It's not puzzling why the latest "Ace Attorney" is fun

It's not puzzling why the latest "Ace Attorney" is fun

Imagine, if you will, a world where murder trials seem to happen within a day after a victim is discovered; where prosecutors are allowed to spring surprise witnesses and evidence on the defense in the middle of the trial — and, in fact, are allowed to make countless misrepresentations of the evidence they possess unless the defense catches on; and supernatural practices — including seances and spirit channeling — regularly are used to provide testimony in the courtroom.

You’ve got it. I’m talking about the latest adventure involving defense attorneys Phoenix Wright, Apollo Justice and friends: “Phoenix Wright — Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice.”

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The “Ace Attorney” series has always married absurdly convoluted narratives, bizarre characters, logic puzzles and point-and-click mechanics.

“Spirit” doesn’t mess with that winning formula. In fact, if you’ve played the previous titles, the mechanics here will be intimately familiar.

If you haven’t, here’s how it breaks down:

— The game is presented episodically, with each episode marking a different trial, often with a different main character. However, an overall narrative tends to tie everything together.

— Once your lead attorney gets sucked into a case, you’ll start gathering evidence with which you can hopefully prove your defendant’s innocence and identify the real culprit. This involves investigating crime scenes and related locations, as well as speaking to potential witnesses.

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— Forensic minigames are part of the evidence collection process, such as dusting objects for prints and spraying luminol in a hunt for hidden blood-spatter evidence.

— After you’ve found everything the game knows you need, it’s time to head to court. Here you’ll be constantly insulted by the prosecutor and hamstrung by the judge as you cross-examine those testifying. Your job is to press witnesses for information, and when you think you’ve spotted a contradiction between what they’re saying and what the evidence you’ve gathered indicates, you’ll confront them on their lies and omissions.

— Other types of puzzles will also pop up in court and elsewhere, such as impromptu therapy sessions where you must identify conflicts between what someone is saying and how they feel, then figure out the root cause of the discrepancy.

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We’ve seen most of the minigames involved previously in the series, but “Spirit” has a new one for us: in-court seances, where a priestess reveals to us a vision of the last sights and sensations a murder victim experienced. Our task, as the defense, is to identify if — and how — the priestess is erroneously interpreting the vision.

Central to the tale, this time, is the Kingdom of Khura’in, a land seemingly lost in time, where their religion — focused on the teachings of the long-dead Holy Mother about life-after-death in the Twilight Realm — dominates daily life, trials are considered last rites, and nobody has seen or heard of a defense attorney in decades.

Phoenix Wright has journeyed there to reunite with his former assistant Maya Fey, a spirit channeler-in-training who’s in Khura’in to hone her craft. It should be a relaxing vacation, but Phoenix being Phoenix, he’s immediately pulled into a murder mystery — a security guard has been bludgeoned to death and a priceless artifact has been stolen — a case that will eventually have repercussions for his friend and protege, Apollo Justice.

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Sounds grim, probably, but the “Ace Attorney” series is known for keeping tongue firmly in cheek with ridiculous naming schemes and character behaviors. For example, on arrival in Khura’in, Phoenix is shown around by a young boy named Ahlbi Ur’gaid, and Maya has been living with a monk, Tahrust Inmee, and his wife, Beh’leeb Inmee. And Prosecutor Nahyuta Sahdmadhi alternates between admonishing his opponents to “Let it go and move on” and assaulting them with his rosary.

I’ll admit, the humor is extraordinarily cheesy — so very, very bad that it’s good. The puzzles aren’t too terribly puzzling if you’re used to the logical illogic of “Ace Attorney” games. And the game is very linear — which can be frustrating when you’ve long since pieced together an evidence-based narrative but have to wait for just the right moment in court to put it all together. Of course, once you get the chance, don’t be surprised if it turns out to be a red herring.

See, that’s a large part of the charm with “Spirit of Justice”: When you think you know what’s going on, where a case is heading, here comes a twist — and you have to rethink everything you thought you knew.

One thing I do know though: The “Ace Attorney” series continues to be worth playing.

Joel Leizer is The News-Gazette’s Playing Critic. Contact him at jleizer@news-gazette.com.

Phoenix Wright — Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice
Platform: Nintendo 3DS.
■ Price: $29.99.
■ ESRB rating: T for teen.

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