For those not in the know, Phoenix Wright is a text-based game following a defence lawyer in his quest to get a non-guilty verdict. The game is split into 2 distinct sections: investigation and court.
The investigation sections involves visiting crime scenes (and other important locations). From here you can either talk to a person who's there, present a piece of evidence to that person or examine the scene to gain evidence. The conversations are generally interesting and well-scripted, and while the investigation process is never boring it does present a few problems- the biggest happens when you get stuck. Often you will need to present a specific piece of evidence to a specific person to advance the story line. Whilst it is mostly clear how to proceed there are occasions when you seem to hit a brick wall, causing you to present several pieces of evidence to several people. This is somewhat frustrating and more then anything it just feels like a waste of time.
The other section of the game involves being in court. Here you'll hear what witnesses say, and you're given the option of pressing for more information or presenting a contradiction in their statement. For example, a witness might say they saw the murder occur at 4pm whereas the autopsy report says it was at 1pm. Although this is a simple example the game quickly gets more tricky and there's a real sense of achievement in suddenly realising a contradiction that's been staring you in the face the whole time.
Get a contradiction wrong and most of the time you will face a penalty (your 'health bar' will decrease). However, the game allows you to save at any time (thank God!), meaning that the idea of a health bar really doesn't serve a purpose. Again there is a slight problem with not knowing what to do and presenting things until you get the desired result, but at least in court if you're stuck it means that you've almost always overlooked something that can be figured out with a bit of patience.
The game features 5 cases (4 directly ported from the Japan-only original, 1 brand new), and each case is completely separate, although there are ties that bring them all together (recurring characters, for example). The first case is nothing more then a tutorial of court proceedings and is blasted through in no time at all, but disappointingly the 2nd case is also rather short-lived. Luckily the 3rd and 4th cases feature considerably more depth which contribute to the game being a decent length. The 5th case has the opposite problem though- it's too long and you get to a point where you just want it to finish!
Control wise you can use buttons or the touch screen and for some things even the microphone can be used. Typically I used a combination of all control methods depending on my particular mood, and all work perfectly fine. The 5th case also adds a couple of unique DS features, such as using the touch screen to check for fingerprints. In reality this doesn't actually add anything to the game, but it doesn't take anything away either- the strength of the game is in the characters, the conversations and the general plot, and nothing really distracts you from that.
Graphically the game features 2D characters. Whilst they don't move in a conventional sense, they have different positions or short animations depending on their emotions, for example characters have looks of surprise, anger etc. While it's all pretty simple stuff it does the job fine and surprisingly the limited number of positions for each character doesn't get repetitive or annoying.
Each character (or in some cases piece of evidence) has its own tune as well. Unfortunately this has the undesired effect of no music at all if you're investigating an area and you don't meet someone there. Overall the music is reasonably good and there are a few nice sound effects in place as well, but many-a-time you find yourself paying no attention to the sounds because you're trying to concentrate on the text. Whether this is a strength of the music or not is debatable.
Perhaps the game isn't for everyone. It could be considered to be too slow paced or too wordy. Give it a chance though and the story lines will grip you. Other games may have a twist in their story line- Phoenix Wright is constantly snaking all over the place and by the end the murderer is innocent, the murder weapon wasn't what you thought and it's all cleverly connected to another incident several years earlier! All-in-all it's well written and keeps you on your toes. Any vital information is in the evidence for you to check up on at any time as well, so the game doesn't rely on memory, but logic and finding contradictions. Perhaps another slight weakness is that the court is not 100% realistic, but on the other hand it's generally sound a bit of poetic licence allows for more twists and turns.
For a text based adventure to be so interesting and entertaining is a credit to the makers and the game suits the DS well. If you want to try something a bit different, Phoenix Wright may be for you.