Crispy Gamer

Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law (PSP)

There are two mistakes game developers make when doing a videogame based on a TV show. The first is to try and make it for gamers instead of just for fans of the show, and the second is to try and recreate the action of the show in videogame form instead of taking a videogame form that works and adapting the show to it.

Thankfully, the good people of High Voltage Software have avoided both sins with Capcom?s Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law game for the PSP, by making it a Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney-like game that?s just for us hardcore Harvey-heads.

Now normally, at this point in the review, there?d be a long explanation of what ?Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law? -- the ?toon -- is all about. The thing is, if you?ve never seen the ?toon, then you not only won?t care about this game or enjoy it, but you won?t understand it. While ?Birdman? was utterly hilarious and intelligent, it was also irreverent, esoteric, very post-modern and often so surreal that it would?ve confused Salvador Dali.

Oh, and while we?re on the subject, this game is also not for lawyers, judges, or ?Law & Order? fans, as it doesn?t follow any proper legal proceedings whatsoever.

For fans of the show, however, this game is hilarious. Written and animated by the same people who do the show (it?s set between Seasons Three and Four, or, for those who have the DVDs, in the middle of the first disc of ?Volume 3?), and voiced by the original cast (save for Stephen Colbert, who was busy or something), the game plays exactly like an interactive version of the ?toon -- well, a rather simplistic, Choose Your Own Adventure-style interactive version of the show, but an interactive one nonetheless.

The game features five cases that basically play out the same way. You watch some video footage, laugh for a couple minutes, then perform simple tasks like examining or presenting evidence, questioning witnesses, or choosing which question to ask, all in hopes of it leading to the next bit of hilarious footage and a solution to the case. Or not. You see, while presenting the wrong evidence comes with a penalty, and too many penalties end the game (well, until you reload your last mid-game save), sometimes picking the wrong answer to a question can lead to some funny footage, as well. In fact, while some of the multiple-choice answer parts are rather obvious, fans might want to get them wrong anyway, just to see what happens.

As a result, this otherwise brief game -- each case, save for the short first one, lasts about as long as a four-episode ?Birdman? marathon?with commercials -- actually has a fair bit of replay value, since serious fans of the show will want to go back and try each case again to see the funny footage they missed the first time around. And then they?ll want to play the whole thing over again since, like episodes of the show, some of the jokes in this game go by so fast, or are so head-shakingly weird, that you?ll have to try each case multiple times to make sure that yes, that was a lobster you saw flying across the screen. Again.

Speaking of which, fans of the show will also appreciate all the in-jokes, like references to past episodes, as well as appearances by some Hanna-Barbera characters and a Capcom favorite we won?t spoil here. And while they might wonder why the cases are centered more around the show?s usual gang of idiots, as opposed to Hanna-Barbera characters who?ve committed ironic crimes as on the show, they will enjoy the appearances by many favorite ?Birdman? guest stars, including Lewis Black (?The Daily Show?) as the Deadly Duplicator, Paget Brewster (?Criminal Minds?) as Birdgirl, and the bear (?The McLaughlin Group?) as himself. The only annoyance, in this regard, is the aforementioned absence of Stephen Colbert, but only because they replaced him as the voice of Phil Ken Sebben with a sound-alike who doesn?t sound anything like Colbert, rather than just choosing to leave the character out or making some running gag about him not being able to talk.

The PSP version of the game also has a very specific, albeit minor, failing, though it?s more with the PSP itself than the game: the system?s small screen. Sure, it?s crisp and clear and all, and sounds fine if you?ve got a good set of headphones, but if you own a PlayStation 2 or a Wii, and a TV that?s bigger than a PSP, you should probably opt for one of those versions instead, just to enjoy the bigger image.

Ultimately, to paraphrase an oath we once had to take, the Harvey Birdman game is for fans, only fans and no one but the fans of the cartoon. And even then, only the most hardcore of fans -- the kind of who watch the show whenever it?s on, even though they own the DVDs -- should actually buy it, since its lack of length means it?s only worth owning if you?re going to play it more than once. Casual fans should just rent it, while people who?ve never seen the show should not only not bother, they might want to ask themselves why they?re still reading this review instead of doing something constructive with their time?like catching up on their cartoons.

This review was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.