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Ace AttorneyFeatureSaturday, 9th March 2019 by

In pictures: Phoenix Wright’s journey from 110p (no, really) to glorious Full HD

From less than 20,000 pixels… to more than two million

With yet another Ace Attorney port looming on the horizon, what better time than now to look back at the esteemed lawyer-‘em-up’s storied history of ports. It’s a real mixed bag: some are good, some are bad. Some are impossibly high-resolution — others are barely more than a misshapen splotch of pixels.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s the best I could do with the devices I had to hand — and the emulators I could get working on Matthew’s PC. For the purposes of this post, I’m using “game area” to refer to the part of the screen where all the action happens — in other words, the area taken up by the background artwork.

2001 – Game Boy Advance – 160p

Game area: 240 × 160 (38,400 pixels)
File size: About 8 MB

Screenshots from the GBA version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

The GBA was where it all began for Ace Attorney — although we were still four years away from the first English-language release. I fired up the game in an emulator and was surprised at how familiar it felt, with the DS version’s trademark smoothness and polish already in full force.

The GBA chip-tune versions of the familiar Ace Attorney soundtrack make it feel super old, though.

2005 – Nintendo DS – 192p

Game area: 256 × 192 (49,152 pixels)
File size: About 64 MB

Screenshots from the DS version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

For most of us, the Nintendo DS releases of the Phoenix Wright Trilogy will always be the definitive ones: they introduced reworked music tracks, tweaked visuals, touch controls, and the fantastic Rise from the Ashes bonus case.

Looking at the Game Boy Advance screenshots above, you can see how much extra detail was added to the backgrounds for this release — although the character sprites stayed exactly the same.

2007 – Java-enabled mobile phones – 110p

Game area: 176 × 110 (19,360 pixels)
File size: About 200 KB (only includes the first case)

Screenshots from the mobile Java game, Phoenix Wright: Case I

What an anomaly of a release this one is.

By the time Phoenix Wright: Case I came out on mobiles in late 2007, the iPhone was already a thing — although admittedly the App Store was still a few months away.

This is the series’ lowest-resolution release ever, and the character animations were stripped back to their bare essentials. Not much in the way of movement on offer, here. This is actually a surprisingly well-rounded port, though, with a polyphonic-ringtone-esque version of the soundtrack and even some extra lines of dialogue that are missing in the other versions.

The game ends after the first case but was eventually followed by the incongruously-named Phoenix Wright: Part 2 in 2009. Imagine that two-year wait!

By the way: I’m pretty sure I found an even lower-res version than this, if you can imagine such a thing, but sadly I couldn’t get it to open in the emulator I was using.

2012 – iPhone and iPad – Up to 1280p

iPhone XS game area: 1120 × 910 (1,019,200 pixels)
iPad 6th Generation game area: 1920 × 1280 (2,457,600 pixels)
File size: About 400 MB

Screenshots from the iPhone version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy HD
A screenshot from the iPad version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy HD
A screenshot from the iPad version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy HD

This one is pretty much the black sheep of the Ace Attorney family and will stand as a lasting example of how not to make an HD remake of a classic game.

The port uses ugly, blown-up, jagged character sprites, and tons of the animations are missing or broken; many characters only have two-frame animations for blinking and mouth movements, instead of the usual three-frame ones, and some characters don’t blink at all. Mia Fey’s knowing smile is even more unsettling than usual when she refuses to break eye contact.

The UI is an abomination, the text is pixelated, the cutscenes are laggy, there are constant loading screens, and the music reverts back to the Game Boy Advance chiptunes after the first game. Heck, there’s even Engrish to contend with.

All in all, the iOS version is an utter disaster; despite the iPad version being the highest-resolution one I tested, I’d honestly rather play the teeny-weeny Java port. At least that was charming.

2014 – Nintendo 3DS – 240p

Game area: 400 × 240 (96,000 pixels)
File size: About 370 MB

Screenshots from the 3DS version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy

This was the first outing for the Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy as we know it today: amazing title-screen music and all. The trailer touted “high-definition graphics”, which seems laughable now, but with vastly improved artwork and animations compared to the iOS version, this was an excellent port nonetheless. (There were still some missing animation frames, though.)

The game also included a stereoscopic 3D effect, which gave everything a nice feeling of depth.

2019 – Nintendo Switch – 1080p

Game area: 1920 × 1080 (2,073,600 pixels)
File size: About 2 GB

A screenshot from the Switch version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy
A screenshot from the Switch version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Trilogy

And that brings us to today. The new Ace Attorney Trilogy is out on 9th April on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC, but the Switch version is what I’ve got hold of, so the Switch version is what you’re getting here.

The game finally runs in 1080p Full HD, and honestly looks gorgeous on the TV thanks to painstakingly redrawn character art, backgrounds, and evidence. The user interface and typography have been significantly modernised, to the point where you can almost forget you’re playing an 18-year-old game… although the art style itself is certainly showing its age. I’m happy to say, all those missing frames of animation from the iOS and 3DS releases have returned, so that trademark smoothness that’s been missing since the DS version is back, and better than ever this time around.

Sadly, the Nintendo Switch limits its screen captures to 720p (and then compresses them to buggery), but this should at least give you an idea.

So, what about the gameplay — and, considering Capcom’s track record with some of the Ace Attorney ports — have we finally got the definitive, HD, remastered Phoenix Wright Trilogy we’ve been clamouring for?

Only time will tell.

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