Based on the Pixar film by the same name, Brave attempts to bring good action, sweet charm and depth to a video game movie stereotype that desperately needs it. If you're a gamer that knows the ropes when it comes to movie-to-game conversions, then you know what I'm talking about.
Brave is a simple game on the outside. You take Merida and you run around amongst multiple levels and try to restore the Irish countryside to its once proud nature. You also are fighting for your mother and brothers lives, as they have all been turned into bears due to a curse escalated by Merida's attitude and rebellious nature.
The gameplay for the main story of Brave is simplistic. You move Merida around on a linear path and take out repetitive enemies by sword or bow. The controls in the game are fit for a younger audience, as you have very simple controls initially with the sword controlled by a single button and a naturally comfortable right stick controlling the bow. I think I used the sword maybe under 10 times during the entire game, and simply enjoyed using the bow and arrow, as it's a more rapid solution.
To make the weapons a bit more interesting, along the way in the adventure you'll find five different elements that give your sword/bow different powers. For example, towards the end of the second level, you'll obtain a fire stone that allows you to fire fiery arrows at folks. Specific enemies fall quicker to specific elements, which are nicely labeled above said enemies. While that might seem incredibly annoying to experienced gamers, younger gamers will love the constant reminders. Of course, once you get the hang of the game (around the third or fourth level) you will identify enemies by what they are and use the appropriate elements to dispose of them.
Simplicity makes this sort of title easier to swallow and justify when trying to make a purchase for a younger gamer. But, this isn't the reason why the game is unique to its stereotypical pseudo genre of movie conversions.
Had Disney stopped there with this game then it would have fallen into line with the rest of its kind. Thankfully, they pushed on a bit further and gave Brave some depth below its simplistic crust. As Merida moves through the levels, there are chances for her to go off the beaten path once in a while. Easter Eggs are thrown everywhere in Brave, so if you see a path that looks interesting then you can wander off briefly. Most of the time you'll find coins in large containers, which is a good thing because they feed some lovely options.
Gathering coins is essential to changing this game up a bit. If you gather enough coins then you can do upgrades to Merida's abilities. You can give her more techniques, more powerful weapons and different ways to dispose of enemies. Disney didn't have to do this, but they went an extra step to make this game more than just another movie conversion. They give reason for younger gamers to repeat the adventure and to unlock more trophies. Most games of this type cannot claim such things, as generally they are just straightforward hollow shells that have absolutely nothing underneath.
So, bravo to Brave's development team for giving some much needed depth to this sort of title. It wasn't needed, but it shows the type of effort the team brought when they were making Brave.
Of course, nothing is perfect and Brave does have its flaws.
The visuals in Brave are pretty, but they're stuck somewhere between the PS2 and early titles for the PS3. I think that Disney could have certainly pushed the title a bit further than it did considering how gorgeous and new the movie seems to be. Pixar did one heckuva job pushing new boundaries with the film, so the game should have given a bit more in the presentation category. There isn't much fluid motion to her hair (you may think that's petty, but that was a big deal for the film), the environments aren't incredibly detailed or alive and there is a lot of graphical clipping that occurs during the cutscene.
The music and sound effects are definitely on par, as is the voice acting, but there are still issues with the overall presentation of the game.
Another annoyance in the game is the slowdown and speed up of the frame rate. I haven't seen this sort of variation since the Super Nintendo days. When tons of enemies start coming at you, and you'll find plenty moments of this, the frame rate will drop and the action will slow a bit. It's enough to be noticeable, which is something that shouldn't happen in this generation's titles. Heck, that shouldn't have happened in the last generation. Let me reassure you, I'm not a 'frame rate' kind of guy when it comes to games. When something is 60 or 30 fps, I don't care. I don't need that fluid motion and I won't drop a game's score for frame rate. With that said, it's not as simple as a frame rate being a constant 60 or 30; Brave literally drops in frame rate below 30, which makes affects the gameplay. Again, you can't do that with this generation of consoles.
The last complaint I have with this title is how the difficulty of the game goes from a gradual increase to insane towards the end. The first 6-7 levels of the game are pretty even, as the difficulty increases gradually, but the very end of the title, the final boss fight, simply goes through the roof in terms of difficulty. This game is geared towards kids and there is no reason to cause them frustration or stress. As a seasoned gamer, I felt myself cursing at the screen after repeated attempts at beating the title. Eventually I did beat it, but the game throws the kitchen sink, the washer/dryer and potentially the family car at you by the end. It was really frustrating and I remember remarking to my wife, who finds my cursing at games like this amusing, that a challenge is good for kids, but frustration is bad for them and defeats the game's purpose. You don't want to make your audience mad, and you must remember who you are catering to for this particular title. Disney's development team seemed to forget that for some reason towards the end of the game.
Anyway, the initial gameplay lasts about 7-9 hours, as each level (outside of the end fight) takes about 18 minutes to complete. For a younger gamer this will last a while. For us seasoned folks, this game will be a two-day experience at best. Should you feel the need to explore more, find more easter eggs and add more powers and trophies, then the game will show its real depth. That makes the price of the title ($49.99) a bit more tolerable. While I still think the target price should be $39.99, it's not terrible where it is, especially since you get a free ticket to see the film. No complaints in that category.
To the summary!