Throughout the relatively short history of video games, there has only been one way to portray Batman: seriously. Regardless of the source material — the comics, the Fox animated series or the movies (both the brooding and the unintentionally campy ones) — the Dark Knight is perceived as one who doesn't crack a smile or dish out one-liners as his archnemesis get pummeled. There hasn't been a Batman game that used the lighter version of the crime fighter as depicted in the 1960s TV series.
With the success of the recent animated series, Batman's depiction in the video game world is about to change. Batman: The Brave and The Bold, based on the animated series, brings us a Batman who isn't as goofy as the live-action TV version played by Adam West but isn't as dead-serious as the popular animated version voiced by Kevin Conroy. At first glance, the formula shouldn't work but as the recent series has shown fans, a lighter Batman can make for a good Batman game.
The Brave and The Bold is a bit unusual in that there isn't a cohesive plot throughout the game. Instead, you have four separate episodes to play through, each featuring a different villain and a different sidekick. The episodes play out exactly like they would in the TV series, with Batman and his sidekick fighting a villain before the intro begins. The episode's adventure then starts properly against a different adversary (or adversaries, in some cases) until the enemy is defeated and a new episode begins with new enemies and a new sidekick.
The title is a side-scrolling action game that tends to be a mix between the old Sega Genesis game The Adventures of Batman & Robin and the Super NES version of Batman Returns. Like the Genesis game, there is a bit of platforming involved, and while there isn't an abundance of bottomless pits to jump over, there are a good number of instances where you'll be using the grappling hook to reach ledges that are too high for normal jumps. The perspective is also the same as the Genesis game in that it is a strictly side-scrolling experience as opposed to a 2-D brawler where you can move up and down on the horizontal plane.
While the Genesis game made Batman and Robin use projectiles as the main form of offense, this game takes cues from the Super Nintendo title and makes Batman and his partner use melee fighting against enemies. Standard punching makes way for punch and kick combos, and while you can still use projectile weaponry against enemies, an energy meter ensures you'll fight enemies up close instead of from a distance.
You'll also be able to partake in a little defense in the form of standard blocks and rolls in case enemies crowd you. Special attack combos can also occur once an attack rage meter gets filled and does a good job of clearing out enemies in front of you. When all else fails, you can call in on a third hero who will perform a screen-clearing attack. As mentioned before, there are four episodes in the game, and each is split up into eight sections, at least two of which are boss fights. In between each level, you can use the coins you've collected to upgrade the weaponry you possess or buy new weapons. This will not only let you dispatch enemies in different ways but also open up secret areas of the game.
The game can be played solo or with a friend offline. Each player can choose a playable character, though they are limited to either Batman or the given sidekick for the episode. Each character has the same basic move set, and aside from the different weaponry, neither character feels stronger or weaker than the other. The Brave and The Bold follows the trend of drop-in/drop-out co-op play to save players the trouble of restarting a section just because someone wants to join the game. At the same time, it also ensures that no progress is lost should someone decide to end the game session earlier than expected. Similar to other co-op games, adding another human player to the mix creates a much more fun experience compared to playing it solo, especially since the CPU sometimes can't keep up with the action.
One unexpected, but welcome, addition to the multiplayer comes in the form of Bat-Mite. Using a copy of the DS game linked up to the Wii via Wi-Fi, a third player can take control of Batman's number-one fan and give the heroes power-ups to boost their health and weapon energy as well as the ability to drop anvils on enemies. Getting a third player involved isn't exactly a practical situation considering the amount of the materials involved to do so, but if you happen to know someone who already has the DS version of the game, it does make for an interesting bonus that's rarely seen on the console.
A nice touch that comic aficionados will appreciate is the game's emphasis on other heroes and villains in the DC Universe. You'll still have your expected Batman villains like Two-Face and Catwoman as well as Robin by your side, but the heroes and villains who don't get much recognition elsewhere will get their due here. The Guy Gardner version of Green Lantern, Hawkman, and Blue Beetle join your side, giving you the option to control them directly in a single-player game should you tire of playing as Batman. Your other screen-clearing heroes include the Silver Age version of Flash and Green Arrow along with more obscure heroes like Black Lightning, Booster Gold and Plastic Man. As for your villains, guys like Cat Man, Copperhead and Gentleman Ghost are pretty obscure, so those who aren't well-versed in the universe may think that they were made up for the game or series.
