D-PADS AND DICE - A video game for players with a clue

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In the early to mid '90s, point-and-click adventure games ruled the computer gaming landscape. The best combined clever writing, superb art direction and logic-focused puzzles to create a quirky and unique genre that slowly decayed into mediocrity in the early 2000s.

While they never died out entirely, most of them today seem to merely echo the greats of the past, content to simply provide amusing temporary diversions.

There have, of course, been a few exceptions, and one of the most shining examples of breaking with convention is the "Ace Attorney" series.

Originated in Japan, the series follows a premise unusual in video games: You play a Perry Mason-style defense attorney who investigates crimes and attempts to prove his clients innocent in the face of increasingly sinister and absurd prosecutions.

The actual progression of play in the game is divided into a number of court cases. There are two main modes of play in each: investigation and court. In investigation, you travel around various locations talking to people, sometimes solving simple puzzles using your inventory of evidence, and click around crime scenes to find new items.

The real meat of the game, however, is found in the court segments. After collecting clues you are now placed in a courtroom, where a prosecutor calls coached witnesses and tries to prove your client guilty. You have to poke holes in what witnesses say by pointing out how your evidence contradicts their testimony.

This usually reveals further evidence or testimony, and you continue this until the case has been resolved.

While this sounds like it could be pretty dry, in actuality the game's vibrant characters and absurdist crimes elevate it above mundane court drama. You're in a world of mysteries that involve spirit mediums, novelty clocks and tabloid monsters. And, of course, it takes actual logic and cleverness to figure out the crimes.

The game has two teensy little sticking points for me though, although the good greatly overwhelms the bad.

The first is that sometimes it can be difficult to know what to do to progress in the investigation segments. Sometimes you just have to stumble around a bit hoping to find something, although this is pretty rare.

Secondly, sometimes in the court segments you don't have any options other than for the game to briefly let you think you've been beaten, and then let some character rescue you from your dead end.

Again, these shouldn't be blown out of proportion.

"Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney," produced by Capcom, is available as Wii Ware for 1,000 Wii Points (about $10).

Perry Mason is long gone from television, but this game is fantastic and a unique way to bring the mystery back to life - under your direction.

Walla Wallan Noah Hinz is a tabletop and electronic games aficionado. He's currently a graphic arts student at The Evergreen State College, working on various art projects and game designs. This is his first of regular columns he will write to review games for Walla Walla Valley Weekly readers. He can be reached at noahhinz@gmail.com.


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