1337 Game Design recently offered ZTGD access to the most recent build of their soon-to-release Devil’s Attorney (henceforth DA). Sporting cartoonishly sleazy stylings reminiscent of an updated, less sexual Leisure Suit Larry, DA offers simple math-based courtroom combat supplemented by meaningful progression. Between the lighthearted, accessible gameplay and in-game bonuses purchased with courtroom winnings, it’s a perfect recipe for driving in-app purchases to unlock ever-more-powerful abilities. It does 1337 a great deal of credit that they have thus far resisted that temptation–all in-game dollars are earned by playing, and the story wraps up nicely, leaving no indication that this was merely a tease for later paid content.
The basic structure of DA is a series of court cases in which you play an unscrupulous defense attorney, with each case offering a cash payout and a bonus for completing the case within a certain timeframe (usually 2-4 rounds). In each round, you expend a fixed stock of action points to activate abilities which harm the credibility of the evidence and witnesses for the prosecution or have more exotic effects, and whatever you haven’t eliminated then damages your case. Tactical options start off fairly limited, with most abilities either doing damage along some range (say, 1-5) or reducing damage taken for a turn.
It’s a pretty simple exercise in basic arithmetic with some elements of risk management, which would have a short life if not for the moderately wide variety of unlockable, more interesting abilities and increasing variety in the abilities of the enemies. As you gain a lot of abilities, the large-type interface requires rather more scrolling than seems quite ideal, but aiming at simplicity and accessibility over efficiency has been popular with interfaces since the mouse was introduced. Tactical considerations are never extremely deep or involving, but are just complicated enough to keep you engaged. With court cases being relatively brief and turn-based, this positions DA very well as a game to play in short bursts when waiting for other things.
That’s slightly unfortunate, because the humor in the game, though uneven, is satisfactorily delivered in the fully-voiced introductions to each case. I suspect these will be largely muted or skipped by those playing on the go or in the bathroom (I suppose that counts as “on the go” in a sense, apologies for the redundancy), which will reduce the game’s distinctiveness and charm. Certainly there are some of these exchanges which just fell flat for me, but continuity sometimes adds substantially to their value, which means that those who hear them only intermittently are likely to find them less funny than they would if they heard most or all.
Upgrades to one’s courtroom abilities are acquired by using one’s pay to conspicuously consume (usually increasing one’s Materialism, Decadence or Vanity stat) or through an occasional gift from a grateful client. This reinforces a theme which, I confess, I over-thought by a few degrees. Essentially, the game asserts that arguing before a court has nothing to do with facts and is not a process which tends toward the truth, merely with being skillful and projecting a successful image. Truth and morality are quite deliberately ignored (including in the ending I saw, which was cynically brilliant). It’s all so over-the-top that no one could genuinely take it seriously at face value, which seems like it ought to make it just a harmless amusement. I was never quite able to shake a modicum of unease about all this, though–it was a slightly too affectionate treatment, rather like the sort of joke you’d tell to a group of despicably immoral lawyers when you want them to know you’re laughing with them, rather than at them.
Preferences are not quite transitive, but there was a point at which I stopped playing the excellent Borderlands 2 because I preferred to go to sleep, but discovered that I preferred playing Devil’s Attorney to sleeping. It’s a stylish, accessible, moderately funny game. The App Store is well-stocked with games which play a similar role, so I wouldn’t blame those who feel there are other options they prefer, but it’s a useful role to fill. Many of us just want something quick and not too distracting to play in line or while watching light TV, and this is a good way to inject a little more fun into those experiences.