Shit My Dad Plays

Shit My Dad Plays
The Case of Dad vs. Phoenix Wright

Brendan Main | 22 Feb 2011 13:48
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Recently he bought a Nintendo DS, and asked me to recommend a few games. Finally, I thought, I'd have a chance to do my thing. I wouldn't be a critic, after all, if I didn't take a deep satisfaction in urging people towards the things I enjoy; so, even just this once, I had a chance to show off. I set him up with the works - platformers and puzzle games, shooters, racing titles, all sorts of stuff. And then, on top of all of that, I decided to have a little fun with the guy, and added one more game to the stack. I got him Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney.

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Phoenix Wright is a series of games unlike most. The main character is not a dashing adventurer or treasure hunter, but a hotshot lawyer who struggles to win a series of complicated or convoluted cases, and win his clients' freedom. They play as puzzle games that take place inside and outside a courtroom - you poke through crime scenes and gather evidence, grill witnesses for hidden details, and prepare your case. These situations range from the freakishly improbable to the frankly impossible, relying on mistaken identities, dark secrets, betrayals, and inevitable "turnabouts" - those moments in the trial when accusations are tossed back and forth like hot potatoes. Trials are won through a combination of questioning contradictory statements, producing relevant evidence at crucial moments, choosing the best possible argument that suits the situation, and yelling. Mostly yelling, though. Each case is a tug-of-war of full-throated legal grandstanding. "Take That!" "Gotcha!" "Objection!"

It's a very specific sort of game, and not for everybody. Truth be told, I didn't recommend Phoenix Wright out of some misplaced notion that my father was craving a wacky simulation of his salad days as a defense attorney. Nor did I think that there was something essential about the game that would appeal to him specifically. The decision, rather, was selfish and a bit sadistic - there was something deeply hilarious to me about picturing him puzzling through Phoenix Wright's hyperlegal pageantry, trying to apply his own keen sense of court procedure to this bizarre pastiche. I pictured him playing it with his lip curled, soured by the disdain that experts feel towards pale imitations of their craft - the way "real" musicians sniff at Rock Band's plastic plunking, or how fastidious gun nuts turn up their noses at the weapons in this or that shooter. Simply put: In my inestimable experience as a games critic, I expected him to hate it. And in my inestimable experience as a games critic it turns out I was right.

The Honorable Justice Dad listed his objections.

"It's stupid. The dialog is terrible. They all say the dumbest things."

Yeah, they do, I said.

"The cases don't make sense. It's always the strangest stuff."

Yup, it is.

"Court doesn't operate anything like that. If a real lawyer tried to do anything like that, they'd stop him in an instant."

Well, maybe that's how the court system works in Japan.

"Everybody is always yelling."

Well, I said. Maybe everybody is always yelling in Japan, too.

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