First of all, this is not your daddy's Phoenix Wright. Apollo, unfortunately (though only so far) is not anywhere near as interesting a character as Phoenix was. But never fear, because the lovable Nick makes plenty of appearances throughout the game (and you control him through his final trial as well).
Apollo Justice is an orphaned lawyer prodigy. At just 22 years of age, he's well on his way to a successful career in defense. Apollo works under the guiding hand of Kristoph Gavin, a famous defense attorney and a friend of former attorney Phoenix Wright. Our favorite spiky haired lawyer has been out of the business for about 7 years, when a fateful trial cost him his attorney's badge. He's been biding his time as a professional poker player for the Borscht Bowl Club, where he also (barely) plays piano, and his attorney's office has been turned into a talent agency. Maya and Pearl are (physically) absent (they're mentioned a couple of times), and have been replaced by 15 year old Trucy, Phoenix's adopted daughter and an aspiring magician. Everything goes topsy turvey when Phoenix is charged in the murder of a mysterious Borscht customer. He hires the young Apollo from Gavin's office to defend him.
Taking Edgeworth's place is young rock star Klavier Gavin, brother of Kristoph Gavin, a brand new prosecutor and lead singer of The Gavinners. In place of Gumshoe is forensics fanatic Ema Skye, who appeared in a bonus case in the US version of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.
For those not familiar with the series, the Ace Attorney games are visual novel games for the DS (though the Phoenix Wright games are actually just DS ports of GBA games, and Apollo's game is the first originally made for the DS) in which you act out the part of a defense lawyer by gathering evidence and miraculously defending clients with piles of evidence against them. They're a lot of fun, if you don't mind all the reading. The stories are really great, and the characters are interesting, and that's why you play them. Don't expect any action, because the most you'll find is an occasional finger print analysis while you're digging around an area for evidence. The games utilize the touch screen with evidence gathering and forensics analysis, though most of the time you can just use the D-pad and buttons. You can also use the microphone to call out an "Objection!" if you so desire, or simply use a button if you want a quieter experience. There's not much animation either; it's mostly character expressions (which are still great), and a short "cinematic" event depicting the crime before each case begins. But the environments are nicely detailed, and everything is well drawn. They're simple games, in that respect, but you really have to use your brain to figure out your cases; the object is to catch the witness in a lie, and then present your evidence that proves your theory.
In Apollo Justice a new ability is added. You may remember from the last 2 Phoenix Wright games that Phoenix could use his Magatama to unlock Psyche-Locks from characters hiding secrets. Apollo has a bracelet that allows him to "perceive" the nervous habits of the people is questions in court. This allows you to zoom in on a witness and search them during sections of the testimony to locate a nervous tick (such as playing with a ring on their finger or swallowing when they are nervous or lying) and use it to force the person to tell the truth. Otherwise the game play is the same as the Phoenix Wright games, but that's why they're played to begin with. The use of forensics returns, including the addition of poison detecting spray, but it's used sparsely as before.
The game is good enough. The last case is pretty fantastic, although the way it's played out makes little sense. I don't want to give anything away, but you use Phoenix to do some past and present investigating into a couple of cases (including his final case seven years ago) to help out Apollo, but sometimes the way the information is used makes little sense (ie: you go back in time to ask someone who is dead a question about something you just learned). If you ignore that, it's fine, and it's great to watch all of the events come together. Unfortunately, I felt like they got rid of their payload all too soon, at least if they wish to make 2 more games like before. There are still some things to work with, but a lot of the secrets (which in the Phoenix games, regarding the Fey family, didn't come out until the end of the 3rd game) have already been solved, and I wish they had saved them for a later title. Because I do think there will be more Apollo Justice titles, as they left some things unsolved or unfinished regarding Apollo and Trucy; so there is stuff to continue on with.
If you liked the Phoenix Wright games, you'll like this one as well. It's all there - mysterious murders, creative cases, evidence hunting, brain wracking cross examinations, kooky characters, perfect mood music. Though be warned that Phoenix is not the same Nick he was before. A bad turn in court and 7 years of living in disgrace have made him a very different person. I don't like Trucy as much as I adored Maya and Pearl, but she has her own charms and I'm sure she'll grow on me. She's certainly adorable. And while Edgeworth will always have a place in my heart (and my wallet...I'm really excited about his game with Gumshoe they're working on), I must admit to falling a bit in love with the Gavin brothers as well. One of them has already proved pretty interesting, and I hope the other does as well.