Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law
Developer: High Voltage
Release Date: 01/09/08
Capcom’s Phoenix Wright series took off in a way that no one expected. Where it was first announced, people expected it to be as successful as say, Wall Street Kid. It became a major cash cow for Capcom, as well as one of their most popular franchises in a long time.
The Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim also took off in a way no one expected. A remake of Sealab 2020? Brak getting his own show? Talking food products. Most people thought that only the 6 year old Space Ghost: Coast to Coast would survive after a year. Most people were wrong. Many of the shows went on to bigger and better things. Aqua Team Hunger Force just had a theatrical release for example.
Then there’s Harvey Birdman. Originally, Birdman was an unsuccessful 1960’s cartoon put out by Hanna-Barbara. In 2000, Adult Swim gave Birdman a first name and a new show, this time a satirizing the plethora of legal drama on network TV, as well as poking fun of Hanna-Barbara’s C-Team characters. The series only lasted for 39 episodes, but it was popular while it lasted.
When the Phoenix Wright series took off, there were a lot of “They should totally make a Birdman game with this engine” jokes running rampart on the net. Somehow at sometime, someone at Capcom heard these comments and decided, “Hey wait. Yeah! We SHOULD make a Harvey Birdman game with the PW engine.”
If there was ever a licensed product that fit an already made engine better, I sure can think of one.
Popular gaming engine mixed with a popular cult TV cartoon? How could this not be a recipe for success, right? Factor in it’s High Voltage doing the game, a developer that has a strong background in making high quality licensed games (The Haunted Mansion and Hunter: The Reckoning come to mind), and you’ve got something only an idiot could screw up.
So did they? We’ll have to get a discerning reviewer to try it out.
I’ll take the case!
There are five cases within Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law, each with their own separate plot. Each of which inflicts horrible misery on poor Harvey. The first involved an arson case where his home burned down. The second involves someone stealing all of his possessions. The third involves defending poor little Nailgun, once known as Chemical Castration, once known as Yankee Doodle in a case of mistaken identity that lands Harvey temporarily in the slammer. The fourth case is a hilarious send up of the insanity that is the RIAA. The fifth and final case in the game involves Harvey having to take on not one, but three of his arch enemies as well as prevent Blue Falcone from destroying Sebben and Sebben (Harvey’s law firm).
Each case is hilarious, with a great deal of in-jokes from the original cartoon, as well as a ton of new comedic bits. My two favorite moments in the game include a tribute to Army of Darkness with Peanut as Ash, and then another moment where Harvey is sneaking around in Peanut’s computer only to find “Furrie Pr0n.” Yes, fursuiters. The worst part is that the game rewards you if you grit your teeth and look through the entire folder of furrie crustacean photos. Oh god, the horror….the horror. Still, any game that outright bashes furries is a winner in my book.
Not even Capcom’s beloved franchises are safe. There are minor cameos from several franchises, although they are literally a second long (I almost missed the Darkstalkers plug). However, you can tell High Voltage are huge Street Fighter fans, as Harvey encounters a character from this franchise in each case. You (as Harvey) meet Guile, Zangief, Dhalsim, Ryu (as a fake ID), and Chun-Li. Each situation is laugh out loud hilarious for fans of that series. My personal favorite is with Zangief, because Capcom finally settles the “Is he gay or isn’t he?” debate between long time SF fans. Here’s a hint: Zangief shows up when Harvey is in prison and well…yeah. There’s also a Street Fighter III arcade game in case #4, where it’ll play the opening theme for the game. Nice little rewards all around. I’m glad High Voltage chose Capcom’s BEST franchise (IMO) rather than Resident Evil or Mega Man or god help us, Haunting Ground. Besides, SF characters seem the best fit outside maybe Rival Schools, don’t you think?
I will say that this game also wraps up the entire franchise as a whole very nicely. The ending of case #5 gives you a definite “Thanks for supporting this series. We’re done now.” feeling.
The only complaint I really have storywise, is Reducto only shows up in the last case. Everything else is a great tribute to the series. It’s not as good as the cartoon, but each case works as a solid episode, and although the game is VERY short, each case lasts longer than a real Harvey Birdman episode, as those were only twelve minutes length.
If you’re a fan of the cartoon at all, you’re going to want to run out and get the game just for the story aspects. The game really will only appeal to fans of the cartoon, as some bits and character aspects will be lost on people new to Harvey Birdman. Still, you can see episodes of the cartoon on Adultswim.com, so check it out and if you laugh, you’ll probably want to get the game as well.
