Who would have thought a lawyer simulator could be so much fun?
Forget stuffy English traditions such as curly white wigs and tea breaks for m'learned friends at the High Court. In the Phoenix Wright games, the emphasis is on investigating crazy plots in the manner of old fashioned point-and-click interactive adventure games, as well as dealing with some occasionally zany culturally knowing humour such as: 'That monkey doesn't fake the funk on a nasty dunk' (based on a catchphrase from basketball player Shaq O'Neal – sports Ed).
You even get to shout "Objection!" into the DS microphone mid-trial. Genius.
And in Justice for All, everyone's favourite ace attorney, Phoenix Wright, is back to take on another four cases.
As before, you have to build your case slowly, visiting the scene of a crime, collecting evidence, and then putting your knowledge to work in the courtroom. So, for example, if a fattie blamed his blubber 'on my glands', you would present the judge with the empty boxes of Mr Kipling's cakes you found in their trash.
This time around the general atmosphere is considerably darker than before, however, with the plots invariably grisly or occult. For instance, in one it seems the vengeful spirit of a maltreated nurse might be taking revenge from beyond the grave; in another, the case hinges on the fate of two acrobats mutilated by a lion.
The game still looks cute, and it's still stuffed with intentionally naff jokes, but nevertheless, Justice For All is sometimes plain disturbing.
It's also harder work. The original game, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, mixed absorbing court room battles with less interesting adventuring. Indeed, it often boiled down to simply combining every possible suspect with every feasible clue. At times, the process was too much like playing a tedious electronic version of Cluedo.
The game developer has attempted to liven things up in Justice for All with its Psyche Lock feature. This sees you having to prise decisive information out of suspects by presenting them with the evidence you've found, rather than just tapping the 'talk' button to get the evil master criminal to spill their most incriminating secrets.
Killer questions are locked until you can present enough information to prick the suspect's conscience.
Essentially, the Psyche Lock makes the adventuring part of Justice For All more like the cross-examinations that appear in the courtroom part of the game. It's a welcome change, albeit one that substantially lengthens the amount of time it takes to crack a case. As such, the four cases on offer here feel substantially longer than Ace Attorney's five.
Not all the innovations are so successful. In particular, whereas Ace Attorney allowed you five mistakes in each courtroom session, Justice For All instead kits you out with a health bar that only gets replenished at the end of each case, and varies the severity of punishment you receive. In some instances, making a wrong accusation can lead to instant death – something that's likely to result in some heavy DS abuse.
A basic flaw also remains. Like a cheap TV crime drama, in the first Phoenix Wright it was usually obvious who the killer was long before you were actually able to prove it. But the game needed you do 'A' in order to prove 'B', which led you on to 'C', regardless.
Justice For All is just as scripted as predecessor, but as its cases are twice as complex as before, your interest is often highest at the mid point of an investigation. Once you've worked out the whos, whys and wheres, it can seem an unnecessarily arduous slog to the finish.
This is the dilemma faced by all sequels to some extent, though – we demand something new, as well as more of the same.
And on balance, Phoenix Wright continues to be one of the most intelligent and original adventures for the handheld consoles. Judged by the highest standards, Justice for All maybe lacks the original's charm and immediacy, but it's still a must for any fine upstanding member of the game-playing community.At the time of writing we're still waiting for a UK release date for Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice for All. Scott reviewed the Japanese version.