~x~x~x~ An Introduction To Brave ~x~x~x~
Hollie's favourite heroine at the moment is Merida from the Disney Pixar film Brave, actually she's also my current favourite heroine as she's a kick ass young Scots girl - a Disney Princess with a difference, a medieval princess from the Scottish Highlands who prefers a bow and arrow to a kiss from a handsome prince. We first came across Merida when we watched Brave at the cinema, Hollie was immediately enthralled with this most amazing character and has since collected a fair bit of stuff based on the film - a Merida dress takes pride of place in her wardrobe, she has a Brave lunch bag and school back pack and regularly plays with her toddler styled Disney Merida doll. I've drawn the line at letting her dye her hair a fiery red to match the character, but other than that I'm pretty accommodating when Hollie finds a pretty princess to admire - this Brave Wii game being something I picked up for her for Christmas.
~x~x~x~ The Aim Of The Game ~x~x~x~
Brave is a simple platform game, it's in a much more updated version to the PS2 platform games I most recently played (there's absolutely not an ounce of 'gamer' in me) but the basic premise is the same as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro. You run around collecting coins while battling enemies, it's played over a series of levels which in my opinion get slightly more fiddly as they go along - but really give or take an enemy or awkwardly placed cliff face the game doesn't change too much in difficulty level. You play as Merida for most of the game, with bonus levels being played in the characters of the triplets (yes, all of them - very confusing) or Merida's mum, Queen Elinor. You have the option of skipping these levels and sometimes if we're playing with a time frame we do this as Hollie finds these bonus levels a little tricky and time consuming - you're losing out on coins and health top ups by skipping past the bonuses, but these puzzle sections are a little beyond five year old Hollie's patience level!
It's rated as a 12, which is a nod towards the difficulty level and also I suppose because of the splashes of very fake looking blood when you kill the larger enemies. At five (six very soon) Hollie can play the game but it just takes her longer, her two teenage sisters both completed the game within the four hour mark - I've played it here and there myself, I don't claim to have completed it with my own hands but the Wii is connected to the main living room television so I've seen it done countless times and have played it for hours myself through various saved levels.
The aim of collecting the coins is that you can buy weapons or skills with them, even new outfits for Merida if you get tired of seeing her running around in her flowing blue/green gown. The problem is that you make it harder for yourself the more options you give your character - for me (remember, non-gamer) this makes the game far too challenging as it's so much more to remember, I'm sure I have skills I've forgotten how to access and mid battle I find it impossible to swap and change between fire power options without at least one enemy grabbing hold of me and sapping my precious health. Watching Charlotte at Alice at the controls is a revelation, they cut through the game and can complete levels at a time without fully dying - the difference is they know their way round the Wii controller in the first place and can move their fingers across the buttons fluidly, I'm like a learner driver and have to keep looking at my gearstick!
The backdrop of the game is set out so that Merida can only usually go one way, sometimes she'll double back to collect a bonus or large amount of coinage but eventually you're gently prodded along the correct route. Here and there through the game there are places which may stump you but it's like a puzzle in places and forces you to think about your options, I was stuck (in a 'don't tell me' way) on one part for ages last week - a drawbridge about halfway through the game which wouldn't drop down whatever I did, it took a fair amount of brainpower to work that one out with even games-whizz Charlotte being stumped for half an hour! It's one of those games which is very easily learned; once you've sussed out how to open all the secret passages and which rocks to shoot you'll be able to zip through the levels, eventually you'll even know roughly which order the enemies are going to strike in which I know not everyone will like but when a rookie thirty seven year old and plodding five year old are playing makes all the difference between us getting bored and not!
~x~x~x~ A Stunning View ~x~x~x~
Or at least green and stormy! The graphics are lovely, really reminiscent of that part of the world as it's depicted in the Brave film. It's wild and weather torn; Merida races along cliff and mountain roads, bordered by water of some description most of the time. I love the colours as they're so natural, I think it's been designed beautifully to reflect the scenery in the film. On some levels you have to jump across high towers, from one to the other to get over a river or a gorge, and sometimes I think they look a little out of perspective - this makes it hard to judge double jumps and control where Merida lands, Charlotte and Alice both agree with this but they're much more adept at altering their course mid-leap and don't fall to their deaths as often as I do!
