This may come as a surprise to some younger gamers, but licensed titles didn’t always have such a miserable reputation. Disney has a history of association with fantastic digital interpretations of their cartoons and films. Duck Tales and, to a lesser extent, Chip & Dale’s Rescue Rangers, are still heralded as examples of timeless 8-bit classics. A debate still rages as to which 16-bit Aladdin reigns supreme. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the tie-in with the recent animated film Brave is an enjoyable romp for kids and parents alike.

The game does a reasonable job of clueing players in on the story, though it still makes an assumption that you’ve seen the movie. The latest Disney princess, Merida (a stronger role model for young girls than many in the pantheon) makes a wish to change her fate and escape her royal destiny. The result is a curse on her mother and brothers, turning them into bears. Now, it is up to the lass to lift the pall and return her family to their human forms.

As you progress through the different Highland areas either alone or via same-screen co-op with a friendly Will o’ the Wisp, New swords, bows and elemental charms become available. The collectibles are terribly cumbersome and all have a purpose. Tapestry pieces enhance the base statistics of Merida, the Wisp and Queen Elinor (in bear form), who can be controlled during some combat scenes.

Coins flow freely from plants and other destructible items and are used to purchase upgrades. There are plenty of enhancements, bestowing new moves, damage upgrades and unique effects for charging a bow shot with each of the four elemental charms. The sword combat is traditional hack and slash. It gets the job done, but I greatly preferred the twin-stick nature of the ranged attacks. Had the game completely eschewed melee fighting, the title wouldn’t have suffered in the least.

The combat does tend to get frantic, which keeps things fresh for the adults on the couch. Cycling through the elements at your disposal, rolling away from attacks and charging up powerful shots is a great deal of fun. It’s unfortunate that the exploration and platforming elements don’t reach the same level.

When playing solo, things aren’t so bad. The camera angels make some of the jumps difficult leading to some frustrating deaths. In co-op though, it gets much worse. The same-screen nature means communication is key.

Anyone who has ever played with a child knows that sticking together is one of the most difficult aspects of the endeavor. In the sections that require frequent leaps across moving platforms (especially when players are responsible for creating those platforms), things become too confused. The worst offense, though, is that should one member of the duo perish, the other cannot proceed. Allowing the survivor to attempt to complete combat would have been far preferable and prevented an excess of flow-breaking loads.

It’s not all bad, though. The environments are varied, covering classic gaming tropes including forests, caves and frozen mountainsides. There are the occasional lock-and-key “puzzles,” but these exist solely to break up the feeling of linearity or to guide players to a new item. There are moments of cerebral engagement, though.

Merida’s devilish triplet brothers are on hand to assist with opening complex locks. Each of these puzzles requires cycling through the cubs, er… kids in the correct order. Pull switches, turn gears and cross platforms to open the barriers in the red-headed heroine’s way.

For those that are looking for a more active experience, the Xbox 360 version includes three Kinect minigames. Quiver Limit gives you arrows along with stationary and (later) moving targets to hit with them. The fewer arrows you use, the better the medal and coin (for main game upgrades) rewarded. Survival mode offers wooden monster cutouts that advance toward the screen, with reward predicated on how many rounds are bested. Finally, Quick Draw is all about the timing. The faster you hit your marks, the better your score.

The minigames are interesting, all using the same sequence of three gestures that loosely mimic archery. They are worth trying once, but I can’t see myself investing much time with them. The one aspect I did appreciate was that arrows are affected by gravity. For targets in the distance, you are required to aim higher. It’s a little touch, but it evidences that these exercises have some thought behind them.

The visuals are faithful to the film, accurately capturing Pixar’s mystique. The wood-carving style of the cut-scenes and the distinctive celtic touches, down to the heather dotting the landscape, is attractive. The game does tend to slow down in odd places. Combat is usually smooth, but sometimes when the field is clear, things grind down.

The sound is a joy, with lilting tunes filling the soundscape. Merida is voiced by Kelly Macdonald, the same actress who performed the role in the film. The audio cues are good for younger players who might not spend as much time looking at the HUD. Getting aural notifications when health is low in the middle of a hectic battle isn’t uncommon, but they are executed well in Brave.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play through this game with my daughter, who was enchanted by the film. She loved taking control of a character that is strong willed, accepting of responsibility for her actions and determined to take control of her destiny despite society’s expectations of a woman’s role.

If for no other reason, Brave is worth playing through because it offers a likable, strong and interesting female protagonist. Thankfully, that is not the sole motivation to experience the title. It is a capable adventure that is perfect for bringing parents and children together, offering elements that both groups can enjoy. Pixar, bEhaviour and Disney are all deserving of praise.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ Great presentation and voice acting
+ Enjoyable adventuring, even if linear
+ Combat is brisk and challenging
+ Upgrade system is well-designed
- Odd frame rate drops
- Co-op is hit and miss
- Despite going further than some movie tie-ins, assumptions are still made that players have seen the film

 

7 and 7.5 represent a game that overall manages to be worth a playthrough, just not worth the full price at launch. These scores are for games that are relatively good or even really good, but generally worth waiting for a sale or picking up as a rental when possible.

Brave was developed by bEhaviour and published by Disney Interactive Studios. It was released on June 19, 2012 at the MSRP of $59.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.