Tag: video games

Dropsy: A Warm Heart in a Creepy Clown

Oftentimes, the twisting of expectations is a storytelling element that can offer a punch to something familiar or a dose of irony to throw the audience off-kilter. In horror stories, for example, it is a common tactic to take something that is cute or innocent and twist it into something malevolent and creepy. Nothing shines more for this tactic than the clown. Traditionally a fun-loving figure associated with the circus, plenty of horror stories present clowns that are horrifying monsters or depraved killers. Of course, sometimes a twist can go on for so long that it is more shocking to play it straight. These days, the idea of a non-ironic clown is a far rarer find instead of the monster clown that pops up like clockwork. Perhaps the strongest punch, then, might be to capture a flavor of both versions. That is part of the charm in an indie adventure game known as Dropsy. Within the confines of its world and gameplay, it plays around with a sweet sentimental nature and bursts of the morbid, walking a tightrope that is exemplified by the game’s main character.

Dropsy is a clown who once had a carefree life at the circus, living with his father and acrobat mother. However, all of that changed with a mysterious fire. A horrifying blaze had brought tragedy to the circus, killing several people including Dropsy’s mom. Most of the town near this circus came to blame Dropsy for the fire. After all, he does not look like a normal person to them. His grin lacks several teeth, his arms are floppy limbs that lack hands, and he does not even seem to speak. For most, they just saw him as a monster. As the years go by, Dropsy and his father still live in the ruined remains of the burnt-out circus. He spends his days helping out his father and taking on tasks to assist him. As he does this, he sees the misery and sadness in the people around him. However, even as they hate and fear him, he still remains positive and loving. In fact, he even starts helping them out with their problems. Thus, even if the world may seem bleak, Dropsy will be there to bring some smiles to those who are feeling down. Who knows? Maybe as he helps others, he might just find out who really caused that circus tent fire all those years ago.

As a newer entry to the genre of adventure games, Dropsy makes for a charming new addition. The core gameplay is very familiar for those who have played point-and-click adventure games. As you go around, you can pick up items that are stored in Dropsy’s inventory. These items can then be used to solve puzzles or challenges that must be faced. However, there are some interesting elements that stray from the normal path. For instance, most adventure games tend to have a specific path that the characters goes through. Here, it is an open world, free for the player to explore as they help out others and solve their problems. Also, most adventure games thrive on text, letting the story flow with its dialogue. Instead, there is no text here. Characters speak in symbols that the player will have to decipher. Even the options menu lacks text, using symbols to get meaning across. By relying on symbols instead of text, it forces the player to better understand the other characters and figure out just how they can help you. It also helps to better feel Dropsy’s own seeming lack of understanding in the world. This brings me then to the biggest point of the game: its balancing act between creepy and heartwarming.

A sense of the morbid is present throughout the game. Dropsy’s uncanny valley design would fit in among plenty of monster clowns, and the twists and turns of the game’s plot can bring some real menace and nightmarish imagery. However, the heart of the game is not in horror. Instead, it rests in a more innocent nature. For as creepy as Dropsy may look, he is no threat. He really only cares to help others, a cheery smile on his face as he aids them however he can. Even when the moment would seem like a reasonable one for him to fight, he does not. In fact, this game offers one action that not many games feature: a hug action. It is an action that rather sums up the core spirit of this game. Dropsy goes to help the world around him, but he does not do so by fighting or combat. Rather, he simply seeks to find the things that can help to cheer someone up or brighten their day. It is a warm and kind spirit that lurks within the creepy shell here, the result being that its optimistic heart shines brighter in contrast to the darkness surrounding it.

The choice to play a trope straight or to twist it is one that can offer plenty of possibilities for telling a story, such as in taking the innocent and presenting it as menacing. In Dropsy, it instead offers a heartwarming game that balances its hopeful core against creepy imagery, allowing both parts to be stronger rather than just being dependent on one particular method.

