What do you get when you mix one part Matlock, one part Les Misérables and one part Animal Farm? The amusing and charming computer game Aviary Attorney, it turns out. Set on the eve of the 1848 February Revolution in a Paris populated exclusively by talking animals, Aviary Attorney is indisputably what developer Strange Logic bills it to be: “the hottest bird lawyering game to come out of 1840s France.”
Aviary Attorney is the happy result of a successful £18,917 Kickstarter campaign, backed by video game fans eager to fund a Phoenix Wright/Ace Attorney-style game, only with birds for lawyers. For non-gamers, it can best be described as a lighthearted take on the Perry Mason formula, only Perry is a hard-drinking raptor, the prosecutor is an arrogant rooster, and the King of France is a penguin with a funny hat.
Besides the anthropomorphic animal characters, the major selling point is the game’s unique throwback visual style. Most of the art that appears in the game is the work of 19th century French illustrator and political caricaturist J.J. Grandville. Grandville is perhaps best known to modern audiences as the cover artist for Queen's 1991 album Innuendo, but here his vibrant and evocative characters are repurposed to great effect in the 21st-century medium—it’s a testament to Grandville's skill that his characters are still so relatable.
The game opens with a feline socialite standing over the corpse of an amphibious business associate, her paws covered in blood. When she is arrested for murder, to whom does her desperate father turn? Why, he calls on the services of Jayjay Falcon, the best lawyer in all of Paris and also a bird of prey, of course.
Though there are several clever twists and turns, the several episodes of gameplay generally follow a straightforward pattern. The player controls Jayjay Falcon and his bumbling assistant, the hapless Sparrowson, as they attempt to help their clients in legal trouble: The duo travels around a lavishly illustrated Paris, hunting and pecking for evidence, interviewing witnesses, and occasionally running personal errands which inevitably provide a serendipitous advantage to their investigation. Each investigation period culminates in a trial, during which Falcon spars with the cocky prosecutor and calls, examines, and cross-examines witnesses based on evidence accumulated during the investigation phase, until finally a verdict is rendered. (You do not need legal training to play—the courtroom scenes resemble actual courtroom procedure about as much as Space Invaders reflects a NASA shuttle mission.)
The writing is light but not shallow. While the dialogue is broadly comedic and animal puns abound, the overarching plot concerns revolution, conspiracy, and assassination. Falcon is a defense attorney and while the violence is never graphic, most of his cases consist of investigating murders most fowl (and frog, and dog, and crocodile). One thing neither the game developers nor Grandville seem interested in is any kind of ornithological fidelity. Falcons and roosters are built on the same scale as lions and wolves, sparrows and geese take their steak rare and kingfishers—well actually the kingfisher character does catch and eat fish, but he gets angry when he is described as a fisherman because that is racial profiling. He prefers to be called an angler.
The game is short, and experienced gamers should have no trouble finishing it within three or four hours. There are multiple endings to explore so Aviary Attorney has replay value despite its brevity, and Strange Logic has already added a new episode since the game's release
The game is unusual in both concept and implementation, but has charm and style in spades. If you are looking for a few hours of light entertainment with quirky characters, interesting visuals, and an engaging story, it is available on Steam for Windows systems for $14.99.