"Neither a sequel to nor a port of Brave: The Search for Spirit Dancer on the PlayStation 2, this newest effort for the Xbox 360 instead serves as something of an extended cut. Since they had a few years to ruminate on the issues that plagued the original title (a unfocused hodgepodge of game mechanics that resulted in an average, albeit outdated, platformer by 2007's standards), the developers surely have produced a superior effort this time, right? Spoiler alert: wrong."
This has been a year full of puzzling releases. Whether they be long-forgotten intellectual property (Madballs Invasion) or ports that nobody wanted (Infernal: Hell's Vengeance), a lot of odd titles have found their way to store shelves. Brave: A Warrior's Tale is another one for the fire. Neither a sequel to nor a port of Brave: The Search for Spirit Dancer on the PlayStation 2, this newest effort for the Xbox 360 instead serves as something of an extended cut. Since they had a few years to ruminate on the issues that plagued the original title (an unfocused hodgepodge of game mechanics that resulted in an average, albeit outdated, platformer by 2007's standards), the developers surely have produced a superior effort this time, right?
Spoiler alert: wrong.
Brave: A Warrior's Tale provides a variety of different gameplay mechanics and--at least at first--seems fairly inoffensive, maybe even entertaining. After awhile, though, you can't help but wish that the developers had simply focused on producing a few great play mechanics instead of wedging so many disparate ones into what is still just a basic platformer. Perhaps instead of adding new elements to the game for this release, the developers could have instead focused on making the core platforming more appealing.
I say that because the bulk of your time in Brave is spent platforming. While things work decently the majority of the time, inaccurate controls lead to frustration when you're asked to make more difficult or precise jumps. This shortcoming is coupled with incredibly dated visuals that make it easier to spot Waldo at RedStripedShirtCon '09 than it is to determine where you can safely land and where you can't. I'm fairly convinced that the camera is actually an enemy, since it serves as a more formidable opponent than any that you will encounter on this disc... aside from perhaps malaise over playing the title in the first place. The process of manipulating the camera to provide even the slightest advantage is a battle worth celebrating if you manage to emerge the victor.
Though platforming takes up the bulk of your time, it isn't the only avenue to crippling frustration. The inclusion of animal riding and white water canoeing also ensure that you won't enjoy more than fifteen minutes of gameplay. Not everything is bad, though; other parts of the game see you morphing into different types of wild creatures and require you to accomplish tasks as animals. These segments actually are fairly entertaining and help to break up the doldrums. I would even go so far as to say that the game might have ended up standing out from its peers if it used the whole Bloody Roar thing as its backbone instead of the middling platforming, vehicle and puzzle elements.
Brave: A Warrior's Tale actually shows a lot of similar flashes of near-competence. There are numerous opportunities for us armchair developers to say “Well, if only they did this instead...” It would have been a mouthful, but this should almost have been called "Brave: A Cautionary Tale About How Not to Capitalize on Good Ideas." Because really, underneath all of the blatant missteps, there are some fresh concepts. For example, Native American lore is vast and interesting. It's well worth being brought to light in a project such as this one. Brave almost delves deep enough to explore such things, then falls just short. Strengthening those elements would have gone a long way, especially since it isn't entirely weak to begin with, but the narrative stumbles clumsily near the end and never quite recovers.
Without a doubt, Brave: A Warrior's Tale pulls one of the cheapest moves possible in an effort to extend gameplay as the adventure nears its conclusion. I would say "I don't want to spoil it for you," but since you probably shouldn't play this game anyway, here goes: near the apparent end of the game, in the middle of a battle with the main boss, you're ripped out of that confrontation in order to embark upon a series of maddeningly annoying--and unnecessarily difficult--gopher quests. I don't mean 'gopher' like the animal, either, which would have actually made sense in this game. I mean that you suddenly find yourself forced to scavenge for a bunch of items that the village elder wants instead of being allowed to mercifully complete the game. It's a cheap way to add some length to the story mode, one that succeeds only in frustrating the player and ruining whatever shred of enjoyment he may have scraped out of the story up to that point.
Random difficulty spikes aren't just limited to cheap fetch missions, either. The entire game is a hilly wasteland full of difficulty bumps, with none of those actually related to the enemies themselves. The difficulty comes from the game itself, not whatever challenges it chooses to throw at you. Whether you're falling to your death from poorly-placed and finicky landing platforms, being thrust into a white water rapid when your canoe failed to control properly or suffering the results of any number of sudden changes to the gameplay that rend you from one side of the spectrum to the other, Brave never actually finds a groove.
As soon as you start to think that perhaps Brave has begun to find its pace, you turn into an animal or find yourself tasked with mastering some awkward new form of magic. Checkpoints also aren't much of a help, since they only seem to appear within the game's easiest stretches. Otherwise, finding one is as uncommon as finding an individual who actually has read a Bukowski novel in a group of people discussing Bukowski at a hipster bar. Still, even those worthless debates are more rewarding than a playthrough of Brave: A Warrior's Tale.
Perhaps the most offensive thing to me about this game, though, isn't even its shoddy gameplay, dated graphics, poorly mixed audio, uneven difficulty or nonsensical story decisions. The number one thing that really grinds my gears is the sticker affixed to the front of the title calling it a “Family Game.” This isn't a family game; this is a poor title trying to take refuge behind that label because at some point in recent history, phrases such as “family game” and “child-friendly” became synonyms for “this game sucks.” Maybe I'm just spoiled because my childhood was filled with Mario, Zelda and Mega Man titles that were amazing and age-appropriate. Resorting to slapping a "Family Game" sticker on every title that missed its development goals and turned out terrible is no way to entertain children. I can't help but shake the feeling that someone wanted reviewers, critics, and gamers alike to go easy on this game because of that sticker.
So, what have we learned? That no matter what label you stick on it, Brave: A Warrior's Tale is an unnecessary, uninteresting, and uninspired port/remake/expansion/whatever to Brave: The Search For Spirit Dancer. It's a shame. While the original title was average, it had enough glimmers of hope that it could have been really entertaining. In the end, not capitalizing on the opportunity to fix the problems with the PS2 version leads to A Warrior's Tale being one of those few titles that I can confidently tell every gamer--no matter what their gaming preference--to avoid.
Freelance review by Freelance Writer (September 02, 2009)
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