Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Hands-On

Put it this way: If we ever get sued, we'd want Phoenix Wright on the case. We go hands-on with this hilarious DS adventure title.

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We were thrilled when Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was announced for release on these shores, since it's part of a quirky series of legally oriented Japanese adventure titles that hasn't made it overseas yet. At E3, we finally got a chance to play an English-translated demo of the game, and came away all the more convinced that Phoenix Wright is going to be a total blast to play. It's a funny, clever game that's like a cross between Law & Order, Legally Blonde, and Dragon Ball Z. It's that crazy.

The demo we played put us in the quivering shoes of Phoenix Wright, evidently before he deserves the tagline of "Ace Attorney." It's his first case. He just passed his bar exam and already he's defending an old buddy of his, Larry Butz, who's been accused of murdering his girlfriend. This isn't exactly kid-friendly stuff, and yet the game is loaded with silly humor and anime-style mannerisms and affectations.

Since this is an adventure game, the gameplay largely consists of dialogue trees and puzzle-solving. In court, we had a chance to take in a witness testimony, from a smarmy hand-wringing little guy named Mr. Sahwit, who claimed to have seen Mr. Butz fleeing the scene of the crime at 1:00pm. As Butz's defense attorney, our responsibility was to absolve him of blame, and we did this by examining the evidence on hand, which happened to include an autopsy report that noted the victim was killed later in the afternoon. So we presented the evidence in front of the stern judge, making Mr. Sahwit squirm in his seat. Prior to that, though, we made a few errors in judgment, objecting to things that weren't necessarily objectionable, resulting in a reprimand from the judge and the loss of a point. Seems that the game will only afford you with a certain number of chances to screw up before you botch the case and fail.

The demo ended with a real cliff-hanger. Exposed in his lie, Mr. Sahwit tries covering it up, but Phoenix is onto him. "I'm going to catch him," Phoenix promises, "in the retail version, that is!"

The game's charming graphical style is enriched by lots of amusing animation and sharp writing. The gameplay itself, which revolves around first collecting evidence and then presenting it in front of the court by cross-examining witnesses and such, is compelling and works well on the DS. The bottom screen is used for the dialogue and menus, while the top screen shows all the cool artwork and animations. Our one concern is about the game's length and linearity, since we expect that the story-driven nature of the different cases will lend themselves to, er, trial and error. Still, with five different cases to work through, we think Phoenix Wright ought to have plenty of meat on its bones.

Phoenix Wright won't be out for a number of months to come, but what we've seen of it sure looks promising. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more about this one.

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