Westerado – Double Barreled: A Fistful of Mystery

In the world of storytelling, points in history and time have frequently served as rich fodder for stories. One such point in time is that of the Old West, that period of time of western expansion in the United States. Of course, for a long time it’s moreso been the legends of the Wild West that have captured the storytelling eye. Cultivated with cheap pulp novels and Wild West shows helmed by showmen like Buffalo Bill Cody, the legends have painted a mythic version of this 1800s expansion. The fiction conjures images of duels held at high noon, gunslingers and outlaws waging war in the desert, and rough and tumble towns that were a hotbed of lawlessness. It is no wonder that the fictions painted would captivate more than the truth. Plenty of TV shows and movies have been set in this time, but surprisingly video games have not mined the realm of the Wild West as much. This is a shame, considering the setting and tropes of Wild West stories can offer interesting possibilities for the video game form. For instance, there is an independent video game called Westerado: Double Barreled which takes advantage of both the classic tropes and realistic details to create a fun little mystery.

One day, your mother wants you to help out your brother with some farm work on the homestead. Specifically, he needs your help in managing some of the buffalo. One of them manages to get loose and you are forced to get it back. When you return, however, disaster has struck: the homestead is burning to the ground, your mother and brother dead. Finding refuge with your uncle, he gives you a pistol and a clue as to the outlaw that had murdered your family. He sends you off to Clintville, a small town home to a shieriff that might offer more info. Of course, plenty of townspeople can help you out, offering clues as to the murderer’s identity and pointing you out to other places in the territory to go. Of course, be mindful of the people around you. Among the many townsfolk that you encounter and see in the game, one of them is the murderer.

The game is a fun little mystery that takes good advantage of its world. The game works through taking on the quests and missions that the townspeople can offer you. Sometimes it can involve a more benevolent job like protecting a stagecoach, while others might need you to hunt down a person. Either way, these missions help to offer you more information on the identity of the murderer. However, if you should beat the game, that does not mean that you already know the murderer the next time that you play. In fact, the identity of the murderer is randomly generated each time you start up a new game. As such, there is built-in replayability due to that variable. There are also additional characters that you can unlock, granting you different gameplay elements. For instance, normally your character uses hats as their health, losing a hat each time they are shot. One unlockable character is one who does not wear any hats, meaning the game become a one-hit instant KO challenge. Now, for me, one particularly striking bit of gameplay comes from the Western setting: namely, the use of guns.

Shoot-outs and gun battles are a classic element of Western stories, and this game certainly does not lack. However, it is interesting to see where it combines fictional components with a more realistic feel. For instance, the ammo for your guns is infinite. However, when it comes time to reload, you must reload one bullet at a time. In other words, it pays to be mindful of how quickly you work through your bullets. In addition, the player does not simply pull out their gun and start shooting. Instead, you must first pull out your gun, then cock it before you can shoot. This added bit of realism not only adds a bit more work to a gunfight, but it can also factor into whenever a dialogue scene is unfolding. For instance, a townsperson who seems to be keeping a secret might be more open when he stares down the barrel of your gun. That said, you also risk the other person shutting up on you if you read the moment incorrectly and go for your gun. Likewise, if you haphazardly pull out your gun in a crowded place, then everyone else will get their guns at the ready if need be. Thus, the classic thrill of a Western shoot-out is tempered with more realistic gunplay. Putting that choice in the player’s hand, of whether to watch the scene or attempt to go guns blazing, offers a more seasoned take on a familiar part of a Western adventure.

Though it has been thoroughly explored in plenty of genres, the Western has been a bit more neglected in video games. It is rather surprising, considering how a game like Westerado: Double Barreled demonstrates how the tropes of that genre can be enforced or tweaked when mixed with clever gameplay mechanics.

River City Ransom: Advanced Ideas, Old-School Game

For plenty of people, video games of the 1980s may seem like a simple formula. For instance, they may see gameplay as sticking to a basic form. If it is a platformer, jump and hop your way through the levels until you reach the end. If it is a Beat ‘Em Up, fight through the hordes of enemies until you defeat the final boss. They would also see the narratives as basic as well. For most, they would imagine going on an adventure to rescue a distressed damsel or stop a supervillain’s scheme. However, though some may see such games as simplistic, these early days of video games offered a chance for experimentation as game development grew and found its tropes and mechanics. For instance, The Legend of Zelda proved incredible when it was released in 1986 thanks to its use of an open world space that allowed players to explore instead of locking them on a clear linear path. Dragon Quest, which was released originally in 1986 and then in Western markets in 1989 as Dragon Warrior, was revolutionary by laying down much of the foundation of roleplaying games with elements including major and minor quests along with an experience points system. Another impactful but lesser-known title is the 1989 release River City Ransom, which took the Beat ‘Em Up genre and mixed in a dash of roleplaying games.

