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REVIEW: Miami Law

Posted August 9th 2009 by Jordan Mammo.

Miami Law

Generally speaking, adventures involving drug-busting police officers in Miami don't typically come to mind when thinking of niche Japanese videogames. Sometimes the names alone of these games are enough to make one wonder about what the hell is happening on the other side of the Pacific. Sometimes, though, attempts to bring titles over to Western shores are marked by crushing failure. So when publisher Working Designs closed its doors in 2005 only to resurface as Gaijinworks and take three years to localize its first title, one could understandably be forgiven for thinking: Miami Law? Really?

Yes, really. It may not make any sense at first but, after all, what could be more niche than the Japanese perspective on American law enforcement and the psyches of those involved?

Accurately portraying our police officers and federal agents, then, is extremely important. Fortunately, the developers at Hudson actually spent time doing research in Miami, where they apparently sat down and watched the same buddy-cop flicks and episodes of 24 that most of us Americans get our own law enforcement information from. Miami Law puts players into the roles of the aptly named Law Martin, a fiery and reckless police officer out to avenge his partner's death, and -- you guessed it -- a by-the-book FBI agent Sara Starling still struggling to escape from her successful father's shadow.

If you can't see where this is going already then you're probably a marshmallow, but Miami Law is just the game to educate you as Law and Sara get to know each other. Together they take a bite out of crime and, of course, grow both professionally and personally by learning to appreciate each other's own brand of justice. Amazingly, if you can accept Miami Law for what it is, a light and breezy romp through cop clichés, somewhere between the title's second and third missions (five total) things stop grating as much and the story becomes more enjoyable.

Just as Miami Law's story delves pretty deeply into standard cop scenarios, its gameplay also hearkens back to older adventure game territory. Following in those titles' tradition, players are not given direct control over Law or Sara. Instead, the characters sift through menus to select commands as they move back and forth through the different settings, each marked by nice-looking, static backgrounds. Vibrant, detailed character drawings pop out in front of the backgrounds as people talk to each other, giving the game some color and life. This is fortunate because there really isn't much to do at any of these locations, even by point-and-click adventure game standards. When you explore your surroundings, you can't tap a table or a couch on the touch screen, you simply select "Examine" from the menu and often a laundry list of items come up, waiting to be clicked one by one.

Even compared to Professor Layton's rudimentary set-up of "tap everything on the screen randomly to find coins," Miami Law's system can get old really quick, especially when you end up selecting every menu option available before finding out the correct selection was the last one. Moving around and figuring out what to do is mostly a matter of selecting room after room and finding out who to talk to, so it's up to the mini-games to breathe some life and variety into these proceedings.

These mini-games mix things up by letting you choose between playing as Law or Sara at various points. Law's portion of the story tends to be more action-oriented, involving car chases and shootouts ripped straight out of Time Crisis. Sara's story, meanwhile, relies less on these kinds of brawny showcases and focuses more on investigative work, though she is quite the expert with the sniper rifle. None of these mini-games are difficult and rarely do they take more than a minute or two to complete. Yet even though they break up the monotony of scrolling through countless menus, at some points it feels like they're there just for the sake of being there. When you start getting mini-games that simply require you to input a string of numbers on the top screen into a keypad, you have to wonder if you couldn't be doing something more interesting with your time.

Because of the limited interaction and simple mini-games, Miami Law doesn't feel like a complete adventure game. Indeed, some will say that it is more specifically a "digital comic" or interactive novel, and that the limited exploration and whatnot are intentional design choices. This perspective is that these characteristics are what make up digital comics, which are focused on reading and mainly comprised of text and menus. This is fine. Phoenix Wright consists almost entirely of reading and is one of the Nintendo DS's best games. This does put extra emphasis on Miami Law's storyline, though. It's paced well enough and decently written despite some grammatical errors, but its ride through undercover cop clichés is just not entertaining enough to justify a 30 dollar asking price. Miami Law may be more of a digital comic than an adventure game, but that line of reasoning still doesn't quite justify the experience.

Overall Comments:

Miami Law is not a terrible game. The localization is decent and the story well-paced, but the combination of ridiculously easy mini-games and too much menu-surfing make it difficult to keep going for a story that doesn't do anything new. Check it out if you can find it cheap.

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