When Disney and Pixar collaborate on a film project, it’s almost guaranteed to be a masterpiece. The two animation giants have incredible repertoires, filled with masterful triumphs over both technological limitations and emotional challenges. As a result, their fans number in the millions, meaning you can ask just about anyone on the street what their favourite animated film is, and they should reply with something that at least one of the two companies worked on. The list of possibilities is endless and contains iconic films like Toy Story, The Lion King, Peter Pan and The Incredibles, with a brand new option entering the fold now that Brave has been unleashed into theatres.
Telling the tale of a young Scottish princess who unwittingly cursed her family by asking a witch to fix her problems, Brave has been turned into an interactive video game as expected. Released under the exact same name as its theatrical inspiration, it features a similar story and employs many of the same characters. Merida, the aforementioned princess, finds that she has accidentally cursed her mother and three (triplet) brothers after turning to a witch with complaints that her tomboy ways aren’t being supported. However, instead of helping as planned, the witch’s spell ends up being interrupted by the local forest’s dark magic, turning the queen into a bear and the boys into mischievous raccoons.
Storybook scenes tell the above-mentioned tale, though there aren’t as many of them as one would expect. They’re used sparingly, which is more of a detriment than anything, because only the basics are ever discussed. You know what you’re doing and why, but it’s tough to become invested in Merida’s journey because there’s a lack of investment in the emotionally-driven narrative that the game’s source material possesses. As a result, this is more of a companion than a substitute, and it boils down to a trek through varied regions where magical stones must have their curses removed.
This interactive representation of the film makes good use of Merida’s character traits. Unwilling to give up, and great with a sword, the red-headed lass is also the surrounding area’s best archer. Both of those ever-important combat skills are focused upon within the campaign’s eight stages, which are laid out in traditional platform-action designs based on different elements. In order to survive against their dark inhabitants, one must master the art of twin stick shooting and basic sword slashing, creating a unique combination that we haven’t really seen much of in licensed video games.
When the going gets incredibly tough and the odds are heavily weighted towards the bad guys, Merida’s Mum makes timely appearances as a playable character. As a bear, she’s able to ram, swipe and pound enemies with reckless abandon, killing them with much more ease than her human daughter. Her appearances are limited, but they add some much needed variety. The same can also be said about the game’s triplet puzzles, as they offer interesting, albeit basic, diversions. Having the option to spend time with another character other than the young princess and her co-op wisp ally is welcomed, as their core gameplay can become repetitive rather quickly.
Melding melee combat with twin-stick shooting mechanics works well with Brave‘s action-platformer level designs, but the system relies far too much on ranged attacks. More often than not, the game will throw multiple enemies at players while they’re located on a tiny island. That forces folks to quickly switch between different elemental attack types, in order to cater to each foe’s weakness. On harder difficulties, this can become more than slightly annoying, as some enemies’ most powerful attacks have outrageous effect fields. During those times, players must rely on pressing the left trigger to repeatedly dive and roll away from danger, while looking for moments to fire off a couple of arrows without being hit. Granted, easier difficulties don’t offer foes with the same respawn frequency, or ones that take away as much damage, but most veteran gamers will want to show off their skills by playing on the game’s most challenging setting.
During the fourth stage, Merida is pit against a rock golem boss whose design is certainly nothing to write home about, exemplifying some of the game’s most glaring design issues. Found on one of the aforementioned tiny islands, it’s flanked by multiple enemies who respawn unless their rock portals are destroyed. Engaging in battle with them can become incredibly frustrating due to the large foe’s extraordinary area of effect with his boulder throw attack. Taking up almost a third of the land mass with its repercussions, the move also has the ability to take away half of Merida’s health bar. Add this on to the fact that the golem is in a random state of animation each time Merida jumps down to the platform, and you have a boss that is sometimes able to land a powerful attack before players get a chance to move.