Merida is done nicely too, as are the other minor characters in the game when they appear. Merida's dress is coloured perfectly to match her outfit in the film and her cloud of red curly hair makes her instantly recognisable even to people who barely know the character (like Mark's mate, who to his embarrassment got hooked on the game to the point where Hollie asked for the controller back!). Some of the close up scenery is a little blurry in places, and solid objects overlap annoyingly but on the whole it's pretty sharp for a kids game with fluid character movements and honest edges on the many cliff faces (ie. you don't often fall into the water when you're confident your character actually has solid ground under their feet).
~x~x~x~ Playability ~x~x~x~
This has been a hit all round in terms of how much fun the kids' have playing, and also the ease of playing. Hollie's much younger than the age restriction and I wouldn't say she's particularly adept at console games, but she manages this game really well and can progress at a decent pace if she puts her mind to it. There are parts which are just too fiddly for her too-young hands but she doesn't let this put her off, it's a good concentration exercise for her actually as she tries and tries to accomplish an awkward Merida task - sometimes she'll have to ask one of her sisters (or me, at a push) to get her through the section, but other times she'll succeed by herself and then it's great to see the look of accomplishment on her face.
It helps that she's such a big fan of the character I suppose, the older girls' enjoy the game more for a bit of mindless escapism. They play uber-complicated X-Box games so this is a walk in the park for them, I'd imagine the average twelve year old would get enjoyment from this game providing they're not crazily superb at game playing but do wonder how tween-friendly the very kiddie oriented character of Merida is.
My thoughts on Brave the game is that it's a good one for those of us who haven't the finger capability (or stomach...) to battle our way through hordes of zombies or shoot down an enemy swat team as you run through a deserted marketplace. Brave is much gentler, you play with the controller and nunchuck with all buttons being required to play the game to its fullest. To me that is a confusing brain ache and I'm grateful that Merida can stop for breath pretty much as often as I need her to, while I suss out which button I need to press to kill the enemy I can see in the distance. I can't race through a level even if I know it's one I'm confident in simply because I'm not sure which button is which and have to keep checking how to fire an arrow or which button I'll need in a hurry to change power.
The enemies are well done, Mordu the bear looks EXACTLY as he does in the film - ferocious in a cartoon scary bear way, enough to want you to do your best for Merida anyway! Mordu is actually a central character as he's the reason Merida is running around the Highlands, her mum has been turned into a bear (by Merida, accident, long story - watch the film) and the storyline running through the game is that Merida is looking for a 'cure' to get her mum back as a human Queen. I take absolutely no notice of this story as I just like to play the levels as they come, it's nicer for the kids to have a back story I suppose but again I'd question how suitable such a comic story is for the twelve year old recommended players?
Some of the enemies are hard to get past without losing a lot of health, they're fast and come at you from all sides - Alice is excellent at this aspect of the game and it's really very skillful how she can whirl and fire arrows to kill three mutant wolves without losing so much as a millimeter from her health bar. With a fullish health bar you can survive a pack of enemies even if you're not very good at fighting them, Hollie is by her own admission 'awful' at hitting the enemies with her arrows but she can get through them with the small amount of skill she has at the game - and bless her, she really is bad with the bow and arrows so I think we can safely say the majority of enemies wouldn't be particularly challenging for a twelve year old. I regularly die at one section (the wolves) as sometimes they're coming at Merida so fast that she just can't get away in time.
One thing I really love about this game is the fact that when Merida dies she comes back at the exact same position, no faffing around with check-points - she reappears on the rock she fell off (which is how she usually dies when the controller is in my hands!). This can be handy when you're trying to cross a particularly awkward gorge as you can make a jump knowing you're going to die, but angle yourself right and you can nudge the next landing rock along - and that's where you'll end up when you resurrect yourself again! It's possible to cross a ravine by deliberately dying and working your way across like that, in fact one level has a jump-crossing which is so badly out of perspective that this is the only way to get across it! Even when your health and life has dwindled out completely you can choose to return to the game and you'll be back where you left off, and this makes a whole heap of difference to playability for Hollie and myself as it means we can progress through the game (albeit slowly) without being punished and sent back to the start just because we're not very good at it!
