As a big fan of classic mystery novels, I'm always astounded by the fact that video games as a whole contain so few whodunnits. More than any other literary genre, mysteries feature the same reliance on rules, logic, and formula that lends itself perfectly to a more interactive form of entertainment.
So it goes without saying that when something like Aviary Attorney comes along, I absolutely have to check it out. And if you're noticing some slight resemblances to Capcom's own lawyer sim, you're not seeing things: Sketchy Logic's own production wouldn't exist without Ace Attorney laying the groundwork first. But that's okay—especially in a reality where Capcom seems awfully reluctant to make their own take on the justice system a stateside institution.
From a macro view, Aviary Attorney lifts the overall structure of Ace Attorney: With the start of each chapter, you're presented with a client, and then tasked with gathering enough evidence and witness statements before the trial to decide their fate. Where Aviary Attorney differs, though, is the execution. Rather than having multiple court sessions breaking up investigative work, Aviary Attorney's chapters culminate in a single trial. And you're given a lot more leeway with your investigation, as well: While Ace Attorney won't let the player move on until all necessary evidence has been collected, Aviary Attorney offers a limited number of in-game days (consumed when visiting important locations) to gather what you need for the courtroom.
It's an approach that requires a little more thought from the player, seeing as you're asked to prioritize your actions based on what you currently know. Visiting a location too early, for instance, can waste an important 24 hours, so if a destination on your map doesn't seem too relevant, it likely isn't. But even if you're playing with a detective mindset, it's entirely easy to miss clues entirely. A later trial, for instance, asked me to prove a certain set of streetlights were dim during a murder, which never came up in my search for clues. And sometimes using the wrong tactics can cut off certain routes altogether: Being a little too brusque with a member of the aristocracy got me kicked out of his house, where I couldn't question him further. (Needless to say, that trial could have had a much happier ending.)
Aviary Attorney's courtroom sessions play out much like you think they would: Witnesses give their testimony, which you then poke holes in using your collected evidence. Unlike in Ace Attorney, the world of bird justice looks down on exhaustive tactics—work your way down an avenue the jury finds irrelevant, and they'll punish you for it. And the fact that you're not working towards a prescribed solution makes these trials a bit more interesting: Nearly all of mine terminated in bittersweet endings when I managed to absolve my client, but wasn't equipped to deal with the plot twist to follow. But seeing as the entirety of Aviary Attorney could fit snugly within the boundaries of a larger Ace Attorney episode, it's not too much of an investment to jump back into a chapter to correct the mistakes you made the first time around.
Aviary Attorney's form works very well, so it's surprising to see its creators lose confidence in it about halfway through. After a few good mysteries, the game shifts to a much darker tone, and seems more content to explore the idea of political revolution than sleuthing. It's not that the writing grows worse, per se, but the back half of Aviary Attorney doesn't require the player's involvement nearly as much as the first half. In fact, the last chapter—added post-release—plays out like a visual novel, with only a few scant decisions to make. I'm not sure if Sketchy Logic intended for this swerve to feel so drastic, but the run-up to Aviary Attorney's conclusion can't help but feel rushed out the door.
And it's a shame that Aviary Attorney closes its curtain so hastily, because it presents a world that's simply fun to live in. Strangely enough, Sketchy Logic cobbled their game together out of era-appropriate public domain assets, which comes off as charming and authentic rather than the effective shortcut it essentially is. While they don't animate particularly well, the intricate, delicate line work of J.J. Grandville's animal-people (combined with equally intricate backgrounds) is simply fun to stare at, while the music of Camille Saint-Saëns provides the perfect accompaniment to Aviary Attorney's setting of mid-19th century France. And even though the cast only touches upon their animal forms to make an endless string of puns and dad jokes, each character nonetheless has a distinct voice that's a joy to watch bounce off others during a heated conversation.
Even if it only takes you a solid afternoon to blaze to the end of Aviary Attorney, there's a lot to love here—and not a whole lot of time needed to jump back in and search for better solutions. The only downside to this approach, though, is that it can't quite hit the heights of Ace Attorney: There's just something a little more satisfying about finally nailing a suspect's ass to the wall after hours of deliberation, investigation, and courtroom shenanigans. Still, Aviary Attorney could have fallen back on its gimmick alone, so it's refreshing to see Sketchy Logic go beyond "lol birds" for a slight variation on Capcom's spiky-haired lawyer. In any case, I hope this isn't the last we've seen of Jayjay Falcon and his deductive, walnut-size brain.
Simple and effective, Aviary Attorney's interface doesn't complicate the model Sketchy Logic's using as inspiration.
Given that each chapter clocks in at under an hour, it's not a huge investment to return to old cases to figure out what you missed the first time around.
Camille Saint-Saëns' music provides the perfect accompaniment to mid-18th century sleuthing.
While there isn't much movement to speak of, the illustrations of J.J. Grandville are simply fun to stare at.
Aviary Attorney might look like nothing more than a silly riff on Ace Attorney, but thankfully, there's a lot more to it than that. The era-appropriate illustrations and music set the perfect atmosphere, while the short cases with multiple endings provide a great incentive to jump back in and shoot for happier resolutions. Aviary Attorney doesn't quite hit the heights of Capcom's own series, but it's still a fine way to kill an afternoon.