There's nothing particularly wrong with Brave: A Warrior's Tale in basic design or gameplay. You could even say that the title properly represents the narrative's placement in time: ancient history. Brave is a stock platformer, appropriate to the Wii and engaging enough, with often well-structured levels unencumbered by too many ancillary features, including a passable mechanism for making the game playable by the exceptionally young or hopelessly confused. The game smacks of an original PlayStation project, though I suppose that's my knee-jerk perception through a lens distorted by time. Still, only children young enough not to be jaded by more graphically sophisticated Wii or GameCube titles won't notice a certain sparsity of detail and special effects. (Also bear in mind this game is merely a port of a similarly named PS2 title that was received with a critical shrug, hardly a visual treat on that platform, either.)
The premise is simple but fairly uncommon, save for adult-market games like Prey for the Xbox 360 and various PC titles. The plot is based on Native American mythology. Specifically, you play as a young warrior named Brave who must fight to spare his village from a legendary evil called Wendigo. At this depth, however, Native American myth can substitute for about any other mythology, whether it's based on actual lore or fabricated from whole cloth. Again, young children will probably find the Native American angle new and perhaps inventive, but older gamers will recognize young Brave's battle against the forces of Wendigo for the timeless, almost anonymous, struggle between good and evil that it is. Unfortunately, though it provides nice set dressing, the backstory doesn't add much to what is at its core a garden-variety 3-D adventuring platformer.
There are, however, numerous activities and skills, or magical powers, that Brave will pick up along the way. He'll eventually fish, learn to track animals and even possess benevolent animals, all in support of the young warrior's efforts to save his peaceful village from malevolent forces that are capable of traveling through all the living and inert forms of nature. Kids will particularly enjoy attaining the ability for Brave to transform into a bear. The bear's attacks, as you'd expect, are especially forceful, and in comparison to Brave's more human-like strength, effectively convey some sense of inhabiting the form of a mighty beast.
Besides the usual gathering and combat activities, Brave can collect hidden totems, which unlock a variety of digital artwork. It's scant reward for the effort, of course, but completionists will probably search high and low for every totem. Most skills are acquired by discovering the appropriate carvings, and players find a few of the most necessary carvings early in the game. Brave can also uproot small trees so that he can create sticks with which to do battle and perform other tasks. You'll do this again and again because sticks, of course, don't last too long against the massed forces of evil.
Brave's most obvious problem in contemporary context is the visual element. Environmental graphics, save for some special scenes, are blocky and archaic for even the Wii's capability, and gameplay character animations, particularly for Brave, are jerky, hardly seamless, and cartoonish — and not in the good way. Once Brave earns the ability to pour on the speed when he runs, watching him do so, though surely not the effect intended, looks a bit like he's breaking the space-time continuum mid-stride. Cut scenes are highly stylized in the manner of the weak character models, though the non-interactive animations are better. Environments are downright Spartan, outfitted with only the most basic necessities of resource gathering and platforming. The textures are clean enough, but lack all but the most rudimentary detail. Especially poor is the water. I've not come to expect much in the way of pure realism from Wii water effects, but the waterfalls in Brave look like abstract representations of the real thing. Really, they look more like low-lying clouds than the intended mists and water spray.
The in-game audio, music, voice and sound effects also tell the tale of a low-budget or dated production. Again, Brave may have been an at least good and perhaps exceptional endeavor 10 or more years ago, but in presentation, it just cannot, in any facet, measure up to even mediocre contemporary expectations. It is a discount title, but it's a Wii game, not a downloadable N64 title. (A fair number of N64 titles looked and sounded better, and they were crisper than Brave can consistently manage.)
If you, or particularly your children, can stoically look past the eye and ear candy, peering into the heart of a game, there is some fun adventuring to be had. Brave's levels are well designed enough that they lack most of the frustrating "magic moment" platform jumps and the like that spoil even much finer games in the genre. The spare environment detail will make you feel all alone, but then again, Brave is mostly all alone on his quest, save for chance meetings with wise elders, spirits and, of course, various friend and foe creatures of the forests.
Should you decide to look past the production values and take SouthPeak up on its offer of mildly engaging gameplay at discount pricing, there are a couple of issues with the control mechanic. While the camera, bane of 3-D platformers, is not bad at all, there are moments during which you'll be staring in exactly the opposite direction of where you need to look. Fortunately, the developers built in a camera-centering feature, which is by default assigned to a Nunchuk button. Every time I wound up studying textures up close when I need to be sizing up a leap of faith, the centering feature bailed me out.
Also on the positive side, after Brave acquires his tracking skills, there's a very limited but useful difficulty adjustment mechanism in the game. If you head around in circles, passing the same points of interests a second time without arriving at the proper destination, the optional mini-map, unobtrusively bound by a circle in the lower right corner of your screen, displays a blue dot indicating where, more or less, you should hunt around for required elements. But the zoom-look system is a mess. The tracking is too fast and inaccurate, so it's an absolute pain, and there's no way to adjust the Wiimote's tracking speed in the game preferences. That's a real problem.
You need zoom-look to use the Shamanic Sight power, which allows you to spot and capture special animals of the mythical world, designated by a starburst effect surrounding them. Catching these creatures coughs up new carvings, which will grant greater skills and powers to young Brave. You'll need those fresh abilities to progress in the game, so there's no way around it. The zoom-look flaws are going to bother you, and they are particularly going to bother children, the target audience for this game, who are often less dexterous and more impatient than their teen and adult counterparts. There are also scenes in which context-sensitive button presses are required to perform actions or reveal objects; when expected to display these contextual hints, the game is excessively strict as to Brave's positioning.
There's nothing in particular to recommend Brave: A Warrior's Tale beyond the budget price and vaguely interesting mythology. If you have kids who are fascinated with Native American mythology or they're studying these legends at the elementary education level, this title may not be purely informative, but its purchase should be a no-brainer. Otherwise, proceed with great caution, realizing that Brave is more a nostalgic experience than the expected Wii gaming escapade; and though there are few deal-breaking technical flaws in the title, the one most notable, the zoom-look tracking, is a big one.
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