Games for Lunch: Harvey Birdman
Developer: High Voltage Software
Release Date: Jan. 8, 2008
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web site
0:00 I'm a casual fan of both the "Harvey Birdman" cartoon series and the Phoenix Wright games on which this game is ostensibly based, so I should be right in the target audience for this one, right? Right?
0:01 The menu screen is set up like a disorganized desk of papers. I love the remixed theme song from the show.
0:02 A twig snaps. "You damn twig-snappers, people are trying to sleep," cries a random voice. Then someone sets fire to an apartment building. Peter Potamus (the classic Hanna-Barbera character) happened to be driving by. Did he set the fire? Nice to see they kept the manic pace and somewhat confusing openings from the show.
0:03 Cut to Harvey's office. A cut scene is interrupted when I'm asked to help Harvey solve a crossword puzzle: What seven letter word starts with "A" and means "long and hard?" Choices are "ayoqowb," "arduous" and "arousal." I hope both the gameplay and the humor get better than this.
0:04 Peter Potamus runs into the office just as he's being arrested for the arson. Turns out the house was Harvey's, but Peter says he didn't do it, (though he says he did throw a mailbox into the fire so he could continue cooking s'mores, heh). The story is delivered incredibly rapid-fire -- those not used to Adult Swim's manic pacing might be confused.
0:06 Harvey takes Peter's case (because of some lightly-established friendship between them) and before you know it they're in court with silver-tongued and silver-winged prosecutor Vulturo as the opposing counsel. In rapid succession, there's some flirting, some evidence being barfed up by the judge, and a bailiff zipping up his fly. Feels just like the show.
0:07 I can examine the barfed-up evidence on a menu screen. It includes the Squalking Heads' album "Burning Down Your House." Heh.
0:09 On the stand, Peter says he has laryngitis so he can't talk. He SAYS this. Harvey (i.e., me) is asked if it's true. Um, how am I supposed to answer that? I'll stay in character and lie. "He probably couldn't even say one more word." Peter: "That's right sir! Case dismissed." My first belly laugh -- a good sign. I guess I picked right.
0:10 So far, the entirety of the gameplay has been picking from multiple choice questions. I wasn't looking for a Scantron test mixed in with my crazy cartoon caperings.
0:11 Harvey argues that Peter couldn't strike a match to start a fire because he doesn't have fingers. It's a surprisingly good point.
0:12 Harvey's "wife" Gigi goes on the stand and says she saw Peter with matches in his hand. She also implies she's sleeping with the butcher. They miss an obvious "Hide the salami" joke here.
0:15 No more multiple choice -- now we're getting closer to the standard Phoenix Wright model of reading witness testimony and challenging it with evidence. So far it's incredibly simple to pick out the inconsistencies, but it's still early.
0:16 Birdgirl barges in with new evidence -- a lighter with P.P. written on it -- but Gigi changes her testimony to say Peter was actually was using a lighter, not matches, to start the fire. Don't courts usually frown on changing testimony in the middle of trial? Or juries do, at least. Then again, I suppose asking for legal accuracy from a game with a bird/man hybrid for a lawyer is a bit much.
0:21 I can't possibly detail all the crazy stuff that's going on in the cut scene-heavy back-and-forth, but I will mention that a 911 recording from Gigi seems to have come well after the fire was actually set.
0:23 Peter just now remembered that he sent Harvey a prenup with Gigi... which he just happened to forget about until now? Didn't he think that might be IMPORTANT?
0:26 After some baffling "twists," in the end, the case comes down to the "P.P." on the lighter actually being a "G.G." if you turn it upside-down, angle it and squint. I'm serious here. The judge ends up picking "eeny meeny miney Birdman" as the winner. The randomness fits well with the show, but not necessarily with the drama of a courtroom game. I feel like I'm being dragged along through an interesting episode, interrupted by somewhat meaningless "interactive" sections.
0:31 After a somewhat clever epilogue, it's on to Case #2, which is introduced with a quintessential piece of Birdman writing for an automated greeting: "Welcome to Sebben and Sebben After Hours. The building's completely deserted, so if you're here to deliver a package and/or rob us there's no one to sign for it-slash-stop you. Have a good night!" If you found this line kind of funny, you will find the game kind of funny. Likewise for the opposite.
0:32 Harvey's desk is gone. Because we were robbed. They WEREN'T here to deliver a package. But Peanut's computer is still there. Hmmm. Anyway, the interactivity has ramped up slightly with a pointer-based hunt for clues around the office. Finally.
0:34 I find a bag with some boxers in it in front of the building. My choices at this point are to "Listen to the bag," "Taste the bag" and "Smell the Boxers." What other game would give you such choices? I ask you!
0:39 "Inch-high Private Eye" is tied up in a corner of the office for no apparent reason. If you know who that is, there's a very good chance you will like this game.
0:41 I stumble upon Secret Squirrel! I loved his cartoons as a kid! He's being arrested for robbing Harvey's office. "No! Wait! I don't do well in tight spaces with lonely men," he says as he's taken off. So long cherished childhood memories.
0:45 "X the Eliminator" lost his death ray -- the huge, desk-sized death ray sitting in front of my window. This is a running gag on the show, but even if you haven't seen it's kind of funny.
0:48 Magilla Gorilla is also connected with the crime through a discarded coffee cup. Also: Secret Squirrel is a convicted flasher. More as it develops.
0:50 Secret Squirrel's boxers have acorns on them. More as it develops.
0:51 Through an odd turn of events, Birdman is going to try both Magilla and Secret for the same crime. I have to keep telling myself to stop expecting legal accuracy here. This isn't "Law & Order," after all.
0:53 Due to some wacky, well-written shenanigans, I'm now defending both Secret and Magilla against the charge that they robbed my office. Whatever.
0:56 My first stumper. I have to pick out the evidence that clears Secret Squirrel, but everything I have seems to implicate him or be relatively useless. I only get five wrong answers before ... I lose the case? I don't know what happens when I run out of chances, actually. Maybe we'll find out.
0:57 Nope. I finally pick right and in the process send Secret Squirrel into a prophylactic peanut shock. My childhood memories continue to be defaced, but it ends up getting him off the charges. Next up is my defense of Magilla.
1:01 Correction: Up next is an examination of Birdman-obsessed X the Eliminator's creepy apartment. I'm at a loss for what to do next and my time is up, anyway. Good timing!
Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? My proclivity for the humor and the classic Hanna-Barbera characters is enough to get me through the somewhat tedious "gameplay." Your mileage may vary.
This column was based on a copy of the game rented from GameFly.
Want to know more about Games for Lunch? Check out the FAQ here.
Go to Kyle Orland's blog for even more Games for Lunch.