When Brave turned up in the mail, I received it with little enthusiasm. A video game based on an animated kid’s movie is not something to get excited about.
Then I started playing the game, and I got excited about it.
Developed by: Disney Interactive Studios
Published by: Behavior Games
For ages: 10 and Up
Release Date: June 19, 2012
The Basics: Good Visuals, Solid Controls, Bears
A third-person action-adventure game, Brave started to win me over right away simply by looking good. As its red haired protagonist ran through the forest after an escaping bear, pretty white birds flew up out of her way. Later she visited a rocky shore, the ocean waves crashing dramatically about her.
Movie-based games often feel like cheap knock-offs. Even when they are fun, it is a cheap fun, more Twinkie than Éclair. But Brave is a game made by people who want you to enjoy it not because you’re a fan of the movie, but because it’s a well-made game. Character animations are fluid and detailed. The controls are responsive and comfortable. As its Scottish protagonist Merida glides quickly along the path, the game responds instantly when you want her to jump or shoot an arrow (or both). It’s not just that the controls and the physics are competent; they feel good.
The game revolves around Merida’s efforts to break a curse that has turned her family into bears (Stephen Colbert’s worse nightmare). To do this, she must explore a lot of scenic lands – forests, swamps, the icy tundra – destroying monsters until each land is clean of the curse. There’s not a lot of story, but it is clearly, though simply, told.
Merida has two weapons, a sword and a bow. The sword is swung with a flick of the Wii remote while the bow is mapped to the direction keys, making it simple to shoot in any direction. As you gather money dropped by monsters or found in chests (and even, oddly, in flowers), you can use it to buy upgrades such as the ability to do a powerful sword jump-attack, increase the power of health potions, add special attacks to bows, and more.
It is also possible to find enhanced weapons and magical tapestry pieces that are hidden on each level.
Merida encounters all sorts of monsters, including skeletons and creatures made of rock. Damage to a monster in part depends on which of four charms you have equipped; if faced with an ice monster, you will want to equip the fire charm. Charms are also needed for exploration; fire might be necessary to clear the vines blocking an entrance, while an earth charm can create a platform necessary to scale a cliff.
The Rest: Cute Puzzles, Over-Easy Bear Fights
While Merida is the combatant for most of the game, at times the player takes on the role of a gigantic bear. Unfortunately, the bear is much too powerful for attackers, making these sequences far too easy.
Besides combat and exploration, the game offers the occasional puzzle. Some are too easy to be considered true puzzles, like those in which you must stand on a series of pressure plates in the right order (made easy because the plates do not reset if you do it wrong). The best puzzles require the alternating use of Merida’s three cursed, bear-cub brothers.
The Verdict: Short But Well Done
One reason I was so struck by Brave was that I played it the same week I played Madagascar 3, a sometimes-fun game that suffers from the awkward controls and stiff character animation typical of movie-based kids’ games. When I put Brave in my Wii, I was expecting something that was, at best, similar. Instead, I got a game good enough to play even if you’ve never heard of the movie on which it’s based. Brave gave me a good deal of pleasure in the five or so hours it took me to finish it, but for me the main joy of the game was what it didn’t give me: disappointment.