Although the new consoles are grabbing the spotlight, don't neglect the offerings on handheld systems. With more than a year each under their belts, the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita are seeing some of their best games as developers figure out how to best use the systems.
On the Nintendo side, Capcom mines fan nostalgia with the return of a beloved hero. In "Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney -- Dual Destinies," the title character makes his debut on the Nintendo 3DS. The game boasts new polygonal visuals and a save system that's thankfully easier to use.
The five new cases will be familiar for series veterans as "Dual Destinies" incorporates gameplay features from previous titles. Wright's ability to break Psyche-Locks is there, as well as Apollo Justice's power to find revelations in a witness's testimonies. At certain moments, a form of Miles Edgeworth's Logic system lets players form conclusions in a case.
Meanwhile, a new character, Athena Cykes, introduces the Mood Matrix that rewards players who empathize with a witness's situation. It's a counterbalance to the cold, hard reasoning that players need to solve cases.
However, not everything is perfect. The cases this time around are hit and miss. Some mysteries can be frustrating to decipher, while others are delightful. Also, Cykes' power feels nebulous at times. Lastly, Capcom unfortunately sticks to the flat 2-D space during investigations when the horsepower is there to create immersive 3-D rooms.
Despite its shortcomings, there is a bright spot with the final case, which rewards longtime fans. If "Ace Attorney" developers want to move beyond creator Shu Takumi's core trilogy, it needs a total revamp, not more nostalgia.
On the other end of the spectrum, the PlayStation Vita boasts a more innovative title with "Tearaway." Media Molecule, the creators of "LittleBigPlanet," designed a game that capitalizes on the handheld's bells and whistles. It takes place in a world made of construction paper and stars the player and Iota, a papercraft hero who carries a message.
Throughout the adventure, the player has to interact with Iota's world using the rear touch panel, touch screen and camera. Like a giant manipulating a miniature world, players can see their digital fingers push up through the ground to help Iota clear obstacles and defeat enemies. They can open doors by swiping at the handles. The level design is clever, and it layers in powers that Iota acquires through the campaign.
A game like "Tearaway" can easily succumb to gimmickry, but Media Molecules mitigates this by bringing players into the world. The developers engage players by asking them to snap photos of themselves or of the world, then use those images in the game. Further on, they can add their own construction paper designs to leave a personalized mark.
It's magical most of the time, but "Tearaway" suffers from a poor camera that often gets in the way when players want to explore the Media Molecule's inventive world. It's a notable flaw in an otherwise brilliant game.
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Platform: PlayStation Vita
'Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney -- Dual Destinies'
Platform: Nintendo 3DS