Version tested: PSP
I took a break from ploughing through the latest Ace Attorney game, Apollo Justice (review so very soon, do not fear), to spend a short amount of time with its PSP brethren, the Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law game. And when I say "short", I mean, "Inch High Private Eye after being shot by Myron Reducto's shrinking ray" short. There - if that reference made no sense to you, then neither will Harvey Birdman on PSP. Problematic. If it did, then you're certainly one of the better people, but this may not be enough.
For the uninitiated, Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law is a cartoon shown on the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim output, about a winged attorney who defends characters from the Hanna-Barbera back catalogue. Indeed, Birdman himself is based on the eponymous 1967 cartoon about a superhero able to fire solar rays from his fists, who fought crime alongside his sidekick eagle, Avenger. He then appeared in legendary spoof cartoon, Space Ghost: Coast To Coast, and eventually the more recent Adult Swim outing. Except now he's a lawyer, still assisted by Avenger, and somewhat helped by a team including the pubescent legal clerk Peanut, the over-enthusiastic assistant Birdgirl, and his boss, Phil Ken Sebben, co-founder of the law firm, Sebben & Sebben.
Except, you know, it's not that straightforward. It's... not normal. It's also incredibly brilliant. Well, the best thing is probably to head elsewhere and watch the officially sanctioned clips. So now we're all up to speed.
The game is every bit as well written and performed as the TV show. Almost the entire cast has shown up, including Gary Cole, Paget Brewster, Murice LaMarche and Neil Ross. Regular guest stars also pitch in, including the excellent Lewis Black as Elliott The Deadly Duplicator. The only person absent, rather devastatingly, is Stephen Colbert, who is usually Phil Ken Sebben and Myron Reducto. The replacement is a fine voice actor, but he's still not Stephen Colbert. The animation isn't quite to the standard of the TV series, but since they started using Flash for series 2, the difference isn't that striking. An enormous amount of background gags, and extraneous detail have been put in, matching the pace and throwaway nature of the programme. It's just... well, it's a really rubbish game.
Following the format of the Ace Attorney games, each chapter is split into sequences taking place in the world, where you go around finding evidence and talking to people, and sequences in court where you listen to witness testimonies, then cross-examine by pressing or presenting. (It's a Capcom game, and the similarities are quite deliberate). Except, while the Phoenix Wright games have always been problematic for recognising justifiable reasons for presenting certain evidence for certain statements, here it's all but random in places. Occasionally once you've stumbled upon the right answer (read: looked at a walkthrough) you can see a link between the two. Often it's just bewildering. Outside of court, there's barely any game at all, with no option to search as you would on the DS screen. Instead you tap right through all the highlighted objects in a location, using all the conversation options, and then moving on. You're barely involved, beyond triggering the next sequence.
However, I enjoyed myself. But only because picking the wrong options always lead to a wonderfully written and performed scene that made me laugh out loud. And brilliantly, being "right" is often "wrong", thanks to the nonsensical nature of the show. For instance, at the end of the tutorial, presenting the correct and valid explanation for why Peter Potamus wouldn't be able to use a lighter to start a fire (no thumbs) gets you nowhere. However, stating a completely unbelievable lie wins you the case. For your reading pleasure, because I can think of no other way of portraying quite what this game is like without just typing the script out, here's the dialogue from that scene:
Birdman: While these may appear to be Peter Potamus's initials engraved on the lighter, if you flip it over, tilt it at 90 degree angle while gleaming it towards the sun, and possibly wear an eye-patch, the initials clearly read, 'GG'.
Judge Hiram Mightor: By the great god of horn-gods, I declare this case over.
Birdman: I can't believe it! We won!
Vulturo [opposing attorney]: We won! We ablubberflerubbleblubblefllfllfllgllurrr won!
[staring and silence]
Birdman: So... who won?
Judge: Eeny meeny miney Birdman. Ahem. [coughs up a butterfly]
As a fan of Harvey Birdman, it's like having five new episodes to watch. A real joy. As a fan of games, it's like the people responsible for Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude made it. Oh wait... It really is appallingly designed, put together with no discernable skill. It links the hilarious scenes, certainly, but without a glimmer of sophistication. The Ace Attorney games are flawed, but the comparison demonstrates serious incompetence on the Harvey Birdman developer's part.
So much is so clunky. Each interface fights against your instincts, letting you only click left or right, despite the objects on the screen being above or below each other. The inventory is a bitch to navigate, and the location changes are hellishly arranged. A nice touch is offering you the opportunity to re-watch a scene after it's been shown - something I did a couple of times because they were so funny. A less nice touch is offering the same opportunity after a two-second scene, because it's been so clumsily put together. And the constant whirr-clunking of the PSP every time it loads up the unfunny "wrong answer" dialogues - something it coughs up every time you press a statement for which no riposte has been written - is maddening. It's all just flat-out laziness.
Oh yes, and how short. Fewer than four hours. Yes, that short.
So what to do? I absolutely enjoyed myself as I made my way through, because hell, it was Gary Cole being Harvey Birdman in five fantastically written scripts. But this was despite a lamentably poor videogame. There are to be no more episodes of the TV show, so this is the only way to get new Birdman material. But should you pay for a game that's barely a game? What a to-do.
You're a grown up. I've given you all the information you need to make your mind up, apart from to mention this line:
"Why would this guy have a large cucumber on his bed? I wonder if he likes salads. Oh, that is probably the wrong thing to say in prison about your cellmate."
The mark below is an average of the 10 for the script/animation and the 1 for the game design. If you need more Birdman, you'll suffer to get to the superb stories.
5 / 10