As expected for titles intended for a younger audience, The Brave and The Bold isn't too difficult. Unless you're new to video games, you'll probably never encounter a "game over" screen since the game trades out 100 of your tokens for another chance to be revived on the spot, and you are given infinite lives during boss encounters. The difficulty level doesn't scale at all, so the game is much easier with another human player taking over for the computer and infinitely easier when you throw Bat-Mite's abilities into the mix. Consequently, the game ends up being a bit short. It can take up to five hours to beat the game due to the amount of levels one has to go through, and the experience is extended to about six hours if you want to go back and open up previously locked areas, though the only reward for doing so is more tokens to spend on weaponry.
Speaking of weaponry, you have a good variety of gadgets and weapons to choose from for each of your five playable characters. Aside from the default weapons that you gain as you progress through the game, you don't really need the extra firepower since your fists do a good job of taking care of enemies. Even the upgrades to the default weapons are unnecessary since you don't find yourself using the tools too often to defeat enemies. In the end, they become nice things to spend your extra coins on, but nothing more.
Instead of creating a 3-D game like most developers would, the team at WayForward stuck with a more traditional 2-D aesthetic, and it works out quite well. The sprites provide a good amount of detail and retain the look of the TV series. The size of the characters shows off all this detail rather nicely, and while the animations aren't as smooth as something like Street Fighter III, there is a lot of fluidity to the characters' movements. The backgrounds are well done, matching the same drawing style you'd see in the TV series, and the color schemes are perfect. A special note has to be made for the camera, which is intelligent enough to know the perfect zoom for combat as well as the perfect magnification for certain non-combat situations. The midway point of the Robin episode, for example, illustrates how important the camera can be in creating great scenes even in a 2-D plane. There's hardly any fault to be found with the graphics for this game.
Considering the viewpoint and nature of The Brave and The Bold, the control scheme will feel fine for younger gamers who have grown up with the Wii as their first home console. More experienced gamers may find it a little off-putting at first. The game employs the standard Wii Remote/Nunchuk configuration that most games use nowadays. The analog stick controls movement while the A button attacks, the Z button throws projectiles, the minus button uses the grappling hook, and the B button initiates jumping. While most of your time will be spent pummeling enemies, you have a few instances where motion controls are employed. A quick jerk on the remote makes your character perform a stronger hit, and constant waggling the remote after hitting the C button strengthens the attack. Pointing at the enemies on-screen will bring up a reticle, which is used by the projectiles for homing purposes. The controls are simple but very effective, and multi-hit combos are easy to execute, lessening the frustration against large groups of enemies. Veteran gamers may feel a bit disoriented using the analog stick in a 2-D plane since that is usually reserved for d-pad use.
The sound is impressive, as it feels like every element has been lifted directly from the animated series. The voices are done by the same voice actors, so there's no doubting the authenticity of who is speaking at any given moment. The good thing about the voices is that they play during a good portion of the episode and not just during cut scenes. While you're traversing the level fighting henchmen, you'll constantly hear Batman and his sidekick engage in conversation and, thanks to the writing staff from the TV show, those chats end up being funny. The voices help strengthen the illusion that you are playing through some lost episodes of the series. The music performs the same function, as it emulates the style of series' score. It's more along the lines of big band jazz music rather than a brooding, somber tone, but it never loses the sense that the score needs to motivate action-packed fights instead of silly situations. If there is a complaint to be levied against the sound, it would be that there is a limited voice bank when there isn't a cut scene or conversation. This is especially evident during the training level, when your trainer spouts the same three phrases once you complete any lesson. Considering how many lessons there are for combat alone, having little variety in what you hear can get annoying rather quickly.
Batman: The Brave and The Bold is exactly what fans of the series want from a video game. Like the show, it features plenty of action and lots of co-op play with a heavy dose of humor both in and out of the cut scenes. It may be a short and easy game, but the co-op aspect along with the fun gameplay makes it an overall enjoyable experience. Casual fans of the show and character will have some fun renting this one, while the more ardent fans and younger gamers will have a good time replaying this one a few times. For the latter group, this title comes highly recommended.
More articles about Batman: The Brave and the Bold