Capcom's hilarious point-n-tap courtroom drama is back, and fans of the first DS outing for the long running series will be relieved to know that despite cautionary previews, Phoenix Wright is back on form.
This sequel certainly falls into the 'more of the same' category, but is so packed with character and irreverent Eastern wit that it is just as irresistible as its predecessor. At the core of the game are lengthy court cases, which unravel in front of you as witnesses give evidence and rival lawyers push their cases.
Your main activity comes during the cross questioning, when you can press witnesses on their previous statements, and present pieces of evidence that you have gathered both in the court room and in the interactive scenes out of sight of the judges. This process may not sound too appealing, but in practice it is actually hugely exhilarating. As the various pieces of information and artefacts you collect that once seemed irrelevant and pointless gather meaning and significance, the satisfaction of nearing the end of a case and blasting away your opposition is unbeatable.
Demanding lateral thinking, a good memory and observational skills, the problems you face are very similar to the kind that fill all the classic LucasArts point-n-click adventures, but the interface itself is very different.
Again, the control scheme is almost completely stylus focussed, with the option to shout 'objection' at the screen returning, though you are likely to stick with the touch functions once the novelty of yelling at your handheld fades.
The presentation of Justice for All harks back to some of the earlier 2D RPGs, with the top screen of the DS being used to show partly animated images of the characters you talk to and the text that represents their speech. The touch screen is used to scroll through this text, examine objects and make choices with regard to the answers you give to questions and the decisions you make in court.
The graphics themselves are not particularly technically impressive, with each character generally having no more than a few static poses for each scene. The only true animation is used for the odd blink and mouth movement, and though the hand-painted feel to the visuals is very nicely realised, it is nothing you won't have seen before in the more subtle of the manga-style comics and games. The sound too is fine, but taken purely on technological merits is relatively average.
But do not be misled into thinking Justice for All is in any way dated or lacking in the audiovisual department. It may take half-an-hour to get up to speed, but the editing of the collected images and sounds is a fantastic example of what can be done with a little creativity. The pace and timing is superb, and as each courtroom drama unfolds and reaches its crucial points, the high speed juxtaposition of pictures and sound can easily handle the excitement and tension, bringing a great deal to the game.
But what really makes playing the latest Phoenix Wright irresistible, like any great puzzle solving point-n-click adventure game, is the scripting and character development. The dialogue is simultaneously convincing and hilarious, and the ridiculous characters are laugh-out-loud funny. Almost every line is brimming with puns that are totally founded on the English language, and nothing is lost in the translation to our native tongue. Phoenix himself steals the show, and is absolutely one of the most memorable and charismatic leads in a time when gaming is swamped with empty avatars and macho male grunts.
Though utterly distinct, there is something to Phoenix, or Nick as he is known, that is a little Guybrush Threepwood (Monkey Island). He is dopey, immensely stupid at times, and devilishly cruel and witty when the courtroom needs him to be, making him an ideal gaming antihero and ironic role model.
Every character has their perks, and the surreal and silly conversations that permeate the entire game are constantly refreshing. Plenty of favourites from the first Western release for the series crop up again, with the most notable being the quietly psychic Maya, who provides a perfect antithesis to Phoenix's staggeringly blinkered reason. Newcomers to Ace Attorney need not be put off by the references to the previous games, as in no time they will be chuckling along to the in-jokes that pepper the storyline.
Along with Maya, many of the supporting cast are heavily anchored in the world of the paranormal, with ghosts and possessions as common as cross-examinations and objections. This is realised in the gameplay through the psyche-lock feature, which becomes available as you progress. Harnessing the spiritual power of his friends, Phoenix can see personal secrets others cannot, symbolised by locks on the hearts of the characters he meets. To unlock these secrets, you must use the Magatama, a psychic device that is a little too powerful for the average blundering lawyer, but that makes for a very useful tool indeed.
Essentially a re-release of an earlier Japan-only GBA version, it is shorter than Nick's previous bumbling adventures, but it is still more than substantial enough to justify the price tag. The length of the actual cases have been extended, which allows for a greater depth and exhaustiveness that will deter as many as it enthrals. The other niggle is one that can be applied to all problem solving games. A tiny fraction of the puzzles involve wrestling some confounding logic, which may have made perfect sense to the setter, but leaves you feeling like a six-year-old with the Times cryptic crossword when you try to overcome it.
Just like the most famous of the courtroom films, the emphasis here is not on action, and if you are looking for that then go elsewhere. Phoenix Wright is essentially a long, interactive cut-scene, and many will tire quickly of what it has to offer. But if you crave for more humour in games and are looking for drama and tension without having to dabble in drawn out RPGs or nerve-wracking twitch games, then Justice for All might just be for you. Lawyer-sims are thin on the ground, so if there's a budding attorney locked away inside you, make sure you witness Phoenix Wright before he disappears into obscurity and bargain bins.