Alex and Ryan are a pair of high school students who decide to skip school one day. They have plans for hitting up the mall and all sorts of 1980s antics. However, their plans for a fun and school-free day are shattered when their high school is taken over by a gang of criminals. River City High now finds itself threatened by this gang, while Ryan’s girlfriend Cyndi is being held hostage the gang leader known as Slick. When word of this hits Alex and Ryan, the two friends decide to journey across town, free the school, and rescue Cyndi. However, the journey will not be an easy one. It will be one that forces them to cross paths with all sorts of gangs, such as the Jocks, the Frat Guys, and even the Generic Dudes. Though they are definitely outnumbered by so many gangs and crooks and delinquints, Alex and Ryan are ready to fight their way through them all, with kick, punches, and whatever they can get their hands on.

This particular game for the Nintendo Entertainment System is a fun little title. Its core gameplay is pretty familiar for those who have played Beat ‘Em Up games. Players work their way through the areas of the game, having to fight the various gang members along the way. They battle with kicks and punches, and can also jump to move onto higher ground if need be. Players can also make use of weapons to take on their opponents, from obvious weapons like baseball bats and brass knuckles to ordinary objects like boxes and tires. Also, enemies drop coins when they are defeated. However, that is not the extent of the gameplay. The coins can be spent at stores throughout the game, allowing you to purchase food that can help to regain health or items that help to improve the playable character. In fact, the player has stats which can be increased over time like defense and strength. The player can also learn new, more powerful moves, which will be helpful against the more challenging bosses. As for the level structure, it is not simply the case of moving through one level to the next. Instead, the player explores an open world as they work their way back to River City High. In fact, there is even room for dialogue during the adventure, such as enemies letting out one last quote as they are defeated. This is what is so striking about River City Ransom. Essentially, it is a precursor to modern action games with RPG elements.

In modern video games, a few trends have been appearing in the world of action games. One trend is that of leveling up, that RPG element of gaining experience as the player battles enemies or accomplishes missions. Another is that of the open world map, a wide expanse for the player to explore and journey through at their own pace. Both trends allow an action game player to experience the game at their own pace with their own play style. For instance, the inFAMOUS series offers a wide world to explore along with a Karma system that, depending upon how one plays, affects the sort of powers that they can unlock. The Far Cry franchise has made a turn towards offering plenty of adventures in its open world space, whether within the core missions or through side missions like freeing towns from enemies or gathering key ingredients for an item. These games take the potential from customized stats and open world to offer the player a gaming experience that not only feels more personal to them, but also offers definite replayability. Of course, developments like these have to start somewhere. Someone had to explore the idea of breaking free from the locked character types and level layouts. The seeds for these modern trends were planted before, and River City Ransom is one such title that holds up to prove their power.

Though River City Ransom was originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, modern gamers can play the game through the Virtual Console component of the Nintendo WiiU and the Nintendo 3DS.

Warcraft: The Path to War is Paved with Respect

When it comes to adapting something, there can be a myriad of issues that arise. For instance, there is the challenge of how much of the source material one may choose to preserve versus how much one may change. Another, more specific issue is that of the audience for the adaptation. Though an artist might craft a narrative that springs from their own hearts and minds, the audience is a key part to the whole experience. They will either accept an artist’s story and embrace it, or let it fall by the wayside in search of something else. In particular, an adaptation may find its challenge in terms of aiming for fans of the original or a wide audience unfamiliar with it. Adapt a work for as wide an audience as possible, and one risks losing all that makes the work special or unique. Adapt solely for the fans, and one risks making it difficult for average viewers to enjoy. Filmmaker Duncan Jones found this challenge arise when he chose to adapt Warcraft, a popular video game franchise best known these days for the massively multiplayer online role playing game World of Warcraft, to the big screen. He has chosen the latter path and, though the result is solid rather than stellar, it is an adaptation that at least respects its source material.

