Jan 15, 2008
We still remember being surprised - and slightly baffled - when Capcom announced Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law at a press event last spring. As an Adult Swim animated series, Harvey Birdman is a novel idea: a lame Hanna-Barbera superhero from the 60s revived as a modern-day lawyer that represents notable cartoon characters. It's heavy on snark, inside jokes and innuendo - but where's the game concept?
Luckily, Capcom knows a thing or ten about milking a franchise, and Harvey Birdman is shockingly similar to the publisher's Nintendo DS courtroom favorite, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Players navigate a graphic adventure in the form of five "episodes," each of which challenges Harvey to collect evidence, interview witnesses/suspects, and point out inconsistencies in their testimonies to secure a victory.
Developer High Voltage Software admirably recreates the show's humor, which typically floats between clever and absurd, and the episodes offer skewed takes on cloning and music downloading, among other topics. Birdman's entire cast of compatriots and courtroom foes is represented here, including the lecherous Peter Potamus and the miniature-obsessed Myron Reducto. It's noticeably less referential to other Hanna-Barbera cartoons like Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear, and The Herculoids than the show (likely due to existing licensing agreements), but Capcom makes up for it by tossing in several amusing Street Fighter references. Like we said, they know a thing or two about franchises.
Harvey Birdman wisely maintains the hand-drawn look of the show, never dabbling in 3D elements just for the sake of it. And while Stephen Colbert is sorely missed as the voice of Birdman's boss (Phil Ken Sebben), the rest of the major voice cast is retained, most notably Gary Cole as the titular protagonist.
But after blazing through the episodes in less than five hours, we've modified our original query to: Where's the gameplay? Call it Phoenix Wright for dummies - the formula has been streamlined and simplified so much that the resulting point-and-click experience is largely devoid of challenge. It's a choose-your-own-adventure where nearly every path leads to success.
And sure, we took the case to win it, but it makes Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law feel like a marginally interactive half-season of bonus episodes. But while the suit may be frivolous, at least you know your day in court will be entertaining.