Brave: The Video Game Review (Xbox 360)



Since the days of ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, licensed movie tie-in games have consistently proven to be cheap, rushed garbage thrown onto shelves to make a quick buck. But as Traveller’s Tales’ Lego games continue to set the bar incredibly high for kid’s games based on movies, there’s a higher expectation for game developers to deliver quality products – ones that allow children to relive the adventures found in their latest favourite movie without feeling ripped off. Thankfully Brave: The Video Game, Disney’s latest adaptation, doesn’t short-change kids either and while it might not have quite the same all-ages appeal that the big-screen Pixar movies do, it’s an incredibly enjoyable, surprisingly deep action-adventure that kids will have a blast with.

Following the plot of the movie, Brave tells the tale of Merida, an adventurous young Scottish princess who’s a crack shot with a bow and can kick anyone’s butt with a sword in her hand. Her dad’s a fearless warrior and Merida’s a feisty chip off the old block, but her mother would much rather the girl devote her life to more ladylike things. Tired of her mum’s disapproval and being unable to be her tomboyish self, Merida makes a wish that her mother would just be different. But when the wish goes horribly wrong and her mother is turned into a bear, Merida is forced to set off on a quest to break the curse and set things right.

Quickly reminding youngsters that gaming isn’t just a boy’s club, Brave gives young girls and lads alike a tough, independent and instantly likeable heroine to root for and play as. Merida’s played wonderfully by immensely talented Scottish actress Kelly McDonald, who jumps into the game’s voice acting duties with lively gusto – a refreshing change from the usually half-asleep, phoned-in performances actors usually bring to tie-in games. Graphically, the game doesn’t really compete with the animation you’ll find in the film by any stretch of the imagination, but it looks nice enough, and there’s plenty of visual variety throughout the game’s surprisingly lengthy levels, whether you’re trekking through snow-covered forests or exploring dank underground caves.
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Brave: The Video Game is a twin-stick shooter at heart – you control Merida’s movements by guiding her around with the left thumbstick, aim and fire her bow by pointing the right stick in any direction and slash with her sword by pressing ‘X’ – making it a breeze for kids to pick up right away. Juggling the sword and bow can be a lot of fun and awfully handy – some enemies are more dangerous up close, so it’s better to pick them off from afar.

There are some platforming and puzzle elements woven throughout, too. You’ll find plenty of opportunity to hop across ledges, wall-jump up to higher sections or hit switches with your arrows to open doors. Some parts of the game have you controlling Merida’s triplet brothers turned bear cubs, and you’ll switch between the three, flipping switches and pulling levers to solve basic, but cleverly designed puzzles. Occasionally you take control of Merida’s bear mother, too, using her strength to smash and charge waves of enemies with ease. While the simple, intuitive controls mean the game’s easy for gamers of all ages to jump into, there’s a surprising amount of gameplay depth to be found the further in you get.

There’s a refreshingly wide variety of enemies, from savage, speedy wolves and flying birds to spear-throwing tree monsters and hulking, rock-tossing brutes. Making things even more interesting, as you progress through the game you’ll earn elemental powers and each enemy has its own elemental weakness in turn – hit a fiery enemy with an ice attack and you’ll do much more damage. Every foe has a little icon over their head to clue you into their weakness and you’ll often be taking on different kinds of enemy at once, so you’ll have to switch and swap between each power to take them down quicker.
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On top of the elemental powers, the game gives you enough power and ability upgrades to put most RPGs to shame. Hidden chests dotted around hide new weapons, fancy outfits and tapestries which boost your powers while vanquished enemies and chopped down plants strewn about the level drop gold for you to spend on upgrades whenever you find a merchant. The amount of abilities and power-ups you can sink your cash into is pretty extensive – there’s charged bow attacks for every element, ground pound moves, power up meters which fill whenever you give or take damage that lets you unleash temporary souped-up assaults, you can beef up the range of attacks, the amount of health you get from potions, and so on. There’s a tonne to unlock and the amount of character progression is incredibly impressive.

Brave also weaves in a co-op mode for young gamers who prefer to play with a friend or have a younger sibling around. While the first player controls Merida, the other controls a floating blue glowing Wisp. It’s a nice addiction, and with the Wisp having unlimited health, there’s no worry of an inexperienced second player dragging the game to a halt, so it’s perfect for more casual gamers to hop in and enjoy, too.

While Brave is a shockingly well put together game, especially for a movie tie-in, there are some noticeable little downsides. Platforming is sometimes made a bit annoying by the camera angles, which make it hard to judge your angle and distance when jumping from one ledge to the next. Thankfully the game’s incredibly forgiving in that sense, though; while you can whittle your health away to nothing by falling off ledges, you’ll never be able to die from it – only enemies can kill you. The game will keep you busy for a good couple of days with its lengthy story, but a few collectibles aside, there’s not a great deal of replay value.
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The choice of the game’s release date is a little odd, too. The film’s not out in the UK for another couple of weeks, and while the game admirably shies away from being a line-for-line recap of the movie, it does cover all the main beats of the film’s story. While kids likely won’t mind, older gamers might want to hold off a while if you’d rather see the movie first and avoid any minor spoilers.

Included exclusively with the 360 version are a trio of Kinect archery mini-games that you play separately from the main menu (the rest of the game is played entirely with the game pad). The three modes are small variations on the same game – you hold your arm out like you’re holding a bow to aim at moving wooden animal targets, hold your other hand like you’re gripping the bowstring to ready a shot, then extend your arm away from your body to release the string and fire. There’s a regular target shooting mode with several rounds of varying difficulty as you hit targets near and far, a wave-based survival mode where the targets creep ever closer to you have to knock them all down before they reach you and a speed-based quick-draw mode.

The games are alright as added extras and it’s nice that Disney Interactive made it a separate mini-game pack rather than shoehorning gimmicky motion controls into the game itself. There aren’t any achievements tied to them and there’s no real fanfare or sense of accomplishment for completing them, but you can earn gold for playing to spend on upgrades in the main game, which is a cool touch. Unfortunately the Kinect controls can occasionally be a little finicky, wildly jerking around when you’re trying to aim a shot and randomly zooming in rather than firing, so you won’t really be able to unleash your inner Katniss Everdeen, but it’s a decent enough distraction for a few minutes.
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Brave doesn’t pack much lasting appeal after you’ve played it through, but for young gamers riding the wave of excitement over the movie, it’s a shockingly deep and well crafted little action platform game and one they’ll have a huge amount of fun with.

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Brave: The Video Game is available for PS3, Xbox 360, DS and Wii.
Click here to buy the game from Amazon.co.uk.