With TV revivals all the rage, is it surprising to see Ace Attorney, that most TV-like of games, back on our (four-inch) screens? Every instalment is a season in an ongoing saga, built of solo episodes in a monster-of-the-week format and tied together with satisfying character arcs and knotty melodrama.
In each game's sneering prosecutor it even boasts a special guest star for viewers to discuss and rank against others (for the record, the correct order is: Edgeworth > Godot > Von Karma > Gavin).
Into this analogy waltzes Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies, a shock return for a show many presumed dead (Capcom appeared to give up on AA when Edgeworth's second game didn't make it to the west). TV teaches us to approach second chances with caution. For every brilliantly resurrected Futurama there's an Arrested Development season four stinking up the joint. Re-visited series are often victims of their previous success, crushed under the pressure of fan expectations.
Dual Destinies avoids this pitfall by being ruthless with nostalgia. It raises pulses with Phoenix Wright's grand return, only to refocus on protégés Apollo Justice and newcomer Athena Cykes. Neither character takes the goofy sidekick role traditionally played by Maya or Trucy, giving the game a rhythm all of its own - two relatively straight-laced do-gooders dealing with the mad world around them. Rather than coming across as po-faced, referential restraint allows each case to bloom.
These are great cases, too. There's a fun riff on the older games' love of the supernatural that cleverly avoids the silliness of Wright's Kurain exploits by taking a right turn into the pro wrestling scene. The third case - so often a dumping ground for Ace Attorney filler - is conceptually one of the series' best, as our heroes head back to school and deal with a trial within a trial. All five cases are well constructed mysteries, neatly pacing their twists and managing to hide revelations even from our seasoned eyes.
They falter a little in tone. From the outset much is made of the action being set during 'the dark age of the law' in which public trust in the legal system is wavering after a series of scandals. Again, the theme marks Dual Destinies out as its own beast, but it's rather a dour creature. The flamboyant cravats of old have been replaced by bombed courtrooms, emotional therapy and a killer in the prosecutor's stand. We know it's a murder trial, but couldn't everyone lighten up?
It's here that we sense a Shu Takumi-shaped hole in the game. The series' creator had a deft touch for balancing sordid acts of malice with gleeful buffoonery. His replacements may know how to stop hearts beating, but they don't know how to get ours feeling. It's noticeably less funny than previous iterations, relying more on 3D character animations to convey the big laughs than the writing itself. You certainly won't find the lyrics from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air hidden in witness testimony here.
That said, the character animations are pretty special. Returning faces survive the trip into 3D with their charm undiminished, while the more detailed animations inspire an even more hectic collection of crazies to deal with. Whether it's a hypochondriac suspect huffing on her medicinal herbs, or a highly strung student smashing pottery in a fit of emotional despair, each new oddball is packed with visual surprises. And that's without mentioning the scene stealing antics of prosecutor Blackquill's attack hawk.
The nuts and bolts remain largely unchanged. If anything, Capcom has stripped back the gimmickry. Instead of fingerprint-dusting and video analysis we get to fully explore crime scenes, shown in 3D dioramas not unlike Layton's 3DS world. These investigation portions - for our money, always the weaker half of the game - are mercifully streamlined, using visual cues to show when you've exhausted a location's clues and introducing a notebook to tell you exactly where to head next.
It's more linear, but why not? Ace Attorney's strengths lie in its characters and story and anything else is obfuscation that should be struck from the court record. It's arguable that Shu Takumi conjured dramatic drive through strength of writing alone; the new handlers take Wright's world in a new direction, but it's a suitably thrilling shift. As the story builds to its barmy crescendo, swapping the traditionally lengthy final case for a dense courtroom rush full of shocking reveals and pleasing cameos, you won't be thinking of the Wright of old, but of his exciting new direction. Capcom: it's time to commission season six.