Everyone's started on their New Year's Resolutions. Go to the gym (Expected Time of Death: February 1, 2016), be more organized (ETD: March 31, right at the tax time crunch), eat more veggies (ETD: as soon as you pass by the first Krispy Kreme donut shop). I, too, am starting on my resolutions, and right at the top of my list: Review more games with birds doing people things.
Anthropomorphic bird game aficionados already know that one of the hot spots for games featuring silly bird-man type things are legal games (I mean, doesn't everyone already know that?), most notably the Cartoon Network Adult Swim creation Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law. Even the top title in the vast genre, Phoenix Wright, is named after a bird, regardless of particular things such as “actually existing.” Sketchy Logic's new indie entry into the world of bird games with human goals, Aviary Attorney, launched on Steam shortly before Christmas and follows the exploits of a bird lawyering as if it were a real human! I mean, how quaint, am I right?
Smarmy introduction aside, Aviary Attorney was briefly in the realm of crowd-funded vaporware, wrapping up a successful Kickstarter campaign in January 2015, with updates coming out on a meager basis until surprising people with the December launch. Billed as “potentially the hottest bird lawyering game to come out of 1840's France,” the game puts players in control of Monsieur Jayjay Falcon, the finest bird lawyer this side of the top of the yellow pages. Together with his wisecracking assistant with a penchant for pickpocketing, Sparrowson, the two birds work to defend some of 1848 France's most reputable people, including the wealthy feline Dame Caterline, Juan Querido, the supposed fox prince of Spain, and others, eventually finding themselves wrapped up in the makings of a proletariat rebellion and fighting for their own lives. Talk about ruffling feathers.
Those familiar with the Phoenix Wright series will find the gameplay of Aviary Attorney to be practically a carbon copy. This is not wholly a bad thing; the gameplay in both series is easy to understand. Falcon and Sparrowson have a set amount of time to investigate a number of locations (usually) relevant to the case, talk to a strange cast of zoological members of French society, and prepare a case to serve justice by defending the innocent. During courtroom proceedings, Falcon will have the opportunity to cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses, finding flaws and misinformation in their testimony, and sway the jury in the defense's favor. There's even a Detective Dick Gumshoe counterpart in the form of the head of Parisian police, Inspector Juste Volarti, who proves to be nothing more than a big cock (though many prefer the term “rooster”).
Decidedly different, however, is the art stylings and the music of the game, which themselves are works of art. Based on the illustrations of J. J. Grandville, whose works include The Public and Private Life of Animals, the artwork hearkens back to antique drawings and etchings, and minimal animation brings the story to life not like a graphic novel but more like classic literary illustrations. The original caricatures that brought Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the Queen of Hearts to life in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland would find a home among Aviary Attorney's birds, cats, giraffes, and other wildlife. The music evokes feelings of classic live theater, using the works of Camille Saint-Saëns, tame or muted when appropriate but stinging and thrilling when the pressure's on.
Those who play these type of legal investigation games live for two key parts of the experience: a notable cast of characters, and challenging puzzles. Though the puzzles aren't brainbusters, the way the evidence lines up is not always immediately clear, causing several stumped moments pouring over evidence and wondering if a player visited all the right spots or spoke with all the right people. Without spoiling anything, in one case an innocuous fetch-quest led to a key piece of equipment which became integral in a certain trial. I berated myself for wasting time on the errands until that moment when the prize became, if you'll excuse the appropriate expression, the cock of the walk.
The part that I clung to, and the reason I feel my crowdfunded dollars were put to good use, is the incredibly clever writing throughout the game. The writing could have seriously used a second or third editing pass, as there were misspellings littered throughout—and for God's sake, if your text ends on a quote, the punctuation goes inside the quote—but throughout, the dialogue was witty but smart, from the clever tongue-in-cheek references to tweets and fetchquests to the laugh-out-loud banter between a hungover Falcon and Sparrowson, the champion of tact (and lack thereof). This ain't Jackass or Punk'd humor; Aviary Attorney's comedy is for the Frasier crowd, requiring a brain and a few classic references side-by-side with its modern laughs.
Be reminded, though, that Aviary Attorney is set in 1848 France, a period and location notable for its involvement in the philosophy of nihilism and absurdist literature, made most famous in the early 20th century by French author Albert Camus. I'll avoid spoilers here, but in my playthrough, the endings of trials were unapologetically dark, often involving the condemnation of the innocent despite Falcon getting his client off the hook, and leading to heavy binge-drinking and Falcon winding up face down on the floor of local tavern Le Canard Joyeaux. Those looking for a happy ending had better play perfectly.
Aviary Attorney may not make any new fans in the legal investigation genre, but those who already like that sort of game should be well pleased with Sketchy Logic's debut. The characters are memorable, and I'm already waiting for a new set of adventures and to see if Sparrowson ever gets a sandwich named after him. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to binge-watch the latest season of America's Next Top Owl.
Code provided by Kickstarter campaign. Available exclusively on Steam.