Monday, April 28, 2008

Review: Harvey Birdman (Wii)

I really, really wanted to like this game. Made by the same people who gave us the Phoenix Wright series and using an IP from a hilarious cartoon? What the hell can go wrong? In a word: Timing. Announced last April and released early this January, the game feels all too rushed, and for too many silly reasons.

The character animation within the game looks like a cheap Flash derivitave, which is acceptable in the one sense given that, to my understanding, the show itself is done in Flash, but while the show maximises opportunity from its limits, the game is happy enough just having slight head-cel rotations for nods, bodies bobbing up and down to imply walking, one zoom shot scales the background such that the individual pixels of a shrub are as large as Harvey's head, really childish stuff that doesn't approach the early days of the show, much less the later episodes when they came to grips with the format.

The humor's off too, mostly due to the timing, and oddly its because they take their time with set-ups and reactions. The show's 10-minute format forces an economy of style that allows for maximum funny in minimum time, and the game, in allowing more time for the jokes, sort of negates the humorous impact of any of them. It feels like the writers, who would have at the time also been writing the final season of the show, were somehow incapable of devoting the same attention to the game. There's still a few good gags though, and the graphics are at least passable, neither of these alone would be all that bad.
The main problem is the cases themselves. All five are altogether too short by far, and I managed to go through them, not even pushing myself, in about three hours. The episodes dont tend to make much sense either, and not simply in the sense of the show's absurdist humor. Some episodes don't start with a crime, some don't end by solving one, one has you trying a case that gets you in jail, where you have to try a completely different case to get out, another has you prosecuting arbitrarily, and you end up abruptly winning one by physically destroying the opposing counsel with a laser beam.

Given the gameplay is a direct copy of Phoenix Wright, comparison to that series is unavoidable, and unfortunately uniformly negative. Where you could otherwise press a witness on every line of testimony and get clarification on the circumstances of the crime, here Harvey will usually just state "hm, nothing seems too odd about that." Presenting evidence seems particularly arbitrary, since you aren't looking for contradictions anymore but just prompts for either the most or least obvious item to present at any given moment. The investigation segments are less about gathering evidence anymore too, one being the standard Point-N-Click adventure gimmick of "do three things for three people to proceed." There are also numerous red herrings (one in particular is a repeating gag in the form of a Lobster) that don't affect the trial or the plot of the episode, and yet you have to go through with them to the end just to proceed to the next plot point. Its all very tedious stuff that even most amateur adventure game creators could have done a better job of.

Thats actually the main problem for me, that it seems sub-par by even amateurish standards. There's really nothing about the game that says to me it couldn't have just been five short online Flash games, and I can think of at least three others and a dozen freeware adventure games I'd prefer to play over Birdman again. Not because its outright bad, its just so utterly without any reason to actually want to play it, wasting every drop of potential it had to the apparent disinterest of everyone involved. It released at $40 and I bought it yesterday for $20, figuring it was worth roughly that much given the mixed reviews three months ago (and what does it say that the retail price drops that quickly?) and still I feel like my time and money could have been so much better spent.

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