Fluid combat, decent puzzles, stylish cutscenes
Derivative mechanics; plot is basic and does little justice to the movie, forgettable soundtrack
The era of Nintendo DS is essentially over, supplanted by its successor 3DS. Most third parties, and indeed Nintendo itself, have shifted development resources to the next generation of handhelds. Most, but not all; DS, after all, remains a monumentally successful handheld with an enormous user base. Projects with high probability of success and low development costs, such as sports titles and licensed movie titles, still trickle out on DS. Thus, it comes as no surprise that Disney Pixar’s latest film, Brave, has made its way onto the aging handheld, and to competent effect.
The film upon which this game is based is a good (if not great) Scottish anti-princess adventure, a tale of a feisty redhead named Merida whose antipathy toward the conventions of nobility lands her and her strong-willed mother in serious trouble. Brave for DS is loosely, loosely based on the events of the film. The game introduces, at the outset, the dilemma that has befallen Merida, and then turns her loose on her adventure. Plunging through craggy caves, green forests, and fiery pits, this DS title puts players in the role of the Scottish princess. Armed with a bow and sword, players must jump and shoot through a couple dozen stages, solving the occasional touch-based puzzle along the way.
In terms of production, the game is a mixed bag, though it is more good than bad. Behavior Interactive (formerly A2M) is a studio whose experience on DS includes, interestingly, Kung Fu Panda: Legendary Warriors, developed for Pixar’s arch-nemesis, Dreamworks. This connection is more important than it might seem, as the graphics engine used in Brave bears an uncanny resemblance to that in Legendary Warriors. Both are 3D platformers and both operate under similar laws of physics, although Brave demonstrates the expected advances in polish in the intervening years. The cutscenes, meanwhile, are much better in Brave then they were in Kung Fu Panda, a stylish story-drawn look that looks great, even if the content of cutscenes doesn’t quite do justice to the film.
The games sounds are no less mixed than its looks. There is actually a bit of voice acting in the game, including a few spoken lines by Merida apparently recorded by the character’s movie voice actress. The music, conversely, is thematically appropriate to the Scottish setting but is largely forgettable, in part because it is completely different from the soundtrack of the film.
Combat, the meat of the game, works well. Merida has the use of a bow and a sword, and thanks to the points-based ability purchasing system (that seemingly every action-adventure licensed title now uses), she can upgrade her talents to add more power, special attacks, and other goodies. Both the sword and the bow have their virtues and work fluidly in combat, and the game adds some depth by also including an element-based system that requires players to switch the elemental properties of weapons in response to the elements of certain enemies. Fiery lava monsters, for example, require an aqua-based attack. True to its kid audience, death is LEGO style; that is, dying simply respawns the character right there with the loss of but a few accrued points, or “orbs” as they are called in the game.
Every level has at least a puzzle or two, and while they are simple enough, they do help to mix things up. All of them use the touch screen in some way, whether it be a clever circuit-connector style puzzle or a simple game of Simon. Platforming is also part of the mix, too, and while it occasionally is hard to make out depth, the game is forgiving enough that it isn’t a big problem.
Overall, Brave for DS does exactly what a licensed title like this is supposed to do. It takes the spirit of the movie and translates it into a passable action adventure that doesn’t screw things up. The game doesn’t innovate and will have no appeal outside of the movie fanbase, but what it does it does well enough. It’s a safe purchase for parents whose kids liked the film, and while it won’t come close to explaining the movie’s storyline to those who haven’t seen it, it’s a fun way to continue Merida’s adventures after leaving the theater.
Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.