The greatest thing about video games is that you can do stuff you can't do in real life. I don’t chainsaw space aliens on a regular basis. I can’t pass like a Manning brother. I have never caused a revolution with my dancing. And yet, thanks to video games, I’ve repeatedly saved Europe from Hitler, rocked out like Hendrix, and Force-choked countless Rebel scum.
And now, with "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All," I get to be a lawyer without years of law school and thousands in student loans. Your entire sum total of legal experience also can be exactly nil — and you’ll still have fun playing Capcom’s sequel to the first “Phoenix Wright” game on the Nintendo DS.
A bit of history: Almost two years ago, "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney" appeared on U.S. game shelves after garnering hit status in Japan. In it, players took on the role of Phoenix Wright, a defense attorney. The graphics weren't the best, the sound was minimal, and the jokes were corny, but it was quirky enough to make players think and smile at the same time.
Most notably, there was nothing else like "Phoenix Wright," unless you count the “Jedi Lawyer” minigames in the first “Knights of the Old Republic” title. Before long, this little lawyer sim became a cult hit, selling out until a re-issue in March. So this sequel is not a surprise ruling.
For "Phoenix Wright" vets, everything will feel like a law school reunion with old friends, right down to the anime flavoring from the first title. But newbies to “Phoenix” needn’t fret: Everyone starts out fresh, with Wright now suffering from a bout of amnesia. It’s a gimmick straight out of a soap opera, but it gives new players an easy trial to get used to the game's mechanics, and a taste of the screwball tone that's laced throughout the game.
Courtrooms aren’t exactly known for fast-paced action, so you shouldn’t expect “Justice for All” to be “Gears of War.” To succeed as a legal eagle, you’ll need to pay attention to testimony, poke around crime scenes a la “CSI,” and learn the fine art of cross-examination. You need timing and skill to know the correct evidence to present, and when to shout “Objection!” (Thanks to the built-in DS microphone, you can literally shout it.)
If you can master your courtroom antics, the easier it’ll be to get a witness to crack under pressure and help your case. Screw up an objection and you'll lose health. Lose all your health and your client goes to the slammer and its game over for you (making this one of the few non-violent titles where your own incompetence can kill you). Add in the new “psyche-lock” challenge and you've got a double-or-nothing feature: Present the right information at the right time to either unearth vital clues — or have it all blow up in your face if you push too hard.
To ease the tension, “Justice for All” contains a couple saving graces: You can save anywhere, making the game a nifty on-the-go title. Also, you can play testimony over and over until you tease out what to do. This feature is a lifesaver as the cases get more complicated and challenging.
"Justice for All" isn't for everyone, but that's its charm. How many games let you play an over-the-top lawyer who rubs elbows with psychics and the police? If you got the patience to churn through campy jokes and clever stories, then ”Justice for All” might be a welcome change of pace from games packed with shooting, sports and spells.
After all, it's not like you can get disbarred or anything.