Story Rating: 9/10
Harvey Birdman looks pretty good. With big character close-ups, the graphics are a bit jaggy, and there is a definite drop in quality compared to the actual cartoon (which is odd as it’s done in Flash). If I was reviewing the PSP or Wii version of the game, it would certainly receive lower marks than it is here, but for a PS2 game, the graphics are what one would expect from a game based on an animated cartoon. You won’t be having any Square or Aruze style jaw dropping visuals, but it’s on par with animated series, and that’s what matters
The game puts in nice little touches like the scene translation pieces of Harvey’s car or the symbol of justice or a big snapshot of Birdman’s mug that you find in the cartoon. Nice touches all around.
Graphics Rating: 7/10
Excellent voice acting and music all around. The entire cast from the cartoon series is here save for Phil Ken Sebben. Stephen Colbert did not play everyone’s favorite one eyed lawyer, but they did get a pretty close sound alike. It’s hard to tell it’s not Colbert at times. I can’t emphasize how great the cast is here. Everyone is as good as they were during the original cartoon. From Mentok to Reducto, or Avenger to Peter Potamus, this game is a wonderful auditory treat.
The music pieces are ripped directly from the cartoon. There’s also a piece I’d never heard before that is a bit techno-ish with samples of various lines from the cartoon. Again, fans of the cartoon will be thrilled by all the little details like this. People who have never seen the cartoon will be slightly less impressed, but will have to admit it’s a solid and respectable effort in all ways.
This is one of the best games I’ve played in a long time in terms of voice acting. Bar none.
Sound Rating: 10/10
4. Control and Gameplay
If you’ve played a Phoenix Wright game, you know what to expect here. About 2/3rd’s of Harvey Birdman are animated scenes featuring the character. The other third of the game is straight out of the point and click adventure game handbook. You’ll look around, examine objects and talk to other people. In court cases, you’ll examine testimony and can then “press” or question specific pieces of their testimony, or you can present evidence to further the commentary.
Harvey starts off each case with five crests. Each crest represents a point of life or chance to screw up. Each time you present a wrong piece of evidence, you lose a crest. When you’re all out, it’s game over. You have to be really careful here though, as you need to make sure the section of dialogue on your screen matches the evidence you want to present. You might have one or the other, but if not both, it’s a strike against you. This is bit annoying at times, because outside of the cases in exploration mode, all you have to do is pick an item and it will automatically work. You don’t have to match it up with part of the environment.
There’s really not a lot of gameplay involved here. Each case is about 30 minutes long, twice the length of a cartoon episode, but if you cut out all the animated pieces of the game, you’re playing for maybe an hour, if that.
Controls are solid, but there’s so little gameplay that it’s hard to give the game a high score here. There’s also a lot of loading screens that I find break up the game far too much for my tastes. For example, I don’t really need a “Cross Examination” screen to show up, every time I’m going to cross-examine, especially by the end of the game. It’s a little bit condescending.
This is one of those games where you’re watching more than you’re playing, so it’s somewhat acceptable that this has a mediocre rating here.
Control and Gameplay: 5/10
As much as I enjoyed this game, it really is a one time playthrough kind of game. This tends to be a flaw of most Adventure games. I’m glad this is a budget title though, as it means I can at least say it’s short, but worth picking up at a cost of $29.99.
Each case is very linear and straight forward. No matter how many times you play the game, it will be the same thing. Sure you can choose a different piece of dialogue here or there, or you can go back and playthrough a case in an attempt to unlock something new (ala the blooper real in case five when you get Blue Falcone to say “make party.” That’s a gift from me to you btw.), but in the end, once you’ve played the game the only replay value this has is to show it to friends of yours who are big Birdman fans.
Replayability Rating: 3/10
With most adventure games, things tend to follow a logical pattern. You use an obvious item with an obvious problem to create an obvious solution. Of course, sometimes the obviousness of what you were supposed to do shows up only in retrospect, but it is still there.
Not so much with Harvey Birdman. There are times where it is by no means apparent what you are supposed to do next. I found this mainly with case 4 and the RIAA. Sometimes the most logical choice loses you a crest, and something off the wall is the right way to go. There are some other choices where this occurs as well, but it’s to a lesser extent and are generally choices for optional dialogue/unlocked secret stuff.
One part where I was tricked up is that you could present character profiles as evidence. Nowhere in the manual was this explained, nor was it ever alluded to something you could do in the game. There was one case where I needed to present one of these and I had gone through all of my items on all of testimony pieces, only to get nothing. My god was I frustrated. Then I tried a profile as a last ditch effort and…oh holy hell, I’m an idiot. After that things were pretty smooth sailing as I played through the game. I just wish this had been a bit more obvious.
