With a large circular stamp on the front the retail box, Brave: A Warrior's Tale is very clearly labeled as a Family Game. After slogging through its short duration, it's clear only a certain kind of family might be well served by purchasing this product. It's not necessarily for the pre-teen market, since, as any Xbox gamer could tell you, there are plenty of sprightly youths making a racket over their headsets in Call of Duty 4 and Halo 3 servers and efficiently putting to shame the skills of their elders in the process. No, Brave is more for someone who's barely touched a videogame, someone who's never felt the joy of a level up or the satisfying jolt of landing a headshot.
In that sense, I'm basically writing to parents for the purposes of this article, since any child for whom this game would be appropriate wouldn't necessarily know to browse for reviews. They might not even yet know how to use a keyboard, or be able to climb into a desk chair. If you're a regular player of videogames, bail out of this article now. If you're somewhat new to the scene but would still prefer a challenge or something more mature, click back over to our game review tab. Brave is only for the innocent and uninitiated, and even so, only manages to offer up a few interesting morsels.
The game plays like a skim milk version of The Legend of Zelda that's been left out in the sun for a few days. It strikes the pleasure centers of the brain that flash and buzz during the course of a normal gaming experience like a bike ride down a hot windy street on trash day. Sometimes you're in the clear and coast forward and all seems well, but then you pass into a foul patch and regret turning down the road in the first place.
It's a tale told mostly in flashback, as a group of Native American children listen to a village elder prattle on about adventures past against a dastardly Wendigo spirit. During the course of the adventure you'll upgrade your abilities, at first using sticks on fire to light things and read cave paintings, then later on gaining magical powers, throwing axes, and bows and arrows to battle against wolves, spirits, and rock golems.
Since this isn't a game meant to confuse the player, all stages are built to be simple to move through. Minimap highlights and a strangely non-specific hint system are there to prod you forward, but given the limited space of each stage it's near impossible to reach the point where you're not sure where to go. What will be more of a problem is actually performing some of the actions.
Brave can jump and double jump, dive and roll forward, and grab on to stuff to climb. He's got a very limited combo system at his disposal and a power-up special ability, making all fighting of the melee variety an easy thing. Just keep hitting that attack button and you'll win eventually. With infinite lives and an auto-save system that frequently kicks in, the game never requires you replay too large a section, and you'll never have to start over entirely.
All that seems to work well considering the target audience, but then the game kicks you in the side of the head when it comes to actually moving around. Platforming and climbing is too imprecise to be any fun here. It's too much of a chore to manage Brave's footing and relative jump distances, particularly when trying to bound across some of the fast-moving platform sections near the end of the game. That doesn't mean I'm complaining that it's too hard – it's not – and it shouldn't be too difficult for a young audience. It's just that through no fault of your own you'll find Brave goes tumbling from floating platforms because he mysteriously wouldn't stop rolling forward or the camera got stuck in a rock or wouldn't adjust to the correct angle or wasn't actually showing the next platform in the jumping sequence. In this sense it feels like an unfinished product where not enough care was given to the presentation to ensure the player can jump through the game's hoops without inadvertently flying off into a lava lake when the goal was to simply jump across a short gap.
What it does have, however, is a touch of variety. In addition to battle arenas, Brave will jump in a canoe, ride astride an eagle, hack his way up the sides of icy cliffs with picks, and spear fish floating beneath the ripples of ponds. The changes of pace are nice. The fact that only some of the sequences work consistently well is disappointing. Climbing with picks, alternating button presses to initiate swings with each hand, is a bothersome process it's difficult to imagine anyone having a good time with. The canoe sections feel as though you're gliding across glass, and adequate would be the most flattering way to describe the flight controls.
It certainly doesn't help that the Brave's visuals are terrible. It's colorful, sure, but its world is decorated with textures drab and lifeless enough to give a Gamecube the giggles (Hey there, Wii version
). There's also the issue of the game's progression structure, which adheres to the oh-so-familiar go forth and find a bunch of pieces of an ancient gizmo that when combined can defeat the ultimate evil. Then do it again. Then, oh yes, do it again. Considering the short bit of time required to make it through to the end, it's surprising this kind of repetition was necessary. There'll come a point where new ideas stop being introduced and an avalanche of rehashed challenges tumble over you until the final battle is underway, at which point you'll likely be glad the experience is finally over.
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