Lawyer simulations - a genre that must be up there with the likes of vegetable hairdressing, sucking blood as a mosquito, and 'rolling houses, galaxies and ducks up into a giant ball' as one of the weirdest concepts in video game history. Strange as it may sound, though, it's one that's proven to be a stonking success, as Phoenix Wright, the long-running series of lawyer-'em-ups proves. Following the escapades of the titular lawyer of the same name, as you object, cross-examine and present evidence through crazy cases Phoenix Wright is as much a "visual novel"/point-and-click as it is anything else - and one with its tongue firmly in its cheek at that.
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Marking Wright's first foray onto the 3DS, Dual Destinies begins with a bang, when a bomb, being presented as evidence in a trial, goes off and takes the entirety of courtroom 4 with it, injuring Phoenix's appropriately named partner Apollo Justice in the process. In order to get to the bottom of the bombing, the first of five courtroom dramas is set in motion, with the prime suspect being none other than the childhood friend of the "Wright Anything" lawyer agency's newest recruit, Athena Cykes' - and it's up to her and Phoenix to prove her innocence. With cases that range from the silly to the supernatural - an alderman killed by a ancient Japanese demon, an exploding spaceship and murdered teacher all feature - it's not exactly the most serious game, with lawyers that scream 'OBJECTION!' at the tops of their voices, revelations that make the guilty parties physically recoil in terror with faces comically aghast, and streamers that fall from the ceiling after each successful case. But it is a lot of fun.
Taking a slower pace than other games, Phoenix Wright is a heavily story-driven, "visual novel" style affair, as 90%+ of your time will be spent tapping through reams of dialogue. Whether you're looking for holes in arguments in order to present evidence, choosing conversation options or interrogating witnesses to try and find out what actually happened, there's a lot of reading to be done, and plenty of twists and turns along the way.
Before certain cases, you'll get the chance to put on your investigative hat and examine the scene of the crime for yourself, in a point-and-click style segment that sees you hunting for clues. Using the +Control Pad to change the perspective, it's a wise idea to give the scene a thorough going over as you try to piece together what happened, as you'll want to be sure you've found everything that might give you a clue, or could even be used as evidence.
Once you've gathered your evidence, it's on to the courtroom drama, as you come face to face with the accused in court. It's these cross-examinations that are the game's "main event", where you finally get the chance to put the pieces of the puzzle together, and nail the guilty party in court - if you've managed to figure out whodunnit, and how, for yourself. Scouring a witness statement for any inconsistencies, it's up to you to object when you spot that the defendant's lying, before presenting the right evidence to back yourself up - although it can sometimes be a little bit of a guessing game. As you have to present the right evidence at the right time (and it's not always obvious what evidence you're meant to present when), it can sometimes be
more luck than lawyerly intuition that gets you through the case - and considering the judge knocks a portion of your health bar off for each incorrect choice, it can be a little annoying when you end up dying because you've presented your evidence one step too soon ('dying' will simply restart you where you left off though, so it's not too bad).
To add to the series' over the top nature (and to help break up the more linear court sections), you'll always have an assistant to help you out during the cases, and each comes with their own unique special ability. Newbie Athena Cykes apparently has a heightened sense of hearing, which lets her sense how a person is feeling from the tone of their voice, and thanks to some serious technology, she's able to get to the bottom of an otherwise unreceptive witness' testimony. Her 'Mood Matix' program is able to analyse what mood the witness was in at the time of the event in question - and if there's an emotion that doesn't make sense, the chances are you can dig a little bit further. For example, when the first witness tells of some rubble falling on top of her, both the happy and surprised icons light up, and by homing in on the happy feeling, you're able to push a little bit harder, where you discover Apollo leaped in to save the day - an important point she hadn't mentioned before.
The highlight of Dual Destinies - much like all the other Phoenix Wright games - is it's rather unusual cast of characters and general sense of humour. From Athena's talkative necklace (yes, you read that right) called Widget, who has a tendency to blurt out what Athena's really thinking at awkward moments, to the hot-blooded Bobby Fullbright, who seems to have come from Blackadder's Lord Flashheart's school of thought (woof!), and the staple, nameless yet omnipotent Judge who always seems a little slow on the uptake, everyone is a tongue-in-cheek caricature. Witnesses are similarly loony, whether they're busy slapping warding charms on Apollo's face, pinching shoes out from under someone's nose or, well, being a gossip-obsessed loner who likes hiding in a giant cardboard box.
Being a bit of a niche title, Capcom have decided to go the downloadable route for this one, rather than risking the added overheads of a boxed title, with the game weighing in at a bargain-iferous £19.99 on the eShop. Considering it's a full retail game that'll last you a good 25+ hours across five different cases, that's not too bad - although the chances are the price won't be dropping any time soon. Whether you're a long-term Phoenix fan, or are looking for something a bit slower paced with an engrossing (if a little mental) story and characters, then you can't go far wrong with Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS