To tell you the truth, I had no plans to see Disney/Pixar’s Brave let alone play the video game, but when the title came up for review, and it just so happened to come with a movie ticket, I couldn’t resist. The movie was surprisingly good, more so from a graphical standpoint and some amazing 3D-wow moments on the big screen, than the repurposed story of family angst, evil witches, and life lessons learned. Plus, I’ve always dreamed of going to Ireland/Scotland so this magical trip to a mythical version of Scotland was quite thrilling.
Rather than risk any potential spoilers I decided to watch the film prior to playing the game, and ultimately this was a good decision because the various parchment-style story panels between the various game stages will provide plenty of movie-related information; however the game has plenty of other content that expands upon what could be shown on screen, so not only do you get to recap the theatrical adventure and relive its greatest moments, you also get to go beyond it.
Brave is definitely targeted for kids, but that’s not to say older players won’t have their own brand of fun, especially if you are a fan of twin-stick shooters. While created in 3D, the game is played from a top-down isometric view that allows you to play as Merida voiced by her movie actress, Kelly Macdonald, so you get that lovely Scottish accent. The game mixes up hack and slash swordplay with Merida’s prowess with a bow, and thanks to an infinite stream of arrows, the game quickly tips in favor of twin-stick shooting tactics rendering the sword almost useless, especially after you power-up your archery skills to the point where enemies will seldom invade your melee space.
Despite her youth and initial immaturity, Merida was a powerful female character in the film and that power spills over into the game creating a powerful female game heroine that will delight girl gamers and quite possibly turn off potential boys. When I showed this to my 8-year-old nephew he wanted no part of playing as a red-haired princess in a dress, but I was able to overcome his objections when I dressed her in one of her alternate armored costumes that blurred the male/female lines. Ultimately, he was most content as playing as a drop-in Will-o’-the-wisp, a small blue magical fairy that shares similar melee and ranged combat abilities as Merida.
After the opening scenes and minimal tutorial you are taken to the Ring of Stones, the hub area that will slowly unlock to grant you access to each new chapter in the game. Each area has a unique look and design as well as a variety of new enemy types and challenging boss fights. You’ll want to be smashing everything in sight from boxes and barrels to flowers and shrubs, all of which shower you with coins that can be used to purchase new abilities and weapon upgrades. I was surprised at how deep this upgrade system actually got. It even rivals some of the more sophisticated RPG’s I normally play. Everything from sword and bow upgrades to health and gravitation coin collection can be purchased in this store.
Elemental magic comes into play when you eventually unlock and can start choosing specific sword and arrow attacks with the D-pad. Imbuing you arrows with fire or ice is an effective tool when combating enemies of the opposite element, and you are even shown an icon above the target of what magical attack you should be using. Later, when the game starts throwing multiple enemy types at you it can be quite challenging to be swapping around to all the various elements during a single encounter.
Another fun element is the inclusion of Merida’s three younger brothers who have accidentally be turned into baby bear cubs. From time to time you will come to a puzzle area that requires the three bears to work together pulling levers and dragging objects around. These rare moments are when two players are better than one since you won’t have to do nearly as much bear swapping to solve the puzzle.
I didn’t really see that much of a difficulty spike when a second player dropped into the game. Enemies just went down faster and all the gold is pooled in Merida’s personal account, so any upgrades for the Will-o’-the-wisp are at player one’s discretion. For me, I found it hard to invest in upgrades for player two knowing that I would be playing the game primarily by myself. I only started splurging on my on-again-off-again partner after Merida was fully leveled up. Co-op gameplay all takes place on a single screen and if player two starts to straggle and fall of the edge of the screen they will magically reappear by Merida’s side moments later. This comes in very handy on treacherous jumping puzzles where it’s best just to leave Will-o’ behind for a moment and have Merida make the jumps to the other side.
Brave also has Kinect support. While almost all of my Kinect usage since I’ve owned the device has been voice commands in Mass Effect 3 and now in Skyrim, I’ve had a few hours of amusement tinkering with the game demos that came in the Kinect bundle. The use of Kinect in Brave feels very much like those demos. Outside the main story mode is an archery mini-game that has you shooting at various targets on the screen while mimicking holding a bow and arrow. You assume the archer stance, aim your virtual bow so the on-screen reticle is on the target and then move your arrow hand away from your body. The main issue here is that for Kinect to see both your hands you have to stand at an offset angle, which means you are always aiming to the left or right of the on-screen cursor; sometimes you won’t even be aiming at the screen. And then, no matter how subtle you move your arrow hand to “release” the arrow, it almost invariably affects your aim at the last minute. But again, this is a kids game, and they are sure to overlook such issues as they physically immerse themselves in their new female game and movie heroine.
Thankfully, Brave is launching at $50 and with early copies including an $8 movie ticket voucher that further reduces the sting of what is arguably a rather short game. With only 6-8 hours of gameplay (less if you are co-op’ing) and no real reason to revisit the story aside from maxing out all the upgrades and earning Achievements, there is little to keep you coming back; not even the Kinect archery. Any money you might save with the enclosed movie ticket can also be saved by merely renting this game for a long weekend or waiting for it to hit budget pricing. Brave is a great movie and a great game for the entire family (especially young girls), but it lacks the staying power to keep it on your shelf after the family has experienced its magic the first time.