This brings me to another issue with the game, but one that is inherent with most Adventure games: Guess and check. In the end, you can get by the game, just by trying every possible combination you have in your inventory. You don’t pass the game’s level by being skilled or coordinated. You can simply pass it by breaking down and clicking on everything, instead of using your cognitive reasoning, which you are supposed to do with these games.
In all, Harvey Birdman is a fun game, but it’s a flawed one and the game is sure to frustrate people who aren’t used to Adventure games at times. Even people like myself who play far too many games from this genre can get confused trying to figure out what’s the best way to proceed.
Balance Rating: 4/10
Considering the game reuses an engine from the Phoenix Wright series (now four games deep), and an entire cast and crew of a now off-the-air cartoon, you’d probably expect me to give the game low marks here. Well, you’d be wrong.
This is a wonderful merging of two things to create something enjoyable. I’ve never enjoyed the PW games, but I really enjoyed this simply because it was a cast of characters I enjoyed previously. I also think that merging Birdman and the PW engine was very creative and innovative. There are so many horrible licensed games out there, that it’s depressing. More so when you see the characters you love from books or movies doing something that has nothing to do with the original source material. Here though? I can’t think of a better fit.
New Birdman stories, new comic bits, and Capcom willing to poke fun at itself is a wonderful thing indeed. This is a perfect example of how to make not one, but two franchises feel fresh and original again.
Originality Rating: 7/10
Harvey Birdman is a very short game. After three hours of playing, I was halfway through case #4, and that included replaying cases 1 and 2 to see if anything could be changed or if I missed anything. The key here is not how short the game is, but that I stayed glued to my screen through all of those cases. Generally it is hard for me to play a game for more than 60-90 minutes without taking a quick break. Especially a game where I’m not using my reflexes constantly like this one. I stayed put however, and that’s a testament to the quality of the game. Of course, had I not been a fan of the cartoon (Not a big enough one to own the DVD’s though), I’d have probably taken a break after each case.
I have ragged on the game for being exceedingly short, but that doesn’t mean it’s neither fun nor addictive. Each when you’re not sure what decision to take next, you’re still enjoying yourself and ready to laugh at the next off the wall insane antic of one of the cast members.
This really is one of those games where your attention level to the game is dependent completely on your knowledge and attachment to the source product.
Addictiveness Rating: 6/10
9. Appeal Factor
If you’re a fan of the cartoon series, from Phil’s insanity to Avenger randomly eating small Hanna-Barbara characters like Pixie and Dixie, you’ll not only want to get this game, you’ll need to. Especially if you want a more satisfying closure to the Birdman franchise than the last cartoon episode.
If you’ve seen the cartoon and it’s not something you enjoyed, there’s no reason to get this game. Even if you love the Phoenix Wright series.
If you’re on the fence, well there’s two ways to know if the game is worth getting. The first is by watching an episode of the TV show. The second is by going to one of the websites for the game. The first is http://www.capcom.com/harveybirdman/ and the second is http://www.myharveyobsession.com. If any of these make you laugh, then the game is probably for you. The second one is of special note simply because it’s part of the second court case and it was hilarious to see it actually on the Internet.
Birdman didn’t have the biggest audience compared to other Adult Swim cartoons, but for those who enjoyed it, this is a welcome encore.
Appeal Factor: 5/10
I had a lot of fun with this game. I loved the characters, the off the wall plots, and all the little tribute and jokes both hidden and blatant in the game. I’m finding as I get older, I want games that will make me smile more. I’m having fun with a lot of comedy titles like this or Raving Rabbids in a way I’m not sure I could have when I was twenty. Back then I was solidly into Dragon Force and other games that required a lot of micromanaging and consumed a lot of my free time. Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law is a game that made me laugh through almost the entire thing. I’m a huge fan of High Voltage as it is, and they were the best company I could think of to do the Birdman series proud.
From the websites to the furrie bashing, or from the constant Street Fighter mockeries to the getting to hear Phil go “Ha ha!” one last time, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law was a wonderful present from Williams Street, High Voltage, Capcom, and the cast of the cartoon show. Here’s hoping the game sells well on all three platforms so that we can all get a sequel.
It may be only three hours long, but there is a ton of hilarious stuff packed into this $29.99 title.
Miscellaneous Rating: 10/10
Control and Gameplay: 5
Appeal Factor: 5
Total Score: 66/100
FINAL SCORE: 6.5 (Enjoyable Game)
Short Attention Span Summary
I had a lot of fun with Harvey Birdman, but the game still has its apparent flaws. If you like the cartoon, you’ll like the game. If not, read the review and check out the source material before buying. The game was underprinted, so you may want to decide sooner rather than later.