Version Reviewed: 1.00.00
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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney was first released way back in 2001 as a Game Boy Advance title. It subsequently made it to the DS, and its popularity has earned it two full sequels and two spin-off titles. Finally, iPhone owners can get in on the action, too—for $4.99, a mere fraction of the DS original's price. And oh, by the way...this is, in fact, a port of an entire DS game. Can you say sweet?
Those of you familiar with the game may want to skip most of this in-depth review and check out the section titled Port Quality.
But What is Phoenix Wright?
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a blend of a point-and-click adventure game, visual novel, murder-mystery puzzle, and plain ol' melodramatic humor. You play Phoenix Wright, rookie lawyer, in his quest to prove his clients' innocence and uncover the true murderers. Of course, this being the world of Phoenix Wright, the legal system as we know it is suspended in favor of a much more sinister, guilty-until-proven-innocent model in which bumbling judges, sneaky prosecutors, and sly witnesses all stand in your way. It's all great fun, of course, because the game pokes fun at itself and its own ridiculous proceedings.
This iPhone port of the DS title includes all five episodes, which should take first-timers at least 15 hours (if not more, depending on how long you spend exploring). Each case opens with a brief cutscene, which reveals the murder and, typically, the murderer as well. The real fun comes in absolving your client and cornering the true culprit. This process is split into two main parts...investigations and trial proceedings.
During investigative portions, you take on the role of detective, despite your official position of "attorney." You must talk to various characters and explore areas in an attempt to uncover the truth and gather as much evidence as possible. Examining areas plays out much like a hidden object game, though thankfully the game will automatically save important evidence. Talking to the characters is trickier, because many are initially unhelpful. Often you'll have to present them with evidence to force or cajole them into revealing the next step you have to take.
During the trial portions, you cross-examine witnesses, present evidence, and shout Wright's famous "OBJECTION!" when you find a contradiction or if you, well, object to the prosecution's remarks. Make a bad decision that irritates the judge, like presenting useless evidence, and you'll lose one of the five exclamation points that represent your health. However, the game generally steers you straight; if you read the descriptions of all the evidence in your Court Record and pay attention to the dialogue, it's hard to fail.
Of course, just describing the bare-bones game mechanics doesn't do the game justice. To fully enjoy Phoenix Wright, you really have to read the dialogue. It's riddled with jokes and Phoenix's asides, and soon you'll develop a connection to Phoenix and the gang. The huge cast of side characters range from annoying and stereotypical to goofy and lovable. The five chapters form a loose story arc, and you gradually learn more about each character and their backgrounds as the game progresses.
Art & Soundtrack
The graphics in Phoenix Wright are far from complex. Characters aren't fully animated; each interaction features a single character on-screen at a time. But each character does have a number of expressive animations, and coupled with some dramatic sound effects, they easily come to life. Sure, it's not anything fancy, but it's handled well. As for the soundtrack, it's iconic to the games, though not necessarily epic. Still, I recommend leaving it on...not that the game gives you the option, but it adds to the game's charm regardless.
Capcom didn't go to any great lengths to hide that this is, indeed, a port from the Nintendo DS. They simply stacked the two displays from the DS on top of each other and reworked the DS version's interface to make it more finger-friendly. However, given the price—$5 compared to $30 for the near-identical DS version—I wasn't expecting any extras.
The good: it works. Quick-save keeps you from losing data, the game pauses automatically if you're interrupted by a call or push notification, and Phoenix actually feels at home on the DS. The touch-screen controls feel natural, though there is some slight lag with the big "next" button (you have to hold it down for a brief second).
The bad? Battery drain. This is possibly due to the addictive nature of Phoenix Wright, but like most complex games, this one will suck you dry sooner rather than later. Keep it in mind if you need your iPhone for, I don't know...taking a phone call?
Phoenix Wright slides smoothly from the DS to the iPhone's touch screen, probably because the original game was already so well-adapted to the DS's touch screen. Phoenix and the gang are just as wacky and charming as ever, and the game itself is an excellent balancing act between a point-and-click adventure and a simple logic game. Some will dislike the purely linear story or the fact that once you beat a story, knowing the plot dims the replay value. Personally, I still love the Ace Attorney games. They're never overly challenging, but you still feel compelled to think. Overall? If you haven't yet tried the Phoenix Wright series, give this iPhone version a go. At a low $4.99, this is an absolute steal. Just be prepared to kill your battery many, many times over.
Any specific questions? Drop me a line in the comments box!