The bravest thing of all is platforming at the mercy of this camera system.
Here at DigitalChumps, we see plenty of games cross our desks (and consoles) which aren’t much to get excited about. But the ones which truly trouble us reviewers are those which clearly exhibit a sense of purpose and ambition, but whose pieces simply don’t fit together as well as had been planned. Enter Brave: A Warrior’s Tale, a dated (previously PS2-based) game which features elements you might find in a typical Zelda title, all simplified and embellished to better appeal to a younger audience, but which is also tragically plagued by a number of fundamental mechanical problems. It’s a classic example of a game with a solid vision and sense of direction but a flawed execution.
To tell a story
Brave: A Warrior’s Tale stars, well, Brave, a young Native American who’s tasked with defeating the evil Wendigo and his legions of undead soldiers. It’s set in a world of predictably primitive properties, including forests, mountains, volcanoes, and even snowy vistas—sort of like what you’d expect to see from, again, Zelda or Okami. Right from the start, the story is presented in the form of a grandfather’s tale, accentuating the appeal to a younger audience and effectively prefacing the attitude of the rest of the game (the game’s exaggerated style of voice acting fits well with the ages 5 – 12 demographic as well).
On that note, coming off the no-frills opening menu system, you might be surprised to find Brave sporting plenty of said voice acting and some pretty fancy pseudo-camerawork throughout the opening cut scenes. Frolicking squirrels lead the camera across the landscapes and frogs leap rhythmically from the water below… it’s all very cinematic. Such is the case throughout the entire game, in fact; whoever worked on the story-driven in-between segments did a pretty bang-up job planning the whole deal. It’s a pity that technologically the game’s graphical engine cannot keep up, as for every surprisingly competent scene there are countless more skips and stutters as it chugs along. It’s hardly forgivable when you take into account the fact that the game’s textures resemble something from the N64 era.
Platforming the Native American way
Nevertheless, moving beyond the theatrics, the gameplay is squarely traditional for the genre. You move with the analog stick, jump with A, attack with B, and perform various other techniques using a combination of Z and the D-pad buttons. You can also free-look with 1 and center the camera behind Brave with C, but shockingly, in totality, there is almost no degree of camera control to be found. This is, in fact, one of the game’s greatest problems: its camera system is shamefully primitive, bouncing and pivoting with every little jump and turn, always seemingly preferring awkward angles and just generally making navigation a chore. It’s sometimes nearly impossible to view what’s around the next corner while running around, resulting in frequent blind mishaps, such as a surprise date with one of ever-so-many thorny thickets that line the planet. It’s a source of constant frustration even in fixed- camera situations, such as the first boss fight with the bear, which might better be described as a disorienting tour of the bear’s polygonal internals and backside, even while you’re supposed to be fighting him.
Other aspects of the gameplay are considerably smoother, though largely run-of-the-mill. Combat takes place primarily by way of stick (sometimes burning), tomahawk, or bow-and-arrow—again, all very Native American. You’ll pick up new techniques by encountering cave paintings… and in due time, you’ll be climbing, fishing, and tracking/mimicking creatures to lure them into the open and collect secret totems (which unlock 48 different pieces of developer artwork). You also get a “spirit charge” system which basically amounts to a short burst of combat power.
One unique element is the ability to possess creatures and control them—but you can only do so when a special plinth is nearby. Once inside a creature, you can control it for only a few short seconds unless you follow whatever linear path is provided; the spirit energy runs out so quickly that there’s really no room for exploration, so it all feels entirely scripted. It’s also possible to summon other creatures (such as a bear or eagle) in similar fashion, though these are usable throughout the duration of an event (such as a boss battle for instance).
In keeping with the game’s Native American style, there’s also a heavy emphasis on synergy with the natural world and its inhabitants. On several occasions, for instance, you’ll find yourself following the tracks of various woodland creatures such as squirrels or skunks. These tracks can only be uncovered by pressing Z near a footprint; after each press of the button, another print is made subtly visible nearby along the trail. Hidden trails can only be seen when in free-look mode—otherwise, you must follow your heartbeat to locate the tracks. This is an interesting mechanic which can get to be a bit tedious, but falls well in line with the folklore of the culture on which the game is based.
While Brave is open-world 3D style, it’s also quite difficult to get lost—not only because of the extreme linearity of the design, but also thanks to the ever-present map and “Mobile Stone”, which provides one-button access to an assortment of context-sensitive hints. Speaking on that last point, to Zelda fans: if you thought Navi was annoying, you’ve yet to experience Grey Bear, who flashes the mobile stone at you so that he can shower you with advice that half of the time you can’t even use. For instance, while climbing the ivy to the top of the waterfall in the beginning of the game, Grey Bear saw fit to interrupt the expedition with “Now that you can climb ivy, find a way back to the top of the waterfall.” Fortunately, there is an entry in the options menu to scale back the hints system or turn it off altogether… though kids probably won’t mind the frequent disruptions. Overall, it’s probably a wise implementation considering the target audience.
The hole’s too deep
But the frustrations persist throughout nearly the entire experience. In addition to the unrelenting—even glitchy—camera problems, platforming is (artificially) made even tougher by the fact that your character lacks a shadow. The combat is mostly repetitive run-and-mash-the-button style, save for the occasional variation on the theme, such as the need attack a golden beetle while vulnerable and then ground-pound on top of it. The aforementioned camera skips and stutters permeate the gameplay as well as the cut scenes. And the entire 7 – 10 hour adventure as a whole, even with its smattering of supplemental mini-games (such as canoeing and eagle-flying), just feels far too formulaic and uninteresting, audience notwithstanding. It’s a shame, because with a bit more creativity and a lot more technical refinement, Brave might have made a pretty solid kids’ action/adventure title.
Full Disclosure: Reviewer completed the single-player adventure and collected an embarrassingly small number of the secret totems—hey, lay off… not everyone’s cut out for mimicry.