Developer: Behaviour Interactive, Inc.
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
# of Players: 1 – 2
ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10 +)
Score: B (80%)
A fast-paced hack & slash for the younger set with a nice arcade feel, Disney/Pixar’s Brave: The Video Game manages to overcome a few of the issues that plague most movie games that try too hard (or don’t try hard enough) to be fun to play. While not the longest kid-friendly (or preteen friendly, if you go by the E 10+ rating) licensed game out there, the simple pick up and play controls, optional two-player co-op mode, PlayStation Move mini-games and constant action keeps things from dragging after the initial tutorial stage. A few technical issues and a bit of repetition in some brief cut scenes mar the experience, but overall, this is one of those games that anyone can hop into and play and have a blast while doing so.
Canadian developer Behaviour Interactive took a few liberties with the film’s plot and locations for the sake of keeping players on their toes. While you play as young flame-haired Meridia for the bulk of the adventure, at times you’ll control a giant bear and get to solve simple to slightly tricky progress-blocking puzzles as a set of triplet bear cubs (if you’ve seen the film already, you know who these animals are). Gameplay is primarily combat focused and feels like a classic arcade or console game in a fantasy setting with all the slashing, shooting, dodging and jumping going on. Meridia is armed with a sword, bow and armor, all of which can be replaced with better gear found along her travels. Levels are pretty linear, but each one (save the opening tutorial map) has a few goodies hidden slightly to widely off the beaten track that don’t take too much effort to track down if you’re a completion freak.
You can play the game using a twin-stick movement/shooting method or you can shoot your bow by constantly tapping the R1 button (which also allows for a powerful charged shot once purchased by holding in R! and letting go once the charge is complete). The swordplay is also simple button jamming, but you can buy and upgrade a few power moves for Meridia that make the blade combat more enjoyable. That said, the bow is so much fun that you’ll probably use it for most of the game (and in fact, there’s a trophy for clearing any map using only the bow). Don’t knock that pig-sticker, though – it’s useful for cutting down those coin-packed plants the bow misses and you get a nice double jump downward blow that can knock too-close enemies away. Depending on which element you’ve equipped, there are special effects that can also be activated with the O button when a power meter fills up. You gain power for that meter by dealing damage, but taking hits fills it up a little, making the gameplay slightly easier if you’re not so good at dodging some attacks.
Although the game is polygon-based, you don’t need to worry about camera control at all. The game keeps pace with your movements pretty well and it’s only in some tricky jumping sections where you need to use Meridia’s dot shadow to gauge your landing that the game slips a little. Granted, laying off the analog stick once you see where you’ll be landing helps a great deal, but there are occasions where you thought you had a landing nailed only to see poor Meridia miss the landing entirely and drop into the water, hot lava or off a cliff. Of course, as this is a family-friendly game, you don’t get a Game Over screen at all, nor does Meridia actually “die” in any way that’s upsetting. Lose all your health and she just falls over, the screen goes black for a second and you’re back in action with full health. If you’re really good at taking down enemies and not taking damage, you’ll earn up to five wisps that allow for critical strike chances. Take a hit or fall into water or off a ledge, and you lose your wisps, so trying to play as clean as possible becomes key.
Unless you’re playing as Elinor, the bear. Her too brief segments are all claw and charge and bash-happy moments of fun that give you a bit of respite from Meridia’s portions. While these sections are cool, they all end in the same way with the same cut scene of Elinor rearing up and doing a victory paw swipe before running away as Meridia slides in stage left, yelling at the bear for running off. The game misses a few other chances for storytelling opportunities using the game engine, but the bulk of the tale is told using storybook-like sections that feature some gorgeous mostly still artwork that’s closer to the look of the movie. You won’t find any film footage here at all, which is a good thing in my book, as the game isn’t a direct retelling of the movie at all – it just streamlines events down to a lot of running, jumping and beating down enemy creatures.
There are a few types of puzzles to solve from shooting targets in a certain order to wall-jumping on switches and more. To add a break in the action, each stage has a puzzle that can only be solved by that aforementioned trio of bears. None of them are too taxing on the brain, but younger kids will probably need a hand past the third or fourth one, as they grow increasingly complex. oddly enough, the next to the last puzzle is probably the simplest in the game after the first one, but I guess the developer was running out of ways to block Meridia from reaching her eventual goal. As I’ve also played the Nintendo DS version (that review is in progress), I’ll note that the endings to both games are probably not what you’d expect if you haven’t yet seen the film. Let’s just say there’s a final boss fight that might not satisfy some gamers outside the demographic who don’t quite get that this is indeed a game that’s not really as “violent” as it seems with despite all those arrows sent flying and swords being swung.
