Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Updated Hands-On - The Story of Young Lawyer, Trials, and Objections

We sit down with a nearly complete version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and have almost no objections.

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney for the Nintendo DS brings the once-thought-to-be-dying adventure genre back with a bang by infusing it with courtroom drama and a goofy animated cast of characters. We got the chance to play a nearly final version of the game, and we like how it's come along since we last saw it at E3.

Phoenix Wright is the name of a budding young lawyer, whose actions you control both inside and outside the courtroom. Like many traditional adventure games, this one involves clicking through a series of menus to do everything from navigating between locations to talking to other characters. Although the focus of the game is the trial, you'll be able to explore other aspects of the criminal process, Law and Order-style, like investigating the scenes of crimes and confronting witnesses and other lawyers outside the courtroom. Phoenix Wright makes use of both screens on the DS, so you'll use the stylus on the lower screen to progress through dialogue, and you'll use various menus (while animations are shown) on the top screen. You'll also use the stylus to examine rooms by clicking and dragging your view to different objects, and there's even DS microphone compatibility, for those times when you feel like raising an objection.

The characters in Phoenix Wright are over-the-top and entertaining.
The characters in Phoenix Wright are over-the-top and entertaining.

The game's first mission serves to get you used to the process. Phoenix is a very nervous fellow, initially, and it's through practice and successful interrogation that you can build up his confidence as a lawyer. Many of the game's sequences offer you a series of options through which you can choose different methods of discourse, or they challenge you to remember specifics of the case from multiple-choice responses. Ultimately, the linear storyline takes you to the same conclusion, but you can experience different aspects of Phoenix's character depending on how you cultivate his personality. It's not evident that this will impact the game overall, but it potentially leaves different results depending on how you influence his behavior.

The bulk of the gameplay takes place in the courtroom, where you must prove your worth by properly cross-examining witnesses on the stand. The characters you encounter throughout the game could have easily been pulled out of cartoons, as they're all exaggerated and animated (no pun intended). The gameplay is peppered with dialogue between the judge, Phoenix, and the opposing lawyers, and Phoenix frequently injects his conversations with asides that reveal what he really thinks about the person or the situation. Though most of the characters tend to boss poor Phoenix around, you'll get the opportunity to build up his forcefulness throughout the game. One of the most appealing aspects of the game is the way he develops from a shy understudy to a legal mastermind, with only you to thank for it.

Trials typically begin with opening remarks, but they bypass a lot of the boring courtroom procedure to get directly to witness testimonies. After testimonies, Phoenix is given the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, which is where the story stops and you take over. During cross-examination, you have two methods of confrontation. As you scroll through the recently given testimony, you can stop at any time to "press" the witness on that particular issue. Phoenix will scream "Hold it!" and launch into a scripted response that will either reveal more information about the case or will not reveal very much at all. If pressing different aspects of the testimony doesn't work, you can alternatively try to find a contradiction between the testimony and one of the pieces of evidence that's being held in the court record. You can access the court record at any time to scroll through items, which often have useful descriptions highlighting details pertinent to the case. Once you've found the contradiction in the testimony and have found the appropriate evidence, you can present both to the court. Or if you're daring, you can hold down the Y button and shout "Objection!" into the DS microphone. Phoenix will then object in turn, and you will either be treated to a new story or chastised for falsely objecting. Usually the punishment for choosing the wrong method of attack is no more than a few lines of dialogue that make Phoenix look bad. However, sometimes if you choose a particularly offensive line of questioning, you'll be punished. And you can apparently only make five such mistakes, since the game tracks your mistakes with a tally of five exclamation points onscreen that will count down with each severe error you make. So it's important to think through your behavior before acting on it.

Some of the legal practices are questionable at best.
Some of the legal practices are questionable at best.

This is one of the barriers put in place to prevent people from thoughtlessly trying every option until arriving upon the correct one. But truthfully, the game does a great job of making it difficult to succeed by guessing haphazardly. Mostly this is because all roads eventually lead to the same conclusion, but Phoenix's reaction to incorrect lines of questioning is so pitiful that you feel compelled to try extra-hard just for his sake. Also, the gameplay is varied enough that simply trying the few tactics that worked the previous trial won't always work. There's definitely a challenge to think things through, even when the answer is fairly straightforward. This is where Phoenix Wright seems to excel: in simple puzzles resulting from only a few different gameplay mechanics. We found the gameplay to continually be challenging and compelling, even through multiple trials.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney also has an intriguing presentation. The trial is a faceoff of sorts, so you'll be treated to visuals of the two lawyers being pitted head-to-head, in addition to visuals of over-the-top objections and of the pressing of the witnesses. The style and presentation is more akin to that of a boxing or fighting game. Various aspects of the trial are actually treated like rounds in a competitive bout, while the characters play the roles of the fighters, although no elements of the actual gameplay really resemble a fighting game. Even the music plays the part, swelling up to dramatic, fast-paced tunes when witnesses get put under pressure on the stand. Though some aspects of Phoenix Wright are silly--serious lawyers would tremble to consider a courtroom that would accept some of the practices in this game--the gameplay is seriously entertaining. The DS game is slated to ship next week, so we'll be sure to bring you more on Phoenix Wright, Esquire when it does.

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