Hmmm. Is that a faint whiff of cheese coming from my DS? In that case, I must be about to review Batman: The Brave & The Bold (B: B&B), possibly the cheesiest (but still enjoyable) game ever to feature on Nintendo's little handheld.
Batman: The Brave & The Bold is unapologetically based on the day-glo Batman of the 1960s, not the (better) Dark(er) Knight of the 90s. It's also a game which is aimed fairly and squarely at kids. The bright, cartoon-like graphics, cheery theme tunes and POW! THWOK! sound effects are all designed to appeal to a younger audience. This may affect your enjoyment of the game, although even if you prefer your Bats darker, it's still quite a fun little game.
Batman: The Brave & The Bold is very old school in its presentation and core game play. It's nothing more than a rehashed 2D platform game of the type that was popular on the consoles of the early-mid 1990s. The objective is simply to make your way from the left of the screen to the right, via a series of platforms, fighting a range of different bad guys as you go along. Each level ends with a face-off against a boss who must be defeated in order to complete the level.
On each level, you don't just play Batman, but can also switch at any time to controlling an ally from the DC Universe. Each character has different abilities, enabling them to get past obstacles which are impassable to the other, so use of the right character at the right time is a crucial element of the game, introducing a note of strategy...
At least it would introduce an element of strategy if the game didn't insist on holding your hand throughout. It doesn't just prompt you when you need to switch characters, but also tells you exactly which button you need to press at which point. Nor is this just limited to the earlier tutorial levels when you are learning each of the controls - it's all the way through the game. The only time you are left on your own is in the boss fights, when you need to work out what you need to do to beat each one, although even these are never terribly difficult to work out. True, you can turn the control hints off, but the fact that it's turned on by default again shows the game is aimed at a younger audience.
This is B: B&B's real downfall: it's simply too easy. As well as being given hints left, right and centre, you get infinite lives and no time limit in which to complete each level. This means it's only ever a matter of time (and usually not very long) before you beat each level. Many players will sail through most of the levels on their first couple of goes which means it won't be long before you've completed them all. If you really get stuck, you can even call on the aid of annoying little imp Bat-Mite, who will make you invulnerable and stop you falling down the gaps between platforms, making it even easier. Even allowing for the fact that the game is aimed at younger children, it's far too easy and there's not much of a long-term challenge for anyone. I'm not exactly the most accomplished gamer, but I breezed through the main levels in less than 3 hours of game time. There are some extra, unlockable levels which provide additional challenges, but these are also pretty easy and completing every challenge available will probably only provide around 6-8 hours of playing time.
There's also not a great deal of variety to the game and each level is essentially the same - negotiate a series of platforms, beat up the bad guys and destroy the end of level boss. The unlockable levels do add a little more variety by setting challenges such as completing a level only using a specific character or requiring you to defeat a number of bosses in succession, but they are still based around the same basic game play mechanism.
Sadly, even though there are plenty of characters from the DC/Batman universe, some of these leave a little to be desired. Whilst favourite heroes like Green Lantern and Green Arrow put in appearances, others might be less familiar (Plastic Man, anyone?) The pantheon of villains is distinctly second rate (Gentleman Ghost, The Clock King) and anyone who prefers classic Batman baddies will be disappointed. The Joker (in the tutorial level), Catwoman and Bane make brief appearances, but there's no Riddler, Penguin, Killer Croc or any of the other grotesque bad guys Batman has faced over the years. Still, at least the playable characters do actually play slightly differently, although it's a shame that once you've beaten a level, you can't go back and play it using any unlocked character (a la the Lego Star Wars series).
Still, despite these flaws the game is actually enjoyable while it lasts. Sometimes, it's fun to play a game where you feel like you are making regular progress and not get frustrated by rock hard game play which sees you dying every few minutes. Sure, you can breeze through most of the levels in a single turn, but what's there is entertaining - particularly if you have little ones who will be able to play the game without becoming too frustrated. Batman: The Brave & The Bold might not offer much of a challenge, and it might not have any long term appeal, but it does offer a good five or six hours or so of fun before you run out of things to do. And at least anyone stands a realistic chance of beating this game and seeing everything it has to offer, which you can't say of many titles.
Graphics-wise, the game does look very basic with 2D graphics that wouldn't really have pushed the Gameboy Advance, let alone a handheld console from 10 years later. They are well-drawn, with characters clearly defined and instantly recognisable (providing you know who they are to start with, of course!) and the animation is fluid and good to look at. It's easy to distinguish different elements of the screen and work out which bits are platforms that can be leapt on and which are not. Collision detection is a little over-generous at times, and you can find yourself scoring hits against villains that your punches are clearly missing, again making the game a little too easy!
Cheesy, cartoon-like cut-scenes are used to introduce new characters on each level and help to imitate the comic-style presentation that is Batman's normal domain. Kids will lap up the bright, colourful graphics and for adults of a certain age, the simple but effective images will conjure up their own childhood.
For all its flaws, I did enjoy Batman: The Brave and the Bold and found myself wishing there were more levels, once I had beaten all the challenges it had to offer. Short, but (quite) sweet, it can be picked up new for around a tenner (despite being a fairly recent game). For that, it just about offers enough value for money to satisfy - but don't be tempted to pay any more than that, or you will feel yourself short-changed.
© Copyright SWSt 2011