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Brave: The Video Game Review (PS3)

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Brave: The Video Game

Brave: The Video Game

Image © Disney Interactive
Video games based on movies comprise a notoriously sketchy genre in that most of them aren't even worth the discs on which they are burned. Why? Why is it so difficult to make a video game based on a hit movie that feels like more than a cheap product tie-in? The genre is so bereft of quality that a feature I was planning on the best movies based on video games was canceled because there simply isn't enough "best" from which to choose. Most of them are merely mediocre platformers ("Monsters vs. Aliens," "Megamind") while a few are truly horrendous ("Iron Man," "Saw"). "Brave: The Video Game" falls into the former category, never being so horrifically developed that it becomes grating but also missing the opportunity to fully expand on the world of the hit Pixar film.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Disney Interactive
  • Developer: Disney Interactive Studios
  • ESRB Rating: E 10+ (Everyone 10 and Older)
  • Genre: Family Action
  • Pros: Simple Gameplay, Interesting Environments
  • Cons: Numbing Repetition, Drawn-Out Storytelling

Of course, one takes on the role of Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald in the film) in the game version of "Brave" and the action of the story here uses the basic template of the film as its foundation. In the movie, Merida meets a witch who gives her a spell that transforms her mother, Queen Elinor (voiced by Emma Thompson), into a bear. Merida has to find the courage required to reverse the spell while also facing the ancient bear Merdu, the legendary creature who hobbled her King father. All of these elements -- the spell, the bears, the universe of the film -- serve as the starting point for "Brave: The Video Game."

Gameplay

Brave: The Video Game

Brave: The Video Game

Image © Disney Interactive

The game expands on this story as the narrative of "Brave" doesn't feature quite enough enemies to justify a video game. Instead of finding courage within herself, Merida becomes a killing machine, wiping out hundreds of enemies with her sword and bow. It's thematically disappointing to see a film about finding the courage within turned into a game about brute force but that's to be expected. The most interesting facet of the combat in "Brave" is that the developers don't just stick with sword-and-bow melee. They incorporate a gem system based on the elements -- Earth, Fire, Wind, and Ice. Different enemies require different gems, which are indicated above their heads and cycled through the R2/L2 buttons. Merida has to clear enough levels to get to fight Merdu and the creatures he has summoned that further represent the four elements.

The gameplay of "Brave" is simple enough to be picked up easily by most gamers over the age of seven. It is broken up once per level by a puzzle-solving mini-game that features Merida's bear brothers from the film but there's not nearly enough of this variety in the gameplay. A vast majority of "Brave" could be played with one finger's pressed down permanently on the "shoot arrow" button. It's such a simple platformer that even the game's young fans are likely to get bored. It's a common problem of the "movie game" genre in that developers think they need to dumb-down gameplay to appeal to the young audience of the film but they underestimate the gaming skills of their demographic. "Brave" is too simple.

The simple gameplay wouldn't be as problematic if the rest of the game hadn't been dumbed down as well. The design of the film version of "Brave" is so gorgeous and so well-crafted that the lackluster environments here feel like such a waste of an opportunity. The game has no depth of field as Merida bounces through a universe that looks remarkably similar to one of the first "Jak" games...for the PS2. The Pixar universe is such a striking one on film that seeing it reduced to such a lackluster one in a game is all the more frustrating.

And the narrative of the game is muddled. It's as if they took the core themes of the film -- bears, nature, archery -- and never quite figured out how to build an engaging story on top of them. Kids probably won't notice and will merely enjoy playing their favorite movie in video game form but adults will be bored with the non-existent story.

Graphics & Sound

As mentioned, "Brave" doesn't feature nearly the level of design quality as the film on which it's based. The look of the Pixar version of "Brave" is arguably its greatest strength and the game version looks like a last-gen platformer. The sound design is similarly mediocre.

Bottom Line

Brave: The Video Game

Brave: The Video Game

Image © Disney Interactive
Perhaps it's easy to get too critical of a game that's designed for a youth demographic. To that end, "Brave" does offer something notable that we don't often see in video games or children's feature films -- a female heroine. If it could entice more young girls to play video games than "Brave: The Video Game" has certainly done something valuable even if it doesn't break the pattern of its critically reviled genre.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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