witnesses' testimony, pressing them on certain points and presenting evidence to prove your case and disprove theirs. You are given a number of crests like that on Birdman's helmet and from which he draws his power, and for every incorrect piece of proof that you present, you lose one. When you run out, it's game over.

It's an interesting mix, but neither the adventure section nor the trials seem fleshed out enough to fully support the experience. None of the environments are expansive enough to really draw the player in, and once you've collected every piece of evidence (a task which shouldn't take too long), it's off to trial. You go from one place to the next by selecting them from a menu, making the areas seem disconnected. Characters appear when they're relevant and often disappear after your conversations are through, and when they show up it's usually with very little explanation. Sometimes when you visit a place you know why, while about half of the time you're tyring to figure out why you've yet to proceed to the next stage of the game.

When you get to trial, evidence selection is always either ridiculously obvious or seemingly random, and when there are crests at stake this is all the more frustrating. Your other option is to press the witness on a questionable portion of their argument, a task plagued by the same unpredictability. As you're not faulted here for errors, though, your strategy will likely become to try out each and every point they've made before bringing out anything from your inventory. The developers somewhat clumsily lay this out and it can be a bit confusing until you get the hang of it.

The game is segmented into five short portions that follow separate storylines and end in a credits reel, feeling more like playable episodes than portions of a fully fledged interactive universe. Every relevant occurrence feels geared toward bring you closer to the finale, meaning that there are no diversions along the way and very few environments to re-explore. Everything is more or less a way to get from point A to point B.

Additionally, the storyline's lack of malleability makes the game feel woefully non-immersive. Presenting faulty evidence doesn't hurt your actual case but instead is simply treated as a wrong move. You don't actually see what would happen if he tried to argue the case along the lines that you've wrongly chosen, which could have added a great level of depth, and a much-needed one at that considering the game's length.

It'll take you very little time at all to get through the whole thing, especially as the first episode mostly serves as a court tutorial. There's also not much replay value as there's little reason to go back except to hear some jokes that you might've missed the first time.

Yet with all of its lack of longevity, depth and focus, Harvey Birdman is still a very fun game. It's got enough personality and wit to absolutely carry the experience, which is saying a lot. It just feels downright good, and while the entire package is pretty shallow and a bit muddled at times, checking it out is still quite worthwhile.

Conclusion

Harvey Birdman is witty and entertaining but ultimately too short and shallow. Presenting a sample platter of point-and-click adventure and puzzle elements as well as its own variety of an interactive court trial, it never explores any area of gameplay enough to be terribly immersive, and so the entire experience feels a bit sloppy. Nevertheless, it's fun enough to warrant a try, but don't expect that try to last long – the game is a very short one.

Sponsored links by Taboola

More Stories

User Comments (15)

Deviant_Mugen

#4

Deviant_Mugen said:

Ha! Ha! Ha! Six out of ten...

Great review, Zach, I think this one just might warrant a buy, especially since a new copy only costs $5 at GameStop. It'll have to wait, though...

the_shpydar

#6

the_shpydar said:

Although Harvey Birdman is my all-time favorite adult swim show, i'd actually rate the game more like a 5. If you're a fan of the show, it's definitely worth picking up, but otherwise don't. All told, playing through he whole game, including going back through it to see every possible response, joke or comment took 4 hours. It's much less of a game than it is just playing through some episodes -- hence why it is great for fans of the show (plus, i can never get enough of Paget Brewster's hilarious/strangely sexy portrayal of Birdgirl).

Definitely worth the $5-$10 you'll find it priced at if you're a fan; everyone else should steer themselves away.

CREST ON BIRDMAN'S HELLLLLLLLLLLLLMET!!

HolyMackerel

#8

HolyMackerel said:

This game is awesome fun. Hilarious, and made by Capcom so expect a lot of parallels with Phoenix Wright. (A few Capcom game references in there too. <3) However, the game is far less "logical" than PW - much more comical in nature. Don't expect any amazing smackdown denouements like PW either. It's a comedy game and does that with excellence.

I agree with the 6/10 score from the standpoint that it's a full retail game. Excellent voice acting, humour and plots aside, the game is just too short to warrant its original $30(?) price tag. If you can get it for $10 or less (like I did), then I'd give it a healthy 9/10. Took me about 4 hours to finish but it was one hell of a ride. :) Even people who haven't watched the show can appreciate it (as long as they're familiar with Hannah-Barbera in general). I'd also say... get the DVDs! I want to, after playing this.

TheBaconator

#9

TheBaconator said:

This game uses a lot of Ace Attorney's ideas and gameplay concepts which is alright because it was Capcom who made the game. But it is good purchase especially since it is only $5-$10. There are also some nice Capcom Easter Eggs in the game. But like the review said it is way to short and its replay value is the same as Pheonix Wright, you may be able to play it in a few months and still enjoy it, but the overall experience won't be the same and you already know all the jokes and outcomes. But still for under $10 it is a good deal.

CanisWolfred

#10

CanisWolfred said:

I greatly enjoyed it. In fact, it was the game that reminded me that point 'n' clicks can actually be fun.

LordJumpMad

#11

LordJumpMad said:

Capcom loves this game, beleave or Not!
Its Big at Capcom unity.com
I don't know why, but it just is

EdEN

#12

EdEN said:

I loved the Harvey Birdman. Bought it at launch and had a lot of fun. Those that are curious can just go to Gamestop and get it for only $5.

I just got a PSP copy of the game in my Capcom Grab Bag from Comic Con.

Sabrewing

#14

Sabrewing said:

The only real sucky thing about this game, to me, is that pressing is borderline useless. More often than not, it results in Harvey saying, "Well, I guess that makes SOME sense!" to himself, or the judge spouting out some stupid one-liner. At least Phoenix Wright made pressing very useful for at least getting into what the witness is thinking.

Zach

#15

Zach said:

Thank you all for reading and commenting. @Metroid_Fan, thanks for the nice comment. @the shpydar, I think it's hard to say whether people who don't know the show would like this game or not. I think its humor is easy to pick up and the characters are more or less a strong part of Americana, and they take pains to explain jokes to the non-initiated (Birdgirl's true identity and X's stalker-ish nature). In fact, at times like these, I'd say that someone who has never seen the show would get more out of the game because they are not just watching something that they've seen already. @Sabrewing, whenever he makes a comment like that it means that you've pressed the witness on the "wrong" point, as in, there's no information to be gained from it. It's true that this is somewhat hard to predict, but when you press the witness on the correct point it's indispensible. It is, however, clumsily implemented and relies more on jokes than thinking things through. Again, thanks all for reading. You can pick this game up at Best Buy for $20 right now, which I think is a pretty worthy price, though you can get the DVDs for about the same amount.

Leave A Comment

Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...