PixlKids: Brave: The Video Game Review
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On 07/31/2012 at 04:24 PM by Angelo Grant
What happens when kids review a children’s title? You get surprisingly honest results.
For kids whose ages are still in the single digits, or children who have yet to learn traditional video game mechanics. Anyone else will likely find no value here.
Reviewing children’s titles is always tricky business. As adults, it really is impossible to mentally travel back to our developmental years and place the game in its proper perspective. The only way to truly get around these limitations would be to have a child perform the task. On the positive side, as long as there’s no motivation for them to lie, kids are usually brutally honest, even to the point of being impolite. On the other hand, children lack the perspective, critical reasoning, and linguistic skills necessary to create their own reviews. They also tend to be very polar in their opinions, meaning anything they like automatically gets 5 stars, while games they hate earn zero with no middle ground. Clearly this is a problem. The solution? Have daddy help.
In order for this to work, I had to keep my own personal involvement to a minimum. I watched my kids play the game after giving it a quick hands-on myself in order to assess the game’s mechanics and make sure the game isn’t broken. The goal is to offer a critical assessment of their experience with the title, not my own, since they are the intended audience. Their ages are 9 and 12 which fits nicely around the game’s E 10+ rating.
So let’s get the mechanical assessment out of the way. It’s essentially a God of War-style brawler (obviously lacking God of War’s mature content,) with light, Zelda-like puzzle elements, such as block puzzles and pressure plates. There isn’t much depth to it, which suits its target audience. You can fire arrows, which can be upgraded to pass through enemies as well as fire multiple projectiles with each button press, and you can swing your sword for a short combo. Your sword strokes can be upgraded in damage and hits per combo as well. There are also other bonuses in the upgrade system such as regenerating health, increased life meter, and the ability to “suck up” items from further away.
Brave and I got off on the wrong foot almost immediately when a rather condescending narrator announced that I would be jumping with “B” and firing my bow with “A”. Seriously? I had assumed that the tradition of “A” always being the jump button was established when I was a child, but not in this case, and there is no way to change the controls.
There were also a couple of other glaring flaws I noticed, such as coins from defeated enemies slipping right through walls, making them invisible. The combat feels squishy and some of the animation and audio is downright horrendous. Also the game is short. Both children were able to finish it in under six hours. All of this drove me downright batty, but here’s the interesting part: the kids didn’t care about any of it.
Now honestly, I’m not surprised that they didn’t care about the lack of precision in the combat. After all, this is a button masher, not Ninja Gaiden or Bayonetta. I was taken aback when I discovered that the “A – B” swap didn’t bother them at all, but perhaps they aren’t as fused to a default scheme at their age as I am now. They did have issues with other parts of the game, and we agreed completely on the overall score, but what they took issue with in the game is radically different than what I did.
Both of them felt the game started off strong. They were even willing to trade games they loved, like Mario 64 and Steel Diver to play it, but Brave wore out its welcome fast and both children changed their mind after an hour or two of play. At that same time, they both stated the game was far too easy, especially considering there are no repercussions for failure at all. If your character’s health goes to zero, the game stops for a second while she swoons, then a bunch of coins to fly out of her. She’s then given a portion of her health bar back and the game resumes exactly where it left off as if nothing happened. If you find yourself lacking funds at any point, you can also “grind” levels to earn more currency, but they had no need for this, and both children were fully powered up by the end of the game. Sometimes this affects an arbitrary “rank,” awarded at the end of a level, but despite multiple deaths at the hands of bosses, the kids always earned a gold rank in boss battles for some reason. Normal levels weighed their performance a little more accurately, accounting for the amount of deaths, coins collected, and items found. Surprisingly, none of that meant anything to them. They never reacted to getting any score, regardless of what it was.
Those boss battles were another sticking point. All of them are only simply slight variations on the exact same thing. There’s no creativity at all in these encounters, including the final battle. Without spoiling too much, a creative opportunity is completely wasted resulting in a very anticlimactic ending.
The game also features an element based attack system, where enemies are weak against a certain element. No mental skill is required to figure out the balance of this system however, as an icon corresponding to the element the enemy is weak against hovers over each one of their heads. The gameplay is also halted for some mini game puzzles that you need to complete in order to progress. These are all games you’ve seen before, such as moving stones around on a board so that you can slide one of the stones off, or sliding some tiles with lines on them around in order to complete “circuits.” Both of them got stuck on one or two of them for about 15 min, which wasn’t all that bad, and probably helped break up some of the monotony of the combat.
So in the end, I helped the children assign a score to the game by breaking the terms of our review policy into language they could easily understand. They both came to the conclusion that the game was middle-of-the-road compared to other games they had played, and that the lack of repercussions for failure and other issues left it feeling somewhat broken. It was a genuine and fair assessment that my experience with the game could not argue with. Our reasons may have been different, but at the end of our experience, we concluded that Brave is a fun, average quality game, and that its flaws hold it back from being anything more.