The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Families have had it pretty good on the games front lately, with a solid crop of releases coming every month or so. Disney in particular has done a great job of translating its Pixar licenses into playable form. Brave: The Video Game comes off a nice wave of adaptations that includes Cars 2 and Toy Story 3, and it more than holds its own.
You play as the movie’s heroine, Merida, as she battles to defeat the so-called demon bear Mor’du and lift a curse. As with the film, Merida isn’t a traditional damsel in distress. She’s strong and independent, and quite handy with her bow and sword. She’s a nice change of pace from Disney’s traditional princesses, and her battle prowess makes her a perfect fit for a game.
You swing your sword with the tap of a button, and use Merida’s bow by aiming the right stick in the direction you want to fire. I’ve always been a fan of twin-stick shooters, so the controls pleasantly surprised me. It’s easy to take potshots at the wolves and malicious tree spirits from afar and then switch to the sword when they get too close. Targeting is generally accurate, though one crow-type enemy does a great job of avoiding your shots. I don’t know whether Brave isn’t great at tracking flying enemies or if crows are just crafty, but they’re a particular annoyance throughout the game.
Fortunately, the rest of the game pulls no punches. Collectibles are hidden throughout levels, and they provide gameplay bonuses instead of the concept art and other useless doodads that typically pop up in licensed games. Merida is a powerhouse by the end of the game if you keep your eyes open for alternate paths. Even if you don’t scour levels for collectibles, you’ll wind up with a solid arsenal. Enemies have elemental weaknesses, and you can swap between the appropriate magical attacks to quickly defeat them. Weapon effects are varied and can be charged up. Those beefed-up moves include an earth attack that spawns helpful explosive sprites and an ice effect that temporarily holds enemies captive. When you beat the bad guys (or pound unsuspecting flora), they explode in a shower of coins. Those can be spent on a variety of weapon and ability upgrades. Plenty of so-called grown-up games feature less character progression than Brave.
No self-respecting family game can ship without co-op, and Brave is no exception. Behaviour Interactive made a smart decision in how it approached two-player action; a second player can join in as a friendly wisp. This character has unlimited lives, and can pop up next to Merida at the press of a button. This character is a natural for a younger player who might not have the chops to go it alone. I wish more developers would incorporate this kind of gameplay; inexperienced gamers-in-the-making can keep up without accidently dragging down the team.
Brave provides a nice tour of the film’s highlights, and cleverly adds its own elements. Gameplay expands beyond its core formula, too. Three little bears help Merida gain access to blocked areas in puzzle-oriented sections. They’re centered on buttons and levers, and require a fair amount of character swapping. That may sound dull, but I got a kick out of them. Some are even challenging.
One of my favorite things in gaming is when a character gains access to a powerful item or transformation power, and uses it to mop up previously annoying enemies. Brave satisfies in that department, thanks to several short sections where you play as a ridiculously strong bear. A few Kinect-based archery games also factor into the mix, which I could take or leave.
I had a lot of fun with Brave. The core action is simple, but the progression and element-based combat offer enough flexibility to keep things interesting – at least in the short term. Brave doesn’t break the licensed-game mold as far as longevity is concerned. Once you play through the story and find all the collectables (which aren’t exactly obscure), you’ll be forgiven for shelving the game. You can replay levels and fully upgrade Merida, but at that point you’d only be doing it for completion’s sake.
That shouldn’t dissuade you from checking out the game. Brave is charming and entertaining (while it lasts), and it’s one of the better kid-friendly co-op games out there. It’s also a nice reminder to girls that females can be more than something to be rescued or objectified.
Email the author Jeff Cork, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.