Disney Interactive Studio’s newest game, Brave, is a breath of fresh air into the often lackluster kids’ video game sector. Based on the summer movie by the same name, Brave follows Princess Merida on her quest to break the curse of Mor’du, clear the forest of the blight, and turn her mother and three younger brothers back to human.
Players will race through eight levels as the fiery redhead Princess Merida. Using swords, bows and arrows, and an assortment of charms, Merida will have to defeat a variety of supernatural enemies, collect tapestry pieces and new weapons, and find a few new outfits for herself. Along the way, upgraded attacks and health can be purchased using coins won from defeating enemies and exploring the authentic Scottish Highland world.
While Merida is definitely the main player, a drop-in/drop-out coop mode lets a second player help Merida along as Coop Wisp, a fully interactive and upgradable forest spirit with an interest in seeing Merida succeed. Coop Wisp can shoot arrows, attack, and use charms just as Merida. Just remember that as a wil-o’-the-wisp, Coop Wisp is not substantial enough to trigger pressure plates or flip switches.
In each level, there will be several puzzles to solve. The entrance to each puzzle area is too small for Merida to enter, so cue the adorable triplet bear cubs, also known as Merida’s younger brothers. Playing as the triplets, players will move each cub around a puzzle board to flip levers, rotate doors, and open passages for Merida.
Also, players should be on the lookout for Queen Elinor, a literal depiction of a momma bear. Elinor appears whenever the enemies surrounding Merida get too dangerous, and becomes controllable by the first player. Using a melee attack style, the Queen can make short work of multiple enemies. Just don’t expect her to stick around after the fight.
Sweeping visuals make this a very pretty game. Misty marshes, chilly ice floes, foggy forests, and enough texturing to make it all seem real makes this the prettiest game I’ve seen since Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It is a cartoon at heart, so don’t expect too much realism, but Pixar’s legendary attention to detail in hair and fur movement is definitely present here.
The player view is third person, meaning players will be able to see Merida, Coop Wisp, and any enemies at all times. It is not a player-adjustable view, however, and that can get frustrating for gamers who want to see their environment from every angle. The view does adjust automatically, helping less-experienced gamers along, and occasionally results in some spectacularly sweeping shots.
Despite its numerous strengths, this game is certainly not perfect. Controllable characters switch automatically as needed, meaning players are stuck as Merida or Coop Wisp until the triplets or Elinor is needed. For gamers who like to be able to switch at-will to a different character, this can be a frustrating constraint.
While the game itself is beautifully drawn, the camera angle is not controllable by players. It adjusts automatically during battles and level runs, and I never noticed a time when a clear view was obscured. However, a fixed camera is a rarity in current video game offerings, and it’s a difficult adaptation here. Make sure you are exploring everything and following every path- there is no shortcut side-scrolling here.
One important note to keep in mind for parents- a basic reading ability is needed for this game, especially if your child has difficulty understanding the thick Scottish accents. The Wii version of this game carries a warning to this effect on the back, a new detail that I hope to see catch on in game labeling. Also, the Wii version requires a nunchuck controller, in addition to the standard Wii remote, so make sure your child can easily manage both at the same time.
Overall, Brave is a strong offering from Disney Interactive Studios. With eight levels of varying lengths, and four different difficulty levels (easy, medium, hard, and of course- brave), this game has a solid play-replay capability. Rated E -10 for fantasy violence, this game will keep older children entertained with its Zelda-like atmosphere and Disney-Pixar storytelling. Minor technical issues may frustrate experienced gamers, and depictions of fiery enemies and supernatural beasties may frighten younger gamers. However, the clever dialogue and attention to detail that we’ve come to expect from the Disney-Pixar pairing holds up, and makes for a enjoyable game.
Final Rating: 9 out of 10.