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Brave: The Video Game - Wii Review

Game Info
Brave: The Video Game

Wii | Disney Interactive Studios / beHAVIOUR | 1-2 Players (co-operative play) | Out Now (North America)
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote and Nunchuk
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10th July 2012; By KnucklesSonic8

It seems like such an easy thing to do for a game like Brave -- assume that the name will be a reflection of qualities seen in its gameplay. Such a name could hint an air of firmness, steadiness, and courage; courage, say, to potentially break free from a set mold. But you understand this could also be a misguided focal point for setting up expectations. Consider for a moment, though, that the Latin root for "courage" actually means "heart". How ironic it is, then, that this is the very thing the game lacks. Going against its predisposition, Brave: The Video Game cowardly crawls into an established shell and never presents anything truly effectual in its design. The resulting experience is one that will by no means stick in your mind as an example of anything substantial.

    Taken straight from a familiar fairy tale setup, Brave is about a young heroine named Merida whose heart is moving in a direction that opposes the path that's been set for her. Deciding to take the easy way out instead of facing her fears (and future) dead-on, she runs away and chances upon a villain who promises her the freedom she's always wanted. The price she has to pay is indeed a dear one; the real "villain" in her life -- her loving, protective mother -- is put under a curse. Merida must then go on an adventure to discover the true source of the spreading evil and take active steps to put it to rest for the sake of the kingdom. This is where you come in. Players will use the Nunchuk's Analog Stick to guide Merida through swamps, icelands, forested areas, and castles spread across a fictional Scotland. The A Button serves as your jump, double jump, and wall jump, while the 1 Button can open treasure chests or get you to operate ziplines.

Defining Merida's character is the prowess she acquires as a trained warrior, able to interchangeably use swords and arrows to clear parts of the terrain, defeat enemies, or affect interaction points. Sword swinging is simply done by shaking the Wii Remote, but to fire arrows from your bow, you have two control options you can play with. The first is to use the D-Pad to aim your shots which, as you can imagine, is about as clumsy as it sounds. Thank goodness you can use the B Button instead! This is a much better way to play, especially because of the automatic homing mechanism built into it. The reach of the system is usually pretty good, even targeting things on platforms higher up. I did have a few cases where the wrong item was targeted for what I had to do at the time, but I'm sure everyone would prefer to deal with this than having to wrestle with the D-Pad. Adding substance to these methods of attack is the presence of an elemental power system. Controlled through presses of the C Button, Merida can apply the attributes of earth, fire, wind, and ice to her weapons and use them against enemies or to trigger platforms with a specific elemental state. This adds a bit of depth to how battles play out, but I'll get into that shortly. 

    The game is set up in such a way that it feels as though an adventure is unfolding in pseudo-real-time, and this is accomplished principally through the use of recurring mid-level cutscenes and triggered mini-events. As far as the storytelling component goes, Brave does a decent job of making players feel like something's about to happen at each new turn, albeit the way they choose to do this isn't the greatest approach as it sometimes feels abrupt, even unnecessary. Moreover, the game's design is predictable more often than not, especially in the realm of exploration. So-called secrets come in the form of treasure boxes that contain 50 coins or more, sitting atop cliffs and inside openings that are just to the side of the main path. Thus, any kind of statement leaning towards "What's over here?" is quickly replaced by "I'm sure there's a treasure box over here" by the time you reach the third level, if not sooner. The level designs themselves may not be substantial visually, but they still present enough obstacles to keep players interested. The camera is often situated a bit back and up in relation to the main character's position, but there are automatic changes in perspective to be seen as you stroll through caves, turn corners, and the like. Also worth noting is the presence of an autosave feature that takes note of your progress as you go along through invisible checkpoints. That way, if you run out of health, you won't ever find yourself getting frustrated over getting sent back to the beginning.

On an intermittent level, players will come across puzzles that will entail little more than a basic problem-solving skill set, something kids will be really happy about. These include activating switches in a certain order and standing on pressure plates to reveal targets that can lower a drawbridge. When castle gates prove too sturdy to bypass through normal means, Merida's younger brothers (who have also been affected by the curse) will lend a hand. Taking turns, you'll use the triplets to do much of the same stuff Merida does on her own, but also operate platforms and activate crossbows. In both cases, the puzzle component isn't treated as a dominating force in the game, and instead of having them behave like ill-placed mini-games, they feel fairly appropriate for the tasks at hand.

    Now, along with these you'll also have another set of regular sequences. Under circumstances where Merida finds herself overwhelmed by enemies, her mom (in bear form) will step in to clear the way. Controls during these mini-events have you pressing A to swipe your claws, B to pound the ground, and Z to do a charge attack. However, you can easily keep pressing B while standing in place and you'll do just as well. As you've probably gathered, these moments really aren't that fun, but they don't make a terrible component to the gameplay either. They're just there, and that's about it. 

    Again, the events just described are secondary aspects to the gameplay, so it would be logical to get into what makes up the greater portion of Brave's gameplay: combat. There are regular intervals where you will encounter parts of the environment that need cleansing of enemy forces. You'll know this whenever you see purple mist emitting from large mysterious stones. As you make your approach and the enemy troops start to fall in, kids and parents alike will take note of the darker feel that prevails during these fight sequences. The enemies are a major reason for this, some of which include dogs with a shadowy form, arctic wolves with spikes all over, large rock monsters, and tree-like creatures that throw branches as daggers and shriek like Black Canary. Not to be overlooked, too, is the surrounding atmosphere which often features effects that make the situation seem like a somewhat frightening dream.

