- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2012

Disney-Pixar’s latest animated epic hits theaters today, and its third-person adventure game arrives in time to empower young gamers.

Extending the storyline of the film, Brave: The Video Game (Disney Interactive, rated E 10+, reviewed for PlayStation 3, $49.99) takes place in mythical Scottish lands of DunBroch and finds a solo player in control of the headstrong, fiery red-haired Princess Merida, the daughter of King Fergus and Queen Elinor.

After an ill-fated witch spell (requested by Merida) turns her mom and siblings into bears, she finds herself on a quest to not only remove the curse from her family but also challenge the mighty minions of the monstrous Mor’du (a big black bear that took off one of her daddy’s legs) and cleanse the precious waystones (magical  ruins) to help turn back the blight on her kingdom.

Exploration, platforming, combat and collection combine as a player enters a Stonehenge-type arena and walks Merida through eight misty areas leading her to cross the moors, hop across waterways, battle through a frozen wilds, climb coastal cliffs, sneak around caverns and discover the magical highlands of Scotland.

Our well-equipped heroine eventually has at her disposal multiple types of swords and bows as well as four types of magic charms (based on ice, fire, earth and wind) that she uses to destroy such creatures as ice monsters, spirit wolves, rock giants, ravens, exploding imps, gremlins and charging stone boars.

Handling the bow requires little practice as a player uses the right analog stick to simply push forward and target a region spraying arrows around like a machine gun.

Merida upgrades her powers by destroying as many flowers, plants and objects along her paths. The remains spew forth a generous supply of gold coins used to buy and unlock three dozen power upgrades and attacks such as calling upon a small group of gargoyles to attack her foes or causing a firestorm when jumping up and pounding the earth.

Nuances to the action include enemies vulnerable to specific charm attacks, keeping Merida healthy to allow her companion Wisps (ghostly helpers) to appear and use lightening strikes to weaken enemies, and opening treasure chests containing better bows, swords and new costumes.

To mix up the action Merida’s brothers Hamish, Hubert and Harris (now cubs) turn up to solve environmental puzzles to open up areas for their sister.

The puzzles often requires the player maneuvering each brother to align, climb to and trigger platforms in a proper sequence to open a gate.

Additionally, the player can take control of the Queen (in bear form ready to stomp and swipe) in some bigger battles, or a second player can also jump in and out, (at any time in a level) and play as the translucent blue floating specter, Will O’ the Wisp.

Parents will appreciate the co-operative fun as they help when needed while tapping into powers near equal to Merida (the Wisp fires arrows but spins around to cause damage).

Designs within the roughly eight-plus-hour campaign offer some beautiful storybook illustrations and storyboard-art-cut scenes to keep the plot moving while onscreen action offers a sparse three-dimensional quality.

Also, the game features a rousing musical score and the voice of Kelly Macdonald (vocal star of the film). She’s appreciated but difficult to understand, and her onscreen counterpart could have used many more dialogue snippets to avoid her often-repetitious utterances.

However, I was put off by the often-stuttering frame rate and occasional sloppy camera movements while quickly moving around and the tiny onscreen version of Merida hidden (to my combat detriment) in the darkness of some environments.

Those in possession of the PlayStation 3 Move motion controller can also take part in a mini-archery game. Using the glowing orbed device, the player reaches behind his head, holds the T button to load an arrow and then points forward to target and shoot at a wooden target.

Three games: Quiver Limit (a limited amount of arrows per round), Survival (knock down the wooden targets before they reach you) and Quick Draw (a time limit is set to knock down all targets) are a distraction at best.

Each challenge only offers the most basic functionality of the Move controller and play out as a gimmick, only offering some gold coins for success.

Brave the Video Game may offer a predictable licensed movie platforming experience (a bit like the Activision Shrek franchise) for the serious game, but plenty of action and faithfulness to the source material will delight any pre-tween fascinated with Merida and her combative ways.

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