Ladies and gentlemen of the court: Phoenix Wright is a goofy, spike-haired, blue-suited lawyerman who mostly has everyone drop dead around him. His first three adventures, Ace Attorney, Justice For All, and Trials and Tribulations mainly involve his various acquaintances dying from outlandish murders, occasionally reminiscent of the ways in which many Spinal Tap drummers have snuffed it. Phoenix is then usually called upon to defend the accused and Wright all Wrongs.
These three charmingly translated, robust and incredibly funny visual novels have previously wormed their bizarre gardening accidents into our hearts on the Nintendo DS, but now they've been handily ported to iOS by Capcom. You can download the app for free, but with that you only get the first two chapters of the first game before you have to fork out for the rest (each adventure available separately, or all together for a discounted £11.99).
I am his first witness. These three games are wonderfully constructed: the best thing about porting old games to iOS is the fact you can then replay games you know are great when you're stuck in the world's longest Post Office queue, trying not to fall asleep on a drunk on a night bus, or in the pub on an extremely boring date. I'd have brought my DS, but I forgot to charge it, forgot to pack Ace Attorney, and probably have lost the stylus, and sometimes the Pokémon stickers on my DS Lite make me get IDd in bars. Playing this sort of thing on a phone means you too can bring your OBJECTION! into the real world more often, just as I imagine Phoenix Wright does whenever someone cuts him off at a junction.
To come to his defence: the crunchy part of these Phoenix Wright titles come from the carefully constructed text envelope wrapped around a few essential contradictions, which you then meticulously, pleasurably unfold to some of the most satisfying 2D court drama performances since Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men. The strange witnesses you cross-examine in the terseness of the courtroom will always lie, or distort the truth. It's your role, as the witty and dashing attorney, to expose those lies by presenting inventory evidence at the right time, which is accompanied by a satisfying yell of OBJECTION!, HOLD IT! or even TAKE THAT!, and the main character will slam the desk and point at the culprit. Ah, the desk slam. My favourite of the animations.
The long strings of text might seem like a drag at first, but this is a game about animation reacting to text and text reacting to animation in a dynamic, turnabout, eccentric Japanese rush of sugar that's fluid and satisfying. They're rare games about text and picture interpretation, which is sometimes a frustrating ride when you have missed a narrative signpost or misinterpreted the game's angle. But those slight frustrations pay off eventually when you look in your inventory and finally recognise who, in fact, dun it. The music and art kick in; you'd happily waste hours lost in the tiny 2D rooms of 2D people who have their mouths way too wide open.
The kicker is when you finally object to a witness' testimony and present the evidence that wins the case. You can tell when it's won, you can tell, because the background music drops, Phoenix yells OBJECTION! and in the first title, this beauty plays:
Yeah! You can't freaking handle the truth! That's the sound of me punching a hole through my mum's plasterboard wall.
You think it's won, right? The games themselves are case closed.
HOLD IT. Frankly, I feel like a perfunctory job has been done with this port, as if Capcom's suits just realised their kid were something that they could make a buck out of if they trotted it out in one of those gross American pageants where the kids get eyelash implants. The three games strut around on iOS without much of a problem, but sometimes the animations seem slow and the HD makeover takes away the blocky charm Phoenix Wright had on DS while adding a weird delay between when you press buttons and something happening. Sometimes you can upturn your iPhone portrait-wise to make the magenta hunk Edgeworth tiny. Only no one wants to make Edgeworth tiny, because as my fellow journalist Phillippa Warr says, objectifying Edgeworth's objections is one of our favourite things.
Oddly, the only eyelash implant they put on Phoenix Wright Trilogy was the 'Everyone Object' doohickey, which is a free thing that comes with the app that is supposed to allow you to customise an 'objection' animation with your own personalised message. You can then post this to Twitter or email it to your unsuspecting objectee. I had a merry time with it because I love to tweet absolute rubbish, and this is a pointless kitsch-crutch made just for that purpose.
OBJECTION: sadly, Everyone Object is a little broken. Most of the Object tweets I tried to post weren't actually put up on Twitter half the time, though I admit this is perhaps because I was using words such as 'phallic' and 'undress' and possibly 'Angela Lansbury'. If those are censored words then I'd expect a dialogue box to tell me the tweet hadn't been posted, but every tweet said it had been posted successfully. The only two I did get to post were bad jokes that I was sad to learn were not in animated gif form. Much effort: no gif. At least I got a joke about Phoenix's hair in.
To make my closing argument: equally excellent, these three games are worth buying for a tenner on iOS if you have never played them (or if you have a real need to play them again and your DS makes you sad). They are charming; part of the adventure game genre that everyone likes to pretend is dead, but is just reawakening. They are strong, story-led payoffs, each laden with intrigue and character-based eyebrow-raising. But they had more charm on the DS, they don't have much replayability, and though they're enjoyable in this form, the games suffer from a lack of responseiveness. One pines for the old days when you could excuse a stylus for that sort of behaviour.
But what am I saying? There's so little to lose. You can try the first two chapters out for free. If only for the objection music. I rest my case.
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