In terms of the main system at work, though, defeating consecutive enemies without sustaining hits will produce a streak. These combos will equip you with blue wisps that will increase your chances of a critical hit, causing damaging lightning strikes to come down from the sky. Once the area has been cleared of all remaining threats and the stone has been restored, you will be able to access a shop where you can trade coin for plenty of new moves. In addition to making charge shots and other special attacks available, upgrades on almost all moves can be purchased to speed things up or increase damage levels. Getting to access the system so often makes it that much easier for players to get used to the idea that Merida's skills need constant improvement.

    The combat system as a whole is comprehensible as far as recognizing that you need to switch to the right elemental power as each situation calls for it. However, there are flaws existing within this department that aren't very pleasing. First and foremost, it must be said that the feedback of the sword attack in particular is really flat and lifeless -- not just when coming up against enemies, but period. Whether it's responsive or not, swinging your sword feels so empty and lacking in feeling that you can't help but be put off by it. With no satisfaction to be had from using this, players will end up subjecting their well-rounded warrior to a mere archer as they exclusively use the bow for attack purposes.

Second of all, the pace and flow of the combat sequences aren't tailored all that well. They are surprisingly involving as far as keeping players on high alert most of the time, but this does not mean that the core execution of how this all plays out lends itself to great and balanced fights. The game persistently pushes the pace seen during these moments into demanding territory, where the regular onset of bombarding enemies will leave younger players feeling confused or frustrated. Worse yet, feelings of inadequacy can easily creep in if their reflexes aren't quick enough, especially seeing as some battles can last a few minutes in length. Yes it's true that on the flip side of all this, feelings of satisfaction can be produced within players who tough it out and emerge victorious. But in order for them to get to this point, they must first wrestle with the fact that the advantages they have in the elemental adaptability don't protect them from being hounded like a shady customer at a security-heavy store.

    Having said that, this is a point to the game that older players may appreciate. As this is ideally meant to be a family gaming experience that a parent and child should be able to get through together, that sort of co-operative setting can certainly temper the extent to which enemies have an effect on your patience levels. But even in this environment, much of what I just said still applies as it really is a core flaw to the system. I do feel that Brave has incorporated a decent, if not borderline good combat system, but it often ventures in a direction it shouldn't, presenting concerns that I can see kids legitimately getting worked up over. 

As far as presentation goes, a nice hand-drawn style has been used in the portrayal of story cutscenes that relates perfectly to the storybook feel of the way the adventure is carried out. The environments, while usually spacious and nicely-lit, tend to look less than appealing with dull water effects, solid ground that you think you can jump down to but is actually off-limits, as well as background elements and visual touches that are anything but special. It's also hard to develop a particular liking for the music in this game since it often fades into the background like a wallflower. Even when you turn down the volume for the sound effects, the battle themes are all that really hit you. As is, the music is slightly above average but not much more than that. Also, there were times when the music stopped playing prematurely or just didn't play when it should have, but that's a pretty minor complaint. The game also froze on me on my way into the shop, but that too is a fairly minor thing as it was only a one-time occurrence.

    A more serious concern is the framerate. It regularly has trouble sticking to some sort of consistency, and even though there are definitely moments where the game runs smoothly, it's all too common for it to act up at inconvenient times. This is especially true in the brief cutscenes that precede each of the bear fight sequences where you see entire portions of animations being skipped. Occasionally, I even felt the game was going at the speed of a DS game, and not the first-party kind either. While I don't think the presentation is completely off-putting even with the worst of the framerate issues in effect, this is still an area of the game that should have gone much better.

Brave: The Video Game
will last players anywhere from five to ten hours, depending on how much they decide to put into the experience. Collectibles in the way of tapestry pieces and outfits can be uncovered over the course of the eight-level experience, but this admittedly isn't much of an incentive to replay levels again. Neither is setting the difficulty bar to a higher level when you consider what's already been discussed surrounding the combat aspect. However, players who decide to go it solo the first time around can find reason to replay levels with a friend or relative as they use a blob-like wisp. So for that reason, replay value is about moderate level, I'd say. 

    Still, after I completed the experience, I couldn't help but feel like much of what I went through wasn't all that memorable. There's not much of a ride here, and instead of giving young players something to be excited about and going so far as to make them feel like warriors themselves, Brave: The Video Game lacks the flair and edge that would normally go along with extended appeal. In a game where bravery is often confused with forbearance, the experience frankly has just one or two points to be appreciated with the rest of it projecting a standard interest that doesn't progress or change for the better.

    Underneath it all, Brave: The Video Game is an average departure at best that will likely keep kids mildly engaged, but is far from enchanting. Certainly contributing to that is the presentation, an area that disappoints on a semi-regular basis. More than that, though, there are flaws with the execution of gameplay that have an impact on how the intended audience will respond to the already-mild leadings of the adventure, particularly with respect to the combat system and use of predictable game design as a method of storytelling. What you have here is a conventional licensed game that's fairly serviceable but by no means noteworthy in its executions.

18/30 - Okay/Average

Gameplay 6/10 - Predictable design, use of storytelling could be better, controls aren't great, poor sword execution, notable flaws surrounding combat
Presentation 5/10 - A couple nice environments with some not-so-impressive touches, subdued music, minor glitches, framerate is especially concerning
Enjoyment 3/5 - Hardly anything special or memorable about it, welcome integration of brief puzzles, some elements appreciated but flaws will frustrate 
Extra Content 4/5 - Lasts a fair length, co-op support will add replay value under most circumstances, collectibles, can adjust difficulty to a higher setting

Equivalent to a score of 60% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System

Review by KnucklesSonic8

Brave: The Video Game
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