Visually, while it gets the job done nicely enough, Behaviour’s game engine isn’t flawless. The character models for Meridia and Elinor are a bit rough-looking at close range, but work just fine from the higher camera angles in the game proper. There’s a tiny bit of slowdown in some areas where the camera briefly chugs along, but this never affected the actual gameplay. Characters and environments are highly stylized, and some of the outdoor locations (such as the seaside map with its treacherous jumps across tall stone pillars rising from a stormy ocean) have a grand scope to them that makes them look a lot larger than they actually are. It would have been nice to get to some of those areas in maps that look as if they can be accessed, but this isn’t an open world game at all.
As with most games this late in the current console cycle, Brave looks its absolute best on larger HD sets over smaller ones or any size standard definition TV. That said, you may be reaching for your TV’s gamma or brightness controls in a few interior maps where it’s hard to see much even with Meridia’s light radius (which nicely changes color based on the elemental weapon she’s equipped with). As the game is pretty linear, there’s a sole central hub of rune stones and a witch’s cottage that you’ll warp to after completing each level. Sure, the game has some very light RPG elements in the grinding for coins, treasure chests galore and gear, but don’t expect anything resembling NPC’s side-quests or any of what you’d expect from a fantasy-themed adventure. Of course, if the sometimes isometric viewpoint, floating camera, leaps of faith and fast-paced combat and bow action make you think a little of the first Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance game, I can’t stop you from smiling at those parts…
Kelly McDonald reprises her role in the film here as Meridia and while her performance is quite spirited throughout, some in-game subtitles during play would have helped in understanding a few of her quips. Storybook sequences and in-game movies are indeed subtitled, but I’m guessing the developer didn’t want her repeated quotes popping up as distracting text with enemies attacking, as the game uses a minimal HUD (that shows acquired elements you can tab through with L2 and R2) which only expands when enemies are on screen or coins are collected. The music is comprised of great and lively Scottish-sounding tunes plus a few dramatic cues for certain enemy encounters. Overall, not stuff you’ll be humming for days on end after you’re done with the game, but nothing that will grate on your nerves either. Sound effects aren’t anything special, just lots of explosions, crackles and the sounds of whatever puzzle is being solved moving about.
The PS3 version has three motion control enabled archery mini-games that aren’t part of the main adventure, but can be used to earn coins good for purchasing skill upgrades. It would have been nicer to implement tweaked versions of these sections into the game proper, but given that everyone still doesn’t own a Move controller at this point, they’re completely optional (and simple fun overall). Co-op play lets one other player join the fun as a helpful wisp that can attack enemies along with Meridia to make things go a bit easier. The wisp can be upgraded using coins found during the adventure and smart players who want to beef up both playable characters will need to replay levels over and over so they can earn enough to buy every last skill. You can make it through the game without the highest level skills, but again, I’m one of those gamers who wants to uncover everything, so that added a few more hours (actually an extra day and a half on and off) to my time with the game.
The game offsets its $49.99 premium price point with a free ticket to the movie, which is a decent deal if you haven’t seen the film yet or have and want to see it again. A few years in game retail back in the late 90′ and part of the early 2000′s have taught me that it’s not core gamers who buy these games at all, but families who don’t buy a lot of video games for their kids or those who don’t mind spending a bit more for the wee ones if they liked the movie the game in question is based on. That said, I’d prefer if there was an industry-wide look at making these movie games cheaper in general. Granted, you’re getting about four to five times the length of the film this game is based on, but that’s not a true barometer of any game’s worth in the long run.
As for replay value, like with any game (no matter the length) it’s absolutely there if you find yourself enjoying the ride and want to do so again at some point. As the game doesn’t save your gained gear and upgrades through each difficulty setting, it’s like an arcade or console game from the 8 or 16-bit era where you’re back in and at it again, earning your gear the honest way. Some will gripe about this, but I rather liked the fact that the game isn’t going to let you blow through it faster because you unlocked everything. You DO have those Trophies to prove your mettle, so there’s that if all you care about are bragging rights. On the other hand, what’s here feels as if it should have been a bigger experience and I’m hoping we get to see Behaviour get a chance to do a follow up that’s broader in scope and packed with a bit more variety in the number of things to do outside of combat and puzzles. Yes, I’m talking full-on Action/RPG, as the solid gameplay is more than fun enough to carry a far more ambitious sequel.