If there’s one genre that most wouldn’t expect to have a huge following on Nintendo’s handheld, it’s the lawyer simulator. Evolving from a Japanese-exclusive GBA curio to a cult-classic Nintendo DS trilogy, the Ace Attorney series has attracted an unbelievable number of fans in its time in the West. With five of its six mainline entries (and a handful of sequels, most of which sadly belong exclusively in Japan) already available on the 3DS, it was only a matter of time before Apollo Justice, the first entry not to have franchise figurehead Phoenix Wright in the starring role, joined its brethren – but is the series’ black sheep an objectionable addition to the handheld?
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Fans of the series will no doubt be aware of the gameplay behind Apollo Justice – after all, it’s almost unchanged from its predecessors – but for the uninitiated, a refresher: taking the form of an interactive visual novel, each of the game’s four cases is split into two portions – an investigation section, which sees titular hero Apollo explore various crime scenes and talk to certain witnesses in order to gain evidence for use in the courtroom portions of the game, which see Apollo question and press witnesses in order to have his client declared innocent, and utilise the correct evidence to find the real criminal. It’s admittedly light on the interactivity, but the main draw here is the story and the characters, and that’s thankfully all still present here, too.
Being the first game in the series designed with the Nintendo DS in mind – the first three originally belonged to the Game Boy Advance before receiving ports for the Western audience – it’s the most graphically impressive so far, with character designs becoming more complex and the soundtrack being a much more dynamic affair. The 3DS remake gives the already colour-packed game an even fresher coat of paint, too, and even if it lacks the fluid 3D motion of the later entries, Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice, it’s still an absolutely gorgeous game to behold.
Its newfound dual-screened home also means that, as was customary for early-life DS games, there’s plenty of forced functionality on offer here – the microphone is once again an option for those daring enough to shout “Objection!” at their console in the middle of a packed train, but it gets a second wind in the form of a fingerprint kit, which allows the player to physically blow away dust, as well as incorporating touch-screen prompts. It’s an ultimately pointless but harmless addition that makes the game feel that little bit more engaging.
Other fresh additions are thankfully a little more quality-enhancing; it’s the first entry to allow pieces of evidence to be examined in 3D space, leading to an extra layer of puzzle-solving, and the new perception system, which gives Apollo the ability to find certain guilt-proving “tells” in a character’s testimony, provides an intriguing poker-like facet to the now over-familiar gameplay.
For new players, then, it’s a no-brainer. Apollo Justice is a fluid, content-rich release that deserves not to have been overlooked for so long into the 3DS’ lifespan, especially as it boasts one of the series’ most interesting stories next to franchise highlight, Trials & Tribulations – at the start players learn that legendary lawyer Phoenix Wright has been disbarred, and his new role as Apollo’s mentor (as well as the introduction of his daughter as a side character) breathes new life into the series; the final case in the game, in which those in control finally learn the reason for Phoenix’s disbarment, remains one of the series’ finest to date.
However, for seasoned players, it’s something of a different story – besides the new lick of paint and the ability to skip through text (itself a questionable choice in a visual novel), there’s absolutely nothing else new here (aside from a couple of typos from the original script being fixed). It’s a slight annoyance as there are a few particularly frustrating and obtuse roadblocks in Apollo Justice‘s focused and narrative-driven path that could almost certainly have been fixed.