Review: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney

The fourth Ace Attorney game is now on 3DS, but did it survive the transition?

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 12/20/2017 20:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Excellent localization that boasts witty writing and an engaging narrative; delightful presentation; tight controls whether via touch and mic or buttons; manual text scrolling from the start
Poison Mushroom for...
Apollo is great but Phoenix is the best; some solutions are a little obtuse; linearity won't be everyone's cup of tea

Stop me if this sounds familiar. You’re a fledgling attorney, wet behind the ears and learning his way around the courtroom. With your plucky assistant, you explore crime scenes for evidence and interview suspects and witnesses for clues. Then, take everything you’ve learned and fight to defend your client.

If that all calls to mind Ace Attorney, you’re right, but in this case, we’re talking Apollo Justice, not Phoenix Wright. While Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney isn’t all that different from the three Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney games that preceded it, there are a handful of differences that make this game stand out from what came before. While Apollo isn’t quite as compelling a lead as Phoenix, this is a solid entry in the series that fans of visual novels and the Ace Attorney series won’t want to miss.

Apollo Justice starts off with Phoenix Wright as the nominal, fledgling defense attorney’s first client. Disgraced, working as a musician in a dive and playing cards for a living, Phoenix is a far cry from the star attorney that he was the last time players saw him. The setup is fun, casting Phoenix in a different light and allowing players to see him from an entirely different perspective than they have before. The game really succeeds at creating a sense of legacy, particularly with the clever way that Phoenix and sidekick character Trucy are incorporated. Although Capcom largely moved away from the new status quo it created here, it was a bold departure that’s still appreciated now.


For the uninitiated, the Ace Attorney games are essentially a mix of a visual novel and point-and-click adventure games. Segments of gameplay regularly feature great swaths of text to read: multiple characters weave in and out of each case (or “Turnabouts” as they’re called) offering insights, clues, evidence, and more to help Apollo defend his client. When not speaking with people, the game transitions to an investigative mode. Here, players use the stylus to tap on the environment and uncover various pieces of evidence and clues. It’s an immensely soothing balance of mechanics that keeps the proceedings fresh and engaging throughout.

It’s easy to forget, but when Apollo Justice originally bowed on DS, it was the first sequel in the series actually designed for Nintendo’s dual-screened handheld. The trio of Phoenix Wright games were all actually Game Boy Advance titles ported to DS with a simple touch interface bolted on. Thus, Apollo Justice makes use of the touch screen in more immersive ways than simply tapping on an item. There’s also some fun use of the microphone here beyond simply shouting “objection!”, like blowing into the 3DS mic to clear the dust off a fingerprint. Thankfully, these features are also doable with a button prompt but, either way, the sense of immersion in Apollo Justice is a step above what came before.

While the world of the game feels very fleshed out, there’s no ignoring that, at the end of the day, Apollo Justice doesn’t really give players much of a chance to fail. For all the different conversations and bits of unearthed evidence, it’s impossible to go into trial without everything needed to win a case. In that sense, some might be irked by how linear Apollo Justice plays, but I don’t consider that to be much of a transgression. Not every game needs to offer a thousand different possible endings or options to be enjoyable. Besides, while players will ultimately find every clue and testimonial they need to prevail at the end of the day, that doesn’t mean there’s no challenge to be had. Apollo Justice expects players to think their way through, something that not all games are good at.

This is no truer than in the courtroom, where trials can become tangled webs of lies, misdirects, and psychological warfare. As witnesses take the stand, Apollo must sift through their testimonies and figure out which statements should be pressed for more information and finding the right time to present evidence. It’s all good fun, particularly because of how excellent Apollo Justice‘s localization is. The dialogue is sharp and witty, making it a joy to scroll through all the text. It helps that this 3DS iteration of the game allows for fast-scrolling through all the dialogue, meaning it’s not as much of a slog as it could be on DS. My reading speed is quick, so I appreciated being able to make the game keep pace with me.


Where the game stumbles is in how unreasonably difficult it can be at times to know when to pull out a particular piece of evidence during trial. There are moments where I’d know who did what and why, but the pieces of testimony don’t make it apparent when I should be using evidence to advance the story. What’s worse is that sometimes multiple pieces of evidence can occasionally, logically fit in the same spot as another, making it even harder to know when to pull the trigger. There’s no real penalty for guessing, of course, but it can kill momentum when you’ve been chugging along and suddenly it’s almost impossible to suss out what to do next. Thankfully, this isn’t a persistent problem, but it arises enough to be worthy of a mention.

For a game that’s virtually nothing but text and tapping, Apollo Justice is far more transfixing than it has any right to be. Again, a huge chunk of this is thanks to the localization: the dialogue is funny and every character feels fleshed out. Some are over the top and outrageous, like a creepy panty thief seen early in the game, but even then, they work within the context of the Ace Attorney games. These are larger than life characters who make what would otherwise be mundane engagements a thousand times more compelling. Further bolstering proceedings are the uncanny, hand drawn visuals. This version of Apollo Justice utilizes the crisper, cleaner graphics of the iOS port, making it a step above the DS original (depending on your pixel preferences, naturally). Every scene, every character, every locale is a feast of manga-style imagery and animation.

At this point, almost the entirety of the epic Phoenix Wright series is on 3DS. While Apollo Justice didn’t go on to become the star of the franchise, his first game remains a breath of fresh air that took the established Ace Attorney formula and made it better than ever. Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney remains as fun today as it was on Nintendo DS, improved with manual text scrolling right out of the gates and improved visuals. The storyline will grip you from beginning to end, with a satisfying payoff that really helps bring things to a proper climax. 3DS might be long in the tooth, but the quality of software that continues to hit the platform is keeping the platform feeling fresh.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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