Review: Brave: The Video Game
There’s a new buzz-phrase getting bandied around Xbox-land at the moment (forgive me if you’ve heard it already), “Better With Kinect”. No doubt designed to inspire you to part with your hard-earned for a title you probably wouldn’t have bought otherwise – “it must be good, see it’s got ‘Better With Kinect’ on it”, screams your wallet – in the case of most games it’s a case of “Better With Kinect, because we couldn’t think or be bothered to come up with a way of improving our core gameplay at all”. Skyrim and Mass Effect 3 are two very good examples of games that actually are a bit “Better With Kinect”, but we’re still waiting to see if the likes of FIFA 13 can be improved or if developers are just cashing in on a lucrative market. Brave: The Video Game is one such title that claims that Microsoft’s eyeball-under-your-telly increases your gaming enjoyment and just about gets away with it, although it smacks more of “Tacked On With Kinect” than anything else – but we’ll get to that later.
The film the game is based on is the latest Disney Pixar offering about the Kelly Macdonald-voiced Merida, a Scottish Princess who goes against an old custom and ends up having to use her bravery and her archery skills in order to undo a “beastly curse”. I haven’t seen the film, so I won’t go too far into the story of the game in case it contains spoilers, but it expands on the film’s story and contains an angry-looking bear with what appear to be various swords and cutlasses driven into his back (which, to be fair, I wouldn’t be happy about either) as the main antagonist, who corrupts the peaceful surroundings of Merida’s country, The Neverending Story-style. What follows is a rather middle-of-the-road action-adventure-come-twin-stick-shooter title that sees you take control of Merida as she attempts to oust the threat, with a little help from her Mother and triplet brothers, who for some reason have all been turned into bears themselves – which I’m hoping may be made clearer in the film.
Merida’s sections make up the brunt of the game, traversing the numerous landscapes that come as standard with these sorts of titles – even if the environments make no sense to the universe, as a whole the standard lush forests and icy passes all make an appearance, accessed through The Ring Stones which act as your sort-of mini hub world. The level design is incredibly simple, confirming the fact that Brave: The Video Game is clearly aimed at the younger end of the market, but ramp up the difficulty to the hardest setting – better known as “Brave” mode – and the game actually becomes quite a challenge, albeit a slightly rudimentary one.
Merida has access to four different elemental charms collected throughout her adventure: Earth, Fire, Wind and Ice, with certain enemies proving weaker against certain elements than the others – the bonus here is that your enemies come with a small icon over the tops of their heads showing you which element they’re susceptible to, although it’s quite obvious that the Fire enemies will be weaker against Ice weapons and vice versa. Combat can be quite satisfying once you’ve racked up all four elements, switching between them on the fly using the left and right bumpers, Merida also gains a otherwordly glow about her depending on which element you’ve selected, in case the highlighted icon in the bottom left of the screen wasn’t clue enough – her surroundings take on a greenish hue when she’s using the Earth charm for example, or red for the Fire charm.
Weapons come in the form of a sword, which has a basic four-strike attack, and the more useful bow and arrow, fired using the right stick. The game does urge you to use a combination of both, but I found the ranged combat offered by the bow more satisfying and slightly easier, with the fact that you can strafe and dodge around enemies whilst delivering damage from a distance proving the most effective tactic. Unfortunately, the game has a habit of dumping you in some extremely close-quarters situations, with some super-hardcore adversaries – there’s a range of giant golem/troll-type creatures that throw rocks at you from a distance, or pound on you if you get in too close that take a ridiculous amount of damage to destroy, and the fact that they invariably they come backed by some sort of elemental wolf-creatures that nip around and avert your eye from the slower-moving giants means that you’ll need your wits about you. As it progresses, the game mixes up your opponents at these choke points, throwing in a pack of Ice wolves alongside a Fire golem or two, meaning you have to prioritise your targets whilst deftly maneuvering around them in order to succeed.
Luckily, Merida picks up coins as she progresses, released from breakable objects like barrels and (oddly) foliage, that she can spend on a merchant stone once it’s been cleansed of the nasty bear character’s evil. This involves clearing out the surrounding area of any enemies, which rewards you with a flash of light and a de Blob 2-style explosion of flowers and greenery around the now-active stone. You can purchase weapon upgrades that add an airborne strike to your swordplay or a charged shot to a particular elemental arrow type, as well as more basic stuff like a greater health boost from potions dropped by fallen enemies or a wider area of coin-suckery. You can also upgrade your boost meter, which fills as you dish out and absorb damage – once it’s maxed out, pressing B will augment your current attack to a higher level for a short period of time and adds extra oomph to your sword strikes or a triple-shot effect to your bow until it runs out. There are also tapestry pieces and other weapons to be found on your travels too, with the tapestry pieces boosting your health or a particular character’s attack whilst, conversely, the weapons don’t really seem to offer much variation, even though you can chop and change them whilst in a merchant stone.
This is where the Kinect section comes into play, accessed from the game’s main menu. Laid out as an archery range, there are three different game types that allow you to win gold to add to your in-game purse – none of them are particularly taxing, although the actions required to fire an arrow are quite pleasing. You aim with your left arm raised in front of you as if you’re holding a bow, then your draw your right hand away from your left and across your body to your right shoulder – mimicking the action of a real archer – and then throwing your right hand away to the right to release the arrow at a range of moving and stationary targets down the archery range. Gold is awarded for quickly clearing the range, or taking all targets out within a set number of arrows, and it actually is quite good fun for a while – depending on how dedicated your are to unlocking all of the upgrades in the main game. Aiming is super-sensitive though, with even the slightest movements translating into a massive on-screen wobble.
Getting back to the main game and the other characters I mentioned earlier, you take control of your mother or triplet brothers at different points, with the former featuring as a sort-of tank creature that just rampages around smashing up enemies Merida wouldn’t be able to cope with, whilst the latter tackle some very basic lever-based puzzles to unlock doors and drawbridges. It’s all incredibly rudimentary stuff, but it does break the action up – and although the triplet puzzles seem easy at first there are a couple of real head-scratchers later on.
The graphics are a mixed bag and with the right stick allocated to firing your bow there’s no direct camera control so the game does it for you – at times this can be quite frustrating, especially as the action is often viewed from too far away to be able to judge jumping distances on platforming sections, and there’s some quite shocking slow down for no apparent reason. The levels are great to look at to begin with, but their simplified nature means that there’s no real variation within them. The initial forest level is by far the most impressive, with sunlight breaking through the trees with a very lush overall feel, whilst the ice level is just grey and dull by comparison. Disappointingly enough, as Brave is based on a Disney Pixar film I was expecting some cracking cut scenes, but instead the short narrative sequences are played out as if reading a book – classic stuff for anyone who enjoyed the opening of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty film, but I would most definitely rate the lack of animated cutscenes as a bit of a missed trick, especially given both Disney and Pixar’s rich heritage.
Kelly Macdonald reprises her role as Merida, and does so with aplomb – although you need to turn the monotonous, repetitive “Scottish period” music down in order to hear her various exclamations of joy and pain, she tends to repeat the same phrases over and again however.
Brave: The Video Game wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, which probably stood it in good stead. It’s a blatant cash-in, incredibly simple and a bit repetitive, but the core gameplay does stand up and the twin-stick control system works very well. It’s as easy as pie on the lower difficulties and a good challenge in Brave mode, and there are some easy achievement points for those who want to purchase all the upgrades and bag all the collectibles. The Kinect-enabled archery range is tacked-on and the game would have fared better without it, and perhaps some extra spit and polish added to the main game instead, or even some proper Pixar-animated cutscenes to give it that extra bit of authenticity. As it stands, it’s not a full-price title, but I do feel Disney could have got away with charging top whack for it on Xbox Live Arcade – but if you’re looking for something to keep the 10 year-old happy during the final weeks of summer holidays then you could do worse.
Review: Brave: The Video Game Results
What we liked:
Nice twin-stick shooter action
Brave mode offers a good challenge
Easy achievement points, for those that want them
What we disliked:
Kinect archery range is a bit of a waste of disc space
Lack of camera control makes platforming a chore
A bit too average to warrant a full price retail release