As a full-blooded Scotsman on both sides of the family, I really wanted to like the latest film from Disney/Pixar, the animated comedy-adventure “Brave.”
The story of a plucky princess in the highlands of medieval Scotland, it’s the first Pixar joint since last year’s underwhelming “Cars 2,” the first to feature a female protagonist, and it has the girl-with-a-bow-and-arrow thing going, which is curiously fashionable these days.
I didn’t love the movie, but am happy to report that the video game tie-in title “Brave: The Video Game” (PS3, Wii, X360, DS, PC, Mac) is a winner as a family game. “Brave” continues the improbable winning streak of Pixar video game adaptations. As a big-budget console title, Brave doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s a solid adventure/platformer with beautiful art design, nice game balance and a quick learning curve.
The game begins in the middle of the story, so there are some built-in spoilers – don’t play it if you haven’t seen the movie yet. The player takes the role of the good-hearted and resourceful Princess Merida, whose skill with the bow and arrow is matched only by her medieval feminist sensibilities. Merida isn’t waiting around for a prince to save the day. She’s taking matters into her own hands.
“Brave” is structured as a top-down platformer, with some puzzle and limited RPG elements. The bow is Merida’s primary weapon, but she also wields a sword for close encounters against baddies drawn from the film and Celtic folklore in general. The story itself is pretty generic, designed to wedge into the film’s presentation of events.
As the game progresses you can upgrade Merida’s swords and bows and purchase new abilities and perks, which you earn by collecting coins as you move through the game’s eight levels. It’s all platformer logic, invented by Mario decades ago, but it still works fine.
The game levels up nicely depending on the difficulty setting you choose. I particularly liked the bow-and-arrow aiming system in which you move Merida with the left analog stick and shoot the arrows with the right analog stick. Special moves are mapped to the trigger and thumb buttons, and it’s pretty intuitive overall and easy to pick up.
“Brave” does have a two-player mode, but it’s not advertised in the in-game menus or the game guide pamphlet, which is weird. Log on as a second player, and you can adventure along with Merida as her companion will-o-wisp; this will make sense if you’ve seen the film.
There’s also a bonus mode in PlayStation 3 – “Archery Range” – which makes use of the PlayStation Move motion-control system. This consists of using the Move controllers and PlayStation Eye camera to approximate drawing and firing a bow. It’s a mess – I don’t recommend it.
But I did spend a weekend playing “Brave” with my kids in the campaign mode, and I must report that they are hooked. My 9-year-old got it on one level, while my 4-year-old got it another. (I got it on yet another, I suppose.) This is the hallmark of good game design with family titles. The music is great, too.
I suspect “Brave” won’t have the replay value of previous Pixar movie tie-in games like “Cars 2” (excellent) and “Toy Story 3” (even more excellent), but it’s entirely professional for what it does.
Heavy Rotation: The sword-and-sorcery RPG “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” won many Game of the Year awards last year, and for good reason, as far as I’m concerned.
Developer Bethesda released their first DLC add-on this week, “Skyrim: Dawnguard,” which pits your magnificent hero against a terrifying vampire uprising. Unless you choose to forget about the magnificent hero thing and join with the vampires. Either way, the DLC adds mounted combat and the vampire-killing crossbow weapon option. Highly recommended.
New This Week: The Nintendo 3DS rhythm game “Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy” and the racer “Test Drive: Ferrari Racing” for X360 and PS3.