The world of Draenor is dying. Desperate to survive, the orcs band together into a massive horde and turn to the mage Gul’dan and a dark magic known as the fel to survive. Using a spell powered by death, he creates a portal to the world of Azeroth and sends forth a warband to gather enough sacrifices so that the whole horde can pass through. Among those in the warband is Durotan, a clan leader who fears the dangers of the fel and merely wants a world in which his people could survive. Meanwhile, the kingdom of Stormwind finds its people being attacked by the orcs. Sir Anduin Lothar, the kingdom’s military commander, is called in to investigate the attacks. He finds himself an ally in the form of Khadgar, a former mage who had abandoned his duties to become the next Guardian. Khadgar has found that the fel could pose a grave danger to Azeroth and potentially destroy it. Now, agents on both sides of the war between orcs and humans seek to bring the conflict to a peaceful end…though dark forces and misunderstandings may drive the wedge even further.

The film itself is good, though not great. There are some interesting ideas at play with the film, such as how it does not portray one side of the conflict as good or the other as evil. Rather, both sides contain heroes that seek to reach some sort of peace and villains who would prosper from the chaos and suffering. It creates a more layered and engaging narrative rather than just a simple good versus evil conflict. However, the writing is also bogged down somewhat with a lot of exposition. Whether in explaining elements of the proceedings or setting up things for future films, this focus on world building is done in a way that detracts some from opportunities to connect with the characters. Perhaps if it had a longer run time, the film could have found a good balance between exposition and character moments. The acting is also solid but does not quite capture that emotional spark, though the performances involved for the orcs achieve that a bit better than the humans. However, there is one definite plus with this film: its love and respect for its video game source material.

When it comes to which audience to craft a story for, it is clear that Duncan Jones made the choice to create a Warcraft film for the fans. Now, what I mean by this is the sheer passion that is evident in capturing the world of Warcraft and putting it on the big screen. It embraces the more stylized nature of the architecture and outfits from the games. It captures the same nature of magic, with its combination of gestures, runes, and incantations. Even the more fantastical races, from orcs to dwarves to high elves, all look like their video game counterparts. More than that, it shows in how the film respects its source material by maintaining the complex approach to the multiple characters caught in this war, instead of simplifying it into a more basic and more generic “humans are good, orcs are bad” attitude that it could have been. Plenty of movies based upon video games that have been handled in a way that tries to widen their net for everyone, but ultimately end up pleasing no one. Warcraft, on the other hand, shows a respect for its source material and tries to capture the world and feel that has helped to make the franchise so beloved in its fans’ hearts. That places the film on a higher pedestal than many other video game movies, which take the name and strip out all that makes their source material stand out.

Though the film is not a complete knock-out and could have perhaps benefited from a longer run time, Warcraft stands out as one of the better video game movies made. Its solid writing and performances coincide with a respect for the source material and willingness to embrace that which has allowed the franchise to become so popular.

Double Dragon Neon: A Totally Radical Game, Dude!

Among the many gaming genres, one that flourished in the arcades during the ’80s and early ’90s was the Beat ‘Em Up, sometimes known as the Brawler. The style of these games was simple. Up to four players (depending on the game) move their way through levels, fighting tons of enemies along the way before eventually confronting the boss of the level. The plots for these games tended to be simple, but the real focus was on the fun and the thrill of taking on the waves of enemies that players would battle through. Though there are several notable titles in the genre like Final Fight or Golden Axe, the game that really defined the genre was Double Dragon. Released in 1987 by Taito, the game had players as Billy or Jimmy Lee, working their way through the hordes of the Black Warriors Gang to rescue Billy’s kidnapped girlfriend Marian. Since its debut, it is regarded as one of the classics among 1980s video games. In more recent years, however, an indie developer known as WayForward made their own take on the classic hit. Their creation is Double Dragon Neon, which takes the classic gameplay and amps it up with a self-parody style drenched in ’80s nostalgia.

