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Critical Reception: Capcom/High Voltage's Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, a Phoenix Wright-styled courtroom comedy title that critics say is "faithfully done, easy to play, and a showcase of pop-culture reference
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, a Phoenix Wright-styled courtroom comedy title that critics say is "faithfully done, easy to play, and a showcase of pop-culture references and parody." Though games based upon animated television shows have historically been spotty in quality, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law has attracted interest for its unusual application of the license. Rather than go the typical and oft-criticized route of attempting to shoehorn the license into an action game or platformer, developer High Voltage Studios instead chose to apply the show's courtroom setting to a Phoenix Wright-inspired gameplay formula. The result has received above-average marks from critics, with the title currently earning an aggregate score of 69 out of 100 at Metacritic.com. Greg Miller at IGN is impressed with Harvey Birdman's effectiveness at capturing the humorous spirit of the series, and awards it a score of 7.4 out of 10. "Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law might be the most entertaining TV show-to-game I've touched," Miller praises. "An overwhelming majority of the characters are voiced by their show counterparts, the trademark humor is spot on, and the irreverent antics of the Sebben and Sebben law firm translate extremely well into the videogame world." Miller explains that the gameplay setup will be immediately familiar to fans of adventure games. "Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law is basically a point-and-click adventure mixed in with five episodes of the show," he says. "You'll watch a scene that sets up the case and then start picking through rooms. You can talk to people in the law firm's cafeteria and Birdcage, examine objects on the floor and pick up pieces of evidence." In sequences similar to the Phoenix Wright series, players are then challenged to defend their client at trial. "There, witnesses give testimony and you pick it apart," Miller notes. "Press for the right information and present the right items, and you win the case." Harvey Birdman's greatest moments are often found outside of the courtroom sequences, however, according to Miller. "What makes this game a solid play isn't the lawyering parts, but rather the conversations," he claims. "As you talk to folks in new areas and grill the defendant for information, you're not just along for the ride -- you'll be able to pick from three branches of dialogue and each will give you a bit more story and a few more laughs." "I had a great time playing Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law," Miller continues. "It's funny as well as entertaining and I'm only a mild fan of the Cartoon Network show. However, the game does have some drawbacks and chief among them is that it's a breeze." Miller claims that "Harvey's take is way simpler," in comparison to Phoenix Wright's often difficult puzzles, and that the game's overall length may be too short to justify its price. "Did I have fun playing Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law?" Miller asks. "Yes, a lot of fun, but your enjoyment comes down to how much you like this show, how much you like the lawyering antics of Phoenix Wright and how much you enjoy having $30." GameSpot's Alex Navarro rates Harvey Birdman at 6.5 out of 10, noting that its gameplay can often seem thin. "The developers at High Voltage Software didn't actually make a Harvey Birdman game," he writes. "They made a Harvey Birdman DVD (and UMD) episode collection that you have to constantly click through to progress in each story." "Sure, there are gameplay elements," Navarro continues, "but they're largely inconsequential, an itch in each of the game's five episodes that you periodically notice long enough to scratch, yet often forget is even there as you find yourself lulled into just clicking away to get to the next story bit." However, Navarro assures that Harvey Birdman excels in its faithfulness to its source material. "Although the gameplay may be in absentia, the comedy is front and center," he says. "If you have any love of the Adult Swim cartoon on which the game is based, you'll find the five episodes packed into this game to be as hilarious and absurd as many of the recent episodes of the show." Navarro cautions that the game adaptation of Harvey Birdman has a different feel than the television series, however, which may be off-putting for fans. "Jokes don't fire at quite the same machine-gun pace that they do on the TV show, so you're left with more leisurely paced moments, which aren't really the strong suit of this material," he critiques. "This is probably the best middle ground the writers could have achieved without making the episodes achingly long or completely shortchanging people who drop their cash on this thing--though you might still feel shortchanged, regardless." In all, Navarro finds difficulty in recommending Harvey Birdman at its price point. "You'll actually forget you're even playing a game for long stretches, which is kind of a double-edged sword," he concludes. "It's good in that the hilarious storylines manage to hold your attention and keep you laughing all throughout. It's bad in that the game mechanics are so unobtrusive as to be borderline unnecessary. Any way you slice it, Attorney At Law probably isn't worth dropping $40 on, but it's an ideal rental for fans of the show." At GameSpy, Gerald Villoria awards Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law 3 out of 5 stars, emphasizing that its short length should be taken into consideration by potential buyers. "Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law features five cases that optimistically offer a handful of hours of gameplay," he says. "In effect, you're paying your thirty dollars for interactive versions of five episodes of the television show, and in this respect the game absolutely delivers." Series fans should be pleased by Harvey Birdman's writing and voice acting, which Villoria claims are up to the television show's standards. "The quality of the writing is up to par with the show's best, with plenty of the expected double entendres and undue amounts of over-the-top silliness," he praises. In addition: "The voices are excellently acted, and feature Gary Cole reprising his television role as the voice of Harvey Birdman, alongside Peter MacNicol, comedian Lewis Black, and others." In comparison to its competitors, though, Harvey Birdman comes up short in terms of gameplay. "If you're looking for complex cases and mental challenges, you won't be as pleased here as in some of the Phoenix Wright games," Villoria writes. "The collection of evidence and the courtroom testimony and cross-examination sequences are incredibly easy to solve." "But this is an altogether different sort of game," Villoria continues. "It's all about getting to the next punchline, the next sight gag, and the next awkward scene." "Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law is a fun way to spend a few hours if you enjoy the television show," Villoria notes in conclusion. "It's faithfully done, easy to play, and a showcase of pop-culture references and parody. You won't get many hours of game for your thirty dollars, but you will get some laughs." As is the case with many licensed games, critics agree that fans of the Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law series are bound to appreciate the game adaptation more than others. Reviewers cite its sense of humor and quality writing as highlights, but those expecting a lengthy and difficult experience in the vein of the Phoenix Wright series may come away disappointed.

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