I'm wondering how long a lifespan it's got and have just asked the girls', all of whom have been playing it on and off since Christmas. I was right in my guess that the older two picked it up for a lighthearted interlude into Call of Duty, both were critical of the sloppy graphics in places but agreed that it's the kind of game where you wouldn't necessarily put a lifespan on it at all. They said it's something they'll return to regardless of completing the game several times, without saying the word I think they were saying it's a 'fun' game which they're glad of a younger sister for as otherwise they wouldn't have the excuse to play such a childish game! If you're a half decent Wii player you can complete Brave from start to finish, including bonus levels, within around four hours - this to me makes it a nice compact game that can be played in a single session, Hollie wouldn't play a console game for anywhere near this amount of time (or want to) but her big sisters can settle down for a marathon session with this game. As a viewer I can say it's a game that's played regularly, even if not every day - more often than not it'll be Charlotte who suggests it and it's not a game Hollie would necessarily pick out for herself too often in spite of her love for Merida. She gets frustrated as really it is beyond her at five, and not really being too into computer games she'd rather play something a little less challenging when she's in the mood for a game.
Myself I've got to say I'm bored and ready to hand the controller over before an hour has passed - and that's true of any game really, other than Tetris which I'd still play for hours on end if I could get a decent old school copy. I like it when all the kids are playing together as if I join in their quest to joint-complete the game I can have a good long break before it's my turn again, it does get addictive in that you want (nay, need!) to kill a certain 'boss' or plague of enemies but after a while the repetition of guiding Merida along mountain roads and jumping over rivers gets a bit much. The bonus levels aren't for me at all, and I've collected 8954 coins so far over this game as I don't like to complicate matters by buying too many game upgrades!
~x~x~x~ Good Game? Good Game? ~x~x~x~
Well yes, I think so - as gamer and mum. It's been popular as a sentiment really as when I won the tickets to see Brave the film and Charlotte and Alice decided to tag along being as it was a family ticket, our first (and potentially last as we all have such differing tastes) visit to the cinema all girls together. Initially they played the game with Hollie just to keep her company and because Merida is such a likeable character they'd already grown to like her through the cinema trip, and numerous viewings of the film on DVD. I wouldn't say you'd have to be a fan of Merida or even have seen the film, but I think to appreciate the backdrop and soundtrack it would be an idea to give Brave a watch if you haven't already.
Talking of the soundtrack, it's good but highly repetitive. The same pipey Scottish olde worlde music is playing throughout the whole game, Merida's phrases are pretty much limited to warnings about her health running low and the enemy yapping and snarling doesn't really change from level to level. Voices all have a wonderfully shrill Highland accent, Merida sounds very similar to her character in the film but to be honest she says so little that it's hard to say for sure if she's voiced by the same actress.
I recommend it, really I do. The few niggles relating to graphics quality aren't major and don't spoil my enjoyment in the game, unless Charlotte is in a niggly mood and starts ranting about how her games development college course would fail students for such basic errors of allowing a wave to break inside a rock wall or a plant that isn't quite touching the ground properly. It's Hollie's game though and she doesn't notice these things as she's playing - she's just glad to be able to escape her humdrum life and be Merida for a while!
There's a two player mode where you can play as Merida and a Willo The Wisp but none of us like to play like this and prefer to either play our own games or have a joint go to get to the end, taking it in turns to complete the game. It's easy to switch to this mode, but I don't really see the point in it - especially when there are more than two of you wanting to get a game.
Brave is very reasonably priced on Amazon at £11.74, which with free delivery is an absolute bargain in my opinion. I paid a little more than this and am happy with my purchase, both due to the fact that it's played so regularly and enjoyed by all of us - it loses a star for the lack of attention to the graphics and unimaginative soundtrack, these are the kind of issues that could be biggies for certain gamers however so be aware that these problems are very much apparent. For a (very) casual gamer like myself these are no more than minor irritations and ones I can ignore as I enjoy playing the game so much.
(Title to be said in your best Scottish accent!)