Aimed firmly at the kid's market, Brave is a companion piece to the film, sort-of but not quite following the same plot as the summer blockbuster. With very little focus on the storyline, there's no real need to have seen the film to understand what's going on here, and no risk of spoiling it if you haven't already seen it, either. To sum things up in a nutshell - after feeding her Mom something that appears to be a cursed jammy dodger and accidentally turning her into a bear, the tomboy princess Merida sets off with her companion, the ghost of a haggis, to beat some sense into a different bear, Mor'du, and put everything right.
A platformer along the same lines as the Lego games, Brave is suitably forgiving, considering its young target audience. Although it's possible to die, your character's deaths never really cause too much of a set back, as you restart from one of the reassuringly regular checkpoints. While the tutorials aren't fully voiced, the controls can mostly be figured out intuitively - in fact, the only thing it isn't all that easy to figure out yourself is that you can fire arrows with the right analogue stick (more on that later). Other than that, the only area where children may struggle is with the boss fights, which can be a bit tricky, but the ability to adjust the game's difficulty level at any time, even mid-level, should help most overcome the challenges.
In fact, the only thing parents really need to be aware of here is how Merida uses her bow. Controlled on the right analogue stick, it can be a bit tricky to get the hang of, especially for younger players. To shoot, all you have to do is push the right analogue stick in the direction of the enemy you want to shoot at - but as you're trying to move around with the left analogue stick at the same time, this may be a sticking point for some children. If they're good with dual analogue sticks though, they're pretty much good to go!
With puzzles scattered throughout the levels that require a fair amount of logic to work out, it's not all shooting and smacking in Brave, as some of the puzzles can be surprisingly tricky. Presenting you with a selection of switches, handles, and platforms, it's up to you to interact with the switches, and pull all the handles you can see to figure out exactly what everything does, and what you need to do in order to solve the puzzle.
Sadly, though, we wouldn't recommend buying Brave if you're looking for a decent co-op game, as Brave's two player mode has quite a few problems. Casting the second player as what can only be described as the ghost of a haggis, their character is transparent blue, which, in a game which regularly features blue water, white snow, and grey rocks, makes keeping track of it rather hard. Add in the fact that the second player is slightly restricted (they can't activate most switches, open treasure chests, etc), and you're left with a co-op mode that seems rather one sided. It's awkward too, because while it may sound perfect for a younger child playing with an older child, with the older child being Merida, if the younger child's playing as the haggis ghost, they'll be more likely to lose track of their character and get frustrated. If you reverse the roles, however, the reliance is then on the younger child to survive as Merida in order to progress through the level, which puts a lot more pressure on what may be a less skilled player. What would be best would be a parent playing along as the haggis spirit with their child playing as Merida - but as a co-op mode for two children playing together, Brave has one too many problems.
As it's based on a kid's film (which incidentally is rated a PG while the game gets rated 12), Brave doesn't feature much in the way of violence. While you are firing a bow and arrow, and swinging a sword, there's no visible damage done to your enemies - arrows don't stick into them, swords don't slice bits off, or even cut them - instead, they just flash as you hit them, before eventually collapsing and disappearing when you've defeated them.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo Wii