Billy Lee and Jimmy find themselves once again on the path of adventure when Billy’s girlfriend Marian is knocked out and abducted by members of the Shadow Warriors Gang. Things start off as they normally do, taking their fight to the streets as they battle the likes of low-level henchman Williams, whip-wielding dominatrix Linda, and hulking strongman Abobo. However, things take a turn for the weird when they find that the Shadow Warriors Gang’s homebase is actually a combination rocket ship/space dojo. The head of the gang turns out to be Skullmageddon, a super-lich who sounds and acts like Skeletor cranked up to 11. Realizing the extent of this threat, Billy and Jimmy choose to persevere and save Marian by any means necessary. Thus, the dynamic brothers find themselves on a journey that takes them from the depths of space to secret labs to even graveyards. Along the way, they’ll battle all sorts of threats like jetpack pilots and relentless zombies. No matter the problem, though, Billy and Jimmy are ready to take on whatever Skullmageddon can throw at them.

This game makes for a fun update of an old classic in the Beat ‘Em Up genre. The core gameplay is similar to the original. Players move through levels, using a variety of kicks and punches to fight enemies. They can also pick up a variety of weapons to use in the fighting, along with power-ups to help heal any wounds they experience. However, the game also includes a number of more modern elements as part of its update. For instance, one item that can be collected during the game are mixtapes. They can be equipped in the pause menu and can allow Billy or Jimmy access to special moves (which require special energy to use) and to alter their stats. Also, there are a variety of special abilities that can only be used when two players are playing. For example, if one player has been killed, then there will be a limited window of time for the other player to save them and prevent them from using a life, with the saving action represented by a mixtape being rewound. The game also features a high-five mechanic, in which both players can high-five each other. This can allow one to give some of their health to heal the other, along with sometimes offering a special bonus. Of course, it is not only the gameplay that makes this so fun. It is also the ’80s style which thoroughly coats the game.

All throughout the game, 1980s nostalgia and pop culture permeates. For instance, there is the game’s soundtrack. Scored by Jake Kaufman, the soundtrack pulls from ’80s pop and rock for its core rhythms. Whether it is with remixes of music from the original game, brand new music for this title, or original songs, Kaufman approaches the tunes with a synth-heavy style and electric guitar glee. Of course, the game also uses the ’80s aesthetic to poke some fun at itself and ’80s nostalgia. Billy and Jimmy are both portrayed as a pair of airheaded bros, liable to yell out “Dude!” and “Tubular!” as they beat up the members of the Shadow Warriors Gang. Skullmageddon embraces the cheesiness of a 1980s Saturday morning cartoon villain, cackling with laughter and making bone-based puns while showing off his combat prowess. Even little touches, like Billy and Jimmy surviving the vacuum of space by holding their breath or Skullmageddon pointing out the ridiculousness of a tank having a brightly-colored weak point, go in part with the game’s approach of poking fun at ’80s pop culture. However, none of its mocking is in any way mean-spirited. Instead, it feels more like a celebration of the ’80s, embracing the more ridiculous nature of the decade while also capturing the fun feeling that plenty of works from the ’80s possessed. The result is a blast to play that feels like a loving tribute to the era of pop culture that gave players the original.

When it had originally appeared in arcades, Double Dragon was a hit that set the standard for what a Beat ‘Em Up was and how fun the genre could be. Now, Double Dragon Neon is a worthy update that captures the good gameplay of the original while also serving as a fun mixture of ’80s pop culture.

Understanding the Arch-Enemy: Corrupt Reflections, Flipped Coins, and Personal Attacks

The Arch-Enemy. The central nemesis. The big foe. They are the ultimate counterpoint to the Hero. Whereas the Hero stands most frequently for the side of justice and good, the Arch-Enemy towers upon the side of villainy and wickedness. However, the simple choice of pursuing evil is not what makes an arch-enemy a fascinating villain. It extends beyond just that basic notion. Rather, what makes the arch-enemy so fascinating is the hero that they stand against. Both are frequently intertwined, their fates tied together in such a way that they are bound to each other in their opposition. Along with that is the sort of reflective nature of their conflict. Thus, our study begins with two familiar approaches frequently used for the arch-enemy, two methods I’ll refer to as the Corrupt Reflection and the Flipped Coin.

