I’m sure everyone groans when they hear about tie in games. The tradition of video game movie tie-ins has been around for generations and it continues with the release of Brave for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Based on the Disney / Pixar movie of the same name, Brave brings Merida’s adventure home. There is one thing that sets Brave apart from other tie-ins: it's actually pretty good.
As you would expect, you play as Brave's main character Merida. There is not much in the way of other characters in the game. Right at the beginning you find out that your "mum" has been turned into a grizzly bear. You visit an old witch that tells you that you will need to cleanse the world of Mor'du's curse in order to break the spell and change mum back to a human. I’ll be honest, I haven't seen the movie yet so I don't know if the game would completely spoil the movie for you. The story in the game is about as simplistic as it gets. Your mum and your world are cursed and you have travel to 8 different worlds eradicating the curse from each area. There are very few cut scenes aside from the beginning which explain what you essentially need to do which are presented in the form of animated storyboards.
The gameplay is pretty simple. You have two attacks at the start: your sword and your bow and arrow. You can hack and slash with the sword by pressing the square button or you can shoot arrows at enemies using the right thumbstick. This makes the game feel like a twin stick shooter. Since you have unlimited arrows, I found that the sword was pretty useless. The best way of defeating just about every enemy in the game for me was to simply hang back and continuously spam arrows at them since they fire at a pretty fast rate. The only real use I found for the sword was to slash bushes to collect coins. You can also get coins by finding them in the world and by killing enemies. These coins can be used to upgrade your skills through various merchants during the course of the game.
In terms of upgrades, they are pretty basic such as being able to upgrade how much damage you do with your attacks, new attacks such as charged shots, evasive maneuvers and upgrades for health as well as others. This is not an RPG though so don't expect to be upgrading skill trees constantly throughout the game. You will also find hidden chests containing better swords and bows which increase the amount of damage you do. You can also find pieces of tapestries which will increase your total damage as well as new costumes for Merida. Throughout your adventure you will collect different upgrades for your bow as well which represent the elements of earth, wind, ice, and fire. These arrows can be used to make certain platforms appear, turn water into ice that you can jump on, burn down barricades, and of course attack enemies. Switching between elements is easy; simply press the R2 button and you can swap between them on the fly. While you can use any element arrows to defeat enemies you will find that it is easier to defeat them while using an element that trumps their weaknesses. Fire arrows work well on the giant trees, wind arrows work against rock creatures, ice works against the water enemies, and so on.
The game isn't all hacking and slashing as there is some puzzle solving involved as well. Most of these sequences involve stepping on circles in a specific order to unlock hidden rooms. Other puzzles involve rotating a bunch of circles within a giant circle so that the green spot on them is all lined up and other puzzles that involve the triplets. The triplets are three little bears that you control to solve a puzzle. These puzzles involve using switches, pulleys, and other gadgets. The catch is that you will have to constantly switch between the three bears in order to solve the puzzles. You may have to control one bear to pull a level which opens a door for another bear to hit a switch which allows another bear to hit the final switch to finish the puzzle. These puzzles are the most complicated in the game and require some thought. Some of them I figured out within ten seconds while others had me sitting and thinking about how to solve them; one specific puzzle took me almost 20 minutes to figure out.
The other aspect of the gameplay is heavily focused on platforming. One of the best ways to kill a 3D platformer is to have a crappy camera and annoying platforming. For the most part Brave handles this fine but there are times when problems arise. Just when you think you are jumping towards a platform in some spots, you end up falling into a pit below. There was one jump in particularI had to make where I jumped 5 or 6 times thinking I was above the platform but was too far away from it. Luckily, falling only takes away part of your life and health potions are plentiful so you shouldn't have to worry about dying by constantly falling. I did have an issue another time when platforming down a mountain; the camera was placed too high up so it was difficult to see if there was a platform below me. Only after I jumped did the camera re-position itself so I could see where I needed to jump. I only had a problem with this once and after I made the jump the first time the camera was fine.
The gameplay in Brave is simplistic but fun, mainly because the game is geared towards children. This, in itself,is another problem I had with this game. It’s not the necessarily the fact that it’s geared towards children; it’s the fact that this game may be too good for children. I can easily see young kids getting frustrated or lost in this game by constantly dying, not being able to figure out puzzles, not understanding how to upgrade skills, etc. That is where I feel co-op comes into play. The game does feature a co-op mode so parents, friends or siblings to play this game with their children and help them through it. I think this is the perfect family friendly game that parents can play with their kids. It’s easy enough for adults so they can help their kids through it without problems. Another problem is that every level in the game, while different in location plays out exactly the same way. You fight some enemies, solve the same style of puzzle, platform, solve another puzzle and then finish the level; then you will do that all over again in a new locale. There are only a couple bosses in the game to freshen the experience up a bit and the final part of the level usually revolves around having to survive waves of enemies coming at you. This becomes monotonous since simply hanging back and spamming your bow and arrow will easily vanquish all your foes with little effort.
Unfortunately you won’t be spending much time with Brave. I finished the game in about 6 hours; there are harder difficulty settings in the game which you can try your luck at which kids might enjoy doing, but for me I couldn't see myself going back and playing it again (unless I was going for all the trophies). Kids will most likely find fun in going through this game again especially if they have siblings or friends to play co-op with. There is also a "archery range" game mode which utilizes the PS Move controller so some people may find
additional fun competing against each other.
My complaints with Brave are more nitpicking than anything else. Gamers of any age can play this game and enjoy it and parents will have a blast playing this with their kids. Brave is surprisingly a good game; maybe a little too good. I personally feel like kids could get easily lost when playing this game. Though it’s short and relatively easy for an adult, it is be a blast to share with someone else like a sibling, child or friend. If you can look past some small issues like some tricky platforming and the fact that all the levels are almost identical, then you should find some fun in Brave.