Platforms: Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Back in the mid-2000s, the Phoenix Wright series became an unlikely international success on the Nintendo DS. Despite the sedate pacing of the games – part visual novel, part point-and-click style adventures – the quirky legal wranglings of the eponymous lawyer attracted a legion of fans. But more than a decade later, can a case still be made for the Ace Attorney?
That’s an argument this HD remaster of the original Phoenix Wright trilogy seeks to establish. Updating the first three Phoenix Wright cases – Ace Attorney, Justice for All, and Trials and Tribulations – for modern consoles, and releasing them at a comparatively budget price is certainly compelling evidence, and in terms of play time offered, it’s going to be a trial to get through them all.
Structurally, the passage of time has been kind to these three games. They remain deeply engaging, with a loveable cast of gleefully strange characters – from psychic spirit mediums to whip-wielding dominatrix prosecutors – drawing you effortlessly into each title’s story. The offbeat legal system of the Phoenix Wright world sees you engaging in detailed analysis of crime scenes as much as extracting courtroom testimonies, piecing together clues and inconsistencies in statements, and providing just enough interactivity to balance out the walls of text. Gameplay overhauls are few, but a revised exploration mode, making it clearer to spot evidence at a crime scene, and a new ‘life bar’ in trials, better indicating a judge’s falling trust in Phoenix if you present the wrong evidence or mess up in a trial, are both nice additions.
Otherwise, most of the update treatment has been reserved for the visuals, to mixed effect. Gone are the pixellated, square screens, replaced with hand-drawn recreations of each frame, expanding each scene to a widescreen presentation. However, although the original DS games were never the most explicitly anime-inspired titles despite their Japanese origins, here the cleaner lines and flat colours make things look like a slightly dodgy imitation of anime.
In terms of actual animation, the remastered trilogy is perhaps a little too slavishly devoted to the originals. Limitations of the DS hardware, such as a pool of blood expanding in steps over several stilted frames, are recreated here, rather than opting for a smoother approach. With everything else being so crisp now, it feels distracting.
Overlook the visual oddities – or get used to them, if you’re a returning player – and the trilogy impresses though. The Switch edition feels the closest in spirit to the classic versions, retaining the possibility for on-the-go crime busting as well as the option of touchscreen investigations in handheld mode, but on any format, you’ll have no objection to these brilliant court cases.