The Corrupt Reflection is a take on a villain that serves a particular purpose. Specifically, the Corrupt Reflection shows what the hero may have been like had they gone down a more selfish path and sought merely their own desires instead of going for the greater good. This is frequently presented through an arch-enemy who bares a resemblance to the hero, whether in personality or powers, but twists that resemblance . For instance, Sherlock Holmes is forever remembered as being locked in battle with Professor James Moriarty. Both characters possess an astounding intellect that allows them to pursue their goals, but while Holmes uses his intellect to solve even the most baffling of crimes, Moriarty instead uses his to puppeteer a massive criminal network and become a “Napoleon of Crime”. Another example of this can be seen in Marvel Comics, with the classic rivalry of Spider-Man and Dr. Octopus. Both men are scientists, they received their new gifts in scientific developments gone wrong, they even both take their monikers from eight-limbed creatures. Where they differ is in how Spider-Man fights crime having learned how great responsibility is a part of great power, whereas Dr. Octopus seeks to selfishly  use his new gifts to pursue scientific research and cultivate power at the expense of others. Through the similarities, the Corrupt Reflection helps to show just what makes the hero shine by presenting a counterpoint in a villainous light. Of course, the Corrupt Reflection is not the only way to present an arch-enemy. Another, more obvious approach is that of the Flipped Coin.

If the Corrupt Reflection shows a hero’s greatness in comparison to a villain through similarity, the Flipped Coin makes its presentation through differences. The Flipped Coin, like the term suggests, is the other side of the coin from the hero. If the hero represents one thing, then the Flipped Coin is its opposite. For example, consider Jonathan Joestar and Dio Brando, from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Jonathan is a benevolent man raised by a loving father and eventually learns martial arts that allow him to channel the power of the sun, while Dio is a cruel psychopath brought up by an abusive father and gains the powers of a vampire. DC Comics has its fair share of Flipped Coins, as well. Superman is a hero who possesses incredible power and strength while devoted to helping others as much as he can, while Lex Luthor is a figure of great brilliance who seeks to advance his own standing over others. Batman is a dark and brooding hero who is fixated on the notion of bringing order and not killing others, while the Joker is a colorful clown that seeks chaos and will gleefully slaughter others with abandon. Thus, two opposing forces come to be and serve to high-light each other through their differences. It is a simple, but effective, approach in portraying a hero against their arch-enemy. Now, while the Corrupt Reflection and Flipped Coin may be two different methods of presenting the arch-enemy, there is one critical component that must not be forgotten: for the hero and arch-enemy, it must be personal.

Sure, villains can be depicted as engaging in all sorts of criminal or nefarious activity. However, the personal touch is what helps to elevate the arch-enemy above the rest of a rogues gallery. Perhaps it is a shared background the hero and arch-enemy possess before a rift splits them apart, or perhaps one side strikes at the other in such a way that it becomes more than simple hatred that locks them in combat. In most adaptations of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hamato Yoshi and Oroku Saki begin as equal members of the Foot Clan before forces (whether the love of Tang Shen or the use of the Foot Clan) drive them apart and down the paths that forge them into Splinter and Shredder respectively. In the Metroid franchise, it is the space pirate Ridley’s attack of planet K-2L and the murder of Samus Aran’s parents that starts Samus down the path towards becoming a skilled bounty hunter. It is not just a villain’s actions that can make things personal, though. It can just as easily be the hero who ends up sparking the rivalry. For example, many depictions of Lex Luthor present him as being so hateful of Superman because he sees his very being as the end of human achievement, for who would possibly do what Superman can do? It is an element like that, the personal component, which elevates the arch-enemy and make them such a fascinating figure when challenging the hero, likewise elevating the hero by giving them real stakes both general and personal.

Though the hero is always the one in the spotlight, one must never forget about the importance of the arch-enemy. Whether they compare as a Corrupt Reflection or contrast as a Flipped Coin, it is the personal relationship to the hero that makes both so fascinating.

Aviary Attorney: Classic Components for a Modern Legal Adventure

(Apologies that it has been so long since my last post. Now that things look to have generally evened out a bit more in my own life, I shall resume posting and try to maintain my Monday through Friday schedule. Once again, my apologies for the delay.)

