What larks, they said. How positively droll, they said. The hottest bird lawyering game to come out of 1840s France? It’ll be a hoot.
And that, dear Reader, is precisely what I thought lay in store as I embarked upon my first optimistic essai of Aviary Attorney. Naïve and cocky, I fully anticipated an entirely trivial pursuit. I expected to waste an hour or three on some light-hearted dross, to chuckle at some ornithological inanity, to complete the game and, fundamentally, move on with my life. That’s what I expected –
Not to find myself on my sofa at 2am, thumb aching, face illuminated by the rosy f.lux glow of my monitor, wrestling with such heart-wrenching questions as:
– Is violence ever justified?
– Yes. Er – Possibly.
– Can there be change without bloodshed?
– Small change, like a pot plant or a pizza topping, or big change, like a haircut or a president?
– Can there be revolution without revolution?
My brain is fried. My mouth is dry. My thumb taps listlessly at my spacebar. That tiny motion is the sole physical movement required of me in this game, the swoop and tap. No other keys. Just mouse and spacebar. It’s liberating. It’s infuriating. It’s all I need to do. Raise. Repeat.
I complain to my flatmates about repetitive strain injury. I am ignored. They leave the living room.
CLICK CLICK CLICK
I take a break from the game to practice the magic trick wherein the charlatan-sorcerer detaches their thumb tip from the root. My thumb is severed, then re-stuck. Finally I remove the thumb altogether and flex. Another grows back, hydra-like.
What I’m getting at here is that clicking endlessly through Aviary Attorney gets really fucking irritating.
CLICK CLICK CLICK
If this game hadn’t thrust me deep into the throes of existential despair and thumb-related exhaustion, I might muster up enough might to say the following:
Aviary Attorney is like Dangerous Liaisons meets Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? as imagined by the dad from Sylvanian families. It’s pretty cutesy and super kitsch, with a wonderful amount of verbal sparring between our strictly platonic feathered protagonists. Being a novelistic game set in 18th century Paris, there’s a pretty strong whiff of that era’s most misquoted author, Voltaire. This is unsurprising given the setting, but startling when you consider that the prime players in this interactive conte would look less out of place in the Hundred Acre Wood than Paris’s Jardin de Tuileries.
The satirical whimsy is occasionally intoxicating – as with the exchange between Sparrowson and Jayjay Falcon where the former asks the latter if he knows what they call ‘pain aux chocolats’ in America – but for the most part the in-jokes seem earnest rather than wry, and the Tarantino-esque touches are almost entirely limited to the aforementioned scene. True, I do get a comrade rooster’s beak blown to bits as a result of some shockingly sub-par lawyering, but almost all violence is implied or retrospective, nudity non-existent (I wanted to see that pussy’s tits!) and the tone is decidedly more Austen than Francois-Marie Arouet.
The narrative is peppered with puns. Most of these jokes are avian-themed and fowl in nature, and though the wordplay has a Marmite tang, I grew to love its dated sitcom silliness. Falcon was late to work, and Sparrowson asked if he’d heard about the early bird! Hee-haw.
The intricate illustrations that serve as graphics are chocolate-box perfect; their rigidity and limitations actually add to the clunky charm of Aviary Attorney’s anthropomorphic anachronism. I half want to immerse myself in its rich tapestry, but I half want to hang back and observe the exquisite craftsmanship of it all. I leer at each frame like a pervy art critic. How dainty, how detailed, how delicate. But I musn’t touch. I must just –
All of the above attributes of Aviary Attorney are rather pleasant, it’s true. On a surface level, it was ‘fun’. I enjoyed it. But poultry puns and pretty drawings didn’t leave me listless on my sofa, looking at the morning sun rising through the curtains and whispering to myself through my chapped lips:
Can there be revolution without revolution?
Aviary Attorney’s cast is a perplexing parade of metaphors masquerading as friendly woodland creatures. There’s Dame Caterline, a perfectly coiffed cat who just so happens to be a two-faced bitch; Mademoiselle Cygne, a sweet, solitary swan with a secret; and Toussaint, a Kingfisher with an identity crisis. (He fishes, yes. But he doesn’t want that to define him.)
And these are all valid questions, valid concerns. Should Toussaint the kingfisher rot in his categorical coffin? What’s in a name? Does it matter? Would a rose, by any other, smell as sweet? Is the Frenchman’s feu the same spark with which the American ‘lights’ his cigarette? Does the zesty zucchini crunch as crisply as the common courgette?
CLICK CLICK CLICK
My thumb taps away, a foot (or hand?) soldier trudging its dreary way through a multitude of moral dilemmas.
An innocent man is sent to jail due to my ineptitude. I bite my tongue.
An anxious giraffe asks where she should emigrate. I lie through my teeth, knowing that there is no true safe haven.
My feathers are ruffled. I’m in a flap.
With every clutch of clicks, time passes, and a new day is announced on-screen. The old is crossed off on the calendar. I try to fight against it. I know what day is coming – revolution – but I don’t know how to get there. I’m clicking, inexorably, endlessly, towards a guaranteed climax that always manages to remain just around the corner.
Until it explodes in my face like a Charleville musket, and just like that, the game is over.
Four hours later, I’ve come to the end of the road. I thought I’d emerge a wise old bird, but I sit there, the same unanswerable questions swirling in my brain.
Revolution without revolution?
Daddy or chips?
Chicken or egg?
 C’mon now, Voltaire was just the name he used checking into hotels when he didn’t want to get drooled over by slavering fanboys.