Frankly, none of the boss battles found inside of the campaign are worth writing home about. They’re basic in design, and all present the same overwhelming scenario containing a large brute and its multiple minions. At times, it can be tough to get arrows towards each elemental giant because the game will choose alternative targets. Then again, it is important to get rid of the little guys, especially on harder difficulties, where they can cause almost as much damage as their gigantic pals.
Generally speaking, the designs that Brave employs are rather old hat. Other than its interesting mixture of combat styles, there’s nothing particularly new here. It borrows from other genre releases with its coin emitting flowers and pots, move-related upgrade system and rather retro stage design. A younger audience won’t mind this fact as much, but they won’t find the same amount of replay value here that some other licensed titles offer. Unfortunately, though it’s certainly not bad by any means, this release just doesn’t compare to the high fun factors and attractive replay value that games like Toy Story 3 and Cars 2 offer. Here, replay value is determined by players’ personal preferences, and whether they like to go back through average-at-best campaigns on tougher difficulties. Though, those who choose Brave difficulty from the get-go can unlock almost every achievement or trophy in one play through, provided that they search for the relatively easy to find weapon upgrades, tapestries and outfits that dot each stage. The rest will come with a few return trips to the final stage.
The nice thing is that the game’s over-world is user-friendly. Its eight rune stones become individually disenchanted as players progress, allowing them to pick the stage worlds they would like to enter. Checkpoints can be saved, allowing an easy return to action, and the stage select stones each list their levels’ hidden items in checklist fashion. That way those who end up missing a couple of the hidden chests can figure out which levels they need to revisit. Additionally, those who wish to farm a stage for coins can choose their favourite haunt with ease.
In addition to the above-mentioned story content, Xbox 360 owners will find Kinect archery challenges listed on the game’s main menu. There are a few different options available, though their featured motion mechanics lack the finesse that such a careful sport requires. For the most part, getting an arrow ready by mimicking archers’ movements works well, but everything falls apart when it comes time to shoot at a target. Kinect is programmed to track users’ hands, so it’s confusing as to why the development team would have decided to make players separate their hands in order to shoot. The result is almost always a miss to the right because it’s that hand which acts as your main tracking point. That is, unless you separate your hands at an incredibly slow and careful speed, adjusting them on an inch by inch basis. However, that’s not much fun at all.
Visually, Brave: The Video Game‘s visual representation leaves something to be desired. It looks dated, lacks pop and offers repetitive stage designs that rely on island battlegrounds to add challenge. Though it doesn’t make sense for one to expect a visual masterpiece from a kids’ title, some of Disney‘s recent releases have looked much better than this one does. Still, I’m of the opinion that the way a game plays is much more important than how it looks, meaning mediocre visuals are something I’m able to live with. Unfortunately, Brave doesn’t play as well as it could; at least, not on the Xbox 360. The game feels poorly optimized, becoming bogged down whenever its main character moves. You get used to it after a while, but it’s not something that ever goes away, and ends up leaving a poor impression.
Fortunately, the game’s audio department did a pretty good job with its collaborative duties. Although it doesn’t look like a game from 2012, or even something that was released two years ago, Behaviour Interactive‘s latest title does sound quite good. Its main character is voiced well, which is important considering the fact that she’s on her own throughout the entire game, and is also forced to pull double duty as its narrator. Her lines are accompanied by serviceable yet repetitive sound effects, as well as solid original music.
In the end, Brave: The Video Game is a serviceable title, but it doesn’t do much to raise the reputation of licensed releases. There are hints of an above average game within its design, but they’re few and far between, amidst dated mechanics that were borrowed from previous console generations. Though, with that being said, children will be able to overlook most of the noted deficiencies due to ignorance as a result of limited gaming history. For that reason, it’s tough to recommend against picking this one up for a young Brave fan, although there are better Disney/Pixar titles out there.
This article is based on a copy of the game that we received for review purposes. The featured screenshots are from the Wii version of the game.