Inspiration can come from anywhere. That is something which I feel can sometimes be forgotten when people make a demand for original content. It is not easy to simply come up with an idea out of whole cloth. Sometimes, it can be a new angle in viewing something or perhaps the right mixture of concepts that sparks a grand new idea. Whatever the case may be, taking the familiar or existing and bringing a whole new view can be that avenue for original content. The subject of today’s blog is a video game, one that showcases such a mixture of components. One element is that of the work of J. J. Grandville, a 19th century French caricaturist known for his lithographs depicting figures with human bodies and animal heads. Another component is the musical catalogue of Camille Saint-Saens, a 19th century French composer perhaps best remembered for his musical suite The Carnival of the Animals. Last but not least, there is the Ace Attorney franchise from Capcom, a visual novel series where you play as a defense attorney fighting to prove the innocence of his clients. Together, these disparate elements have been mixed together for one indie video game, a strong and peculiar little entry known as Aviary Attorney.

The year is 1848. The location is Paris, France. In a world of anthropomorphic animals, two individuals trying to make their way in the world are Jayjay Falcon and his assistant Sparrowson. Jayjay Falcon works as a defense attorney though finds himself struggling to get clients, while Sparrowson tags along with rather snarky comments as the events unfold. One day, he receives a rather well paying case: Dame Caterline, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, is accused of murder. Eager for his first new client in months, Jayjay takes on the case. Taking on this case proves to be the first step in Jayjay’s path in life, as he finds himself pulled into other puzzling cases. It also pulls him into the paths of such figures as Justice Volerti, a member of the Paris police force obsessed with catching the Viridian Killer, and Severin Cocorico, a prosecution attorney who is also a rival of Jayjay Falcon. Now, Jayjay stands his ground and seeks to prove that justice can prevail, even if social unrest suggests something big and dangerous is on the horizon.

First off, the gameplay works well. For those familiar with the Ace Attorney franchise, you will be entering familiar waters. Gameplay consists of moving between locations, interrogating individuals and suspects along with investigating various locales for potential evidence. Eventually, you will move onto the trial. During these portions of the game, you will have to cross-examine the witness and find contradictions in their testimonies, along with using the right evidence to prove them wrong. The gameplay is familiar, but the changes with it add some good spice to make it stand out. For one, time moves forward as you move between locations for your investigations. It is entirely possible that you may arrive to the court date lacking a key piece of evidence specifically because your time had been used up elsewhere. Thus, it is important how you use your time in handling the investigation portion. Also, your choices do affect the narrative. It is not as if all choices simply lead down one path. Sometimes the effects may be small, but sometimes the choices can have far-ranging consequences. In fact, the game offers multiple endings depending upon the choices you have made. This helps to add a sense of urgency to the proceedings, to give your actions and time real weight to them. Of course, the game’s inspiration rests not only in how it tweaks a familiar gameplay formula.

As mentioned in the start of this post, two major influences in the game are artist J. J. Grandville and composer Camille Saint-Saens. J. J. Grandville’s artwork is not simply an inspiration for the game, it is in fact used prominently. All of the characters come from Grandville’s original artwork, enhanced by clever writing that offers strong personalities to go with the whimsical drawings. Likewise, Saint-Saens’ music is used well to add to the mood of the game, oftentimes using pieces from The Carnival of the Animals as leitmotifs for the creatures which piece is based around. However, both are influences on the game not only because of their individual works, but also because of the time they came from. Paris in the mid-19th century was a time of growth, but also of strife. Paris grew in size and the upper classes prospered, but its lower classes suffered and discontent brewed. The working classes took to the streets time and again, while the establishment would fight to silence them. In short, Paris was a powder keg. It’s a fascinating setting, one still remembered from the novels of authors like Victor Hugo and gripping from the social conflict at play that can resonate today. This is what makes Aviary Attorney an inspired game. It brings together a setting, artwork, and music of another time, mixes it with a modern style of gameplay, all towards the work of a plot whose issues of justice and social conflicts feeling relatable in our world. To take such separate elements, from humanoid animal characters to a game about the law, and bring them together in a deft and inventive idea is a real example of originality at play.

The seeds of originality can come from many places. Sometimes it might be from components you wouldn’t expect. Such is the case of Aviary Attorney, which brings together visual novel gameplay, 19th century lithographs, classical music compositions, and a gripping historical setting to tell an engaging narrative. If you want to give the game a try for yourself, Aviary Attorney is available on Steam.