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PSP Fanboy review: Harvey Birdman

Last year, one portable game was able to capture the hearts of gamers everywhere. That game was Phoenix Wright. Who could resist the story of a lovable, sometimes hapless, lawyer that must endure hilarious over-the-top cases? The formula was a success, and gamers (casual and hardcore alike) became Phoenix Wright fans.

Capcom's trying to recreate that success once again in a new lawyer game, specifically designed for a western audience. The Adult Swim program Harvey Birdman was a perfect choice -- it too features a penchant for the nonsensical. Although the humor found in the series may be a bit more zany, edgy and dark, it's just as easy to fall in love with Harvey Birdman as Phoenix Wright. His affable nature in the face of such ridiculous trials makes this new game just as endearing as its DS counterpart.

Thanks to the incredible storage space offered by the PSP, the AV experience of Harvey Birdman is far enhanced from Phoenix Wright. Amazingly, everything is animated and voiced in the game. You can't help but feel like you're playing an interactive episode of the show. The writing and voice work is absolutely incredible -- you will find yourself laughing out loud quite a bit throughout the adventure. In fact, lines that would otherwise be mundane when simply read come to life due to such animated voice work. Even without previous knowledge of the show, you will find yourself enjoying all of the characters. The incredible production values must be commended, as they truly make the experience so much more engrossing.

The core gameplay is ripped directly from Phoenix Wright. You start off investigating crime scenes, looking for evidence while speaking with assorted characters. Eventually, you'll get to a trial when you've collected everything you need. During a trial, you'll have to question witnesses and break their testimonies by finding contradictions. You can press them for more information, or present evidence that contradicts what they're saying. Make a mistake, though, and you'll lose a life (represented by Birdman's crest). Lose all lives, and you'll get a dreaded Game Over.

Unfortunately, that's all the gameplay you'll find in Harvey Birdman. Compared to Phoenix Wright, the game is quite shallow. For example, you will never closely analyze evidence, looking for clues from multiple angles. The Psyche Lock aspect found in Justice for All is missing, as are the clever security camera segments from Ace Attorney. Within the context of the game, it doesn't feel like anything is lacking, but those that have played a Phoenix Wright game will find these omissions a bit unsatisfying.

The evidence collection and interrogations are also much simpler in this game. Perhaps it's because of the game's more casual audience? You will rarely get a Game Over, as the game does its best to make its answers very clear. The gameplay is very straightforward at times, making Harvey Birdman a collection of "interactive episodes," rather than a fully fledged game. That isn't a bad thing, per se. However, those expecting much more substance will be disappointed.

Perhaps the game's greatest flaw is how short it is. There are only five chapters, each taking less than an hour to complete. When the story is completed, there isn't much incentive to go and repeat the experience, unless you're trying to unlock some bonus videos (one per level). There might not be enough content to warrant the $30 price tag ($40 on Wii).

In spite of its simplistic gameplay and short length, we can't help but love Harvey Birdman. The game is outrageously funny, and the plentiful Street Fighter cameos and references were a surprising, much appreciated touch. Adventures like these aren't defined by their gameplay, but rather their characters and presentation. Undeniably, Harvey Birdman delivers both in spades. It's not a bad thing for a game to have us wanting more -- we certainly want a sequel as soon as possible. If you're looking for a hilarious, well produced adventure on the PSP, we recommend Harvey Birdman. Just, don't expect to play it for too long.

PSP Fanboy score: 6.5

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