I'm not an expert on the Caped Crusader or his fan base, but I gather the television series Batman: The Brave and the Bold was controversial in certain sections of Nerdstanbul when it first aired. (Or was that Geekstantinople? It's some place where shares in deodorant are down, anyway.) This amuses me for a number of reasons. Mostly I just find it remarkable that we've gotten to a point where a relatively happy-go-lucky Batman who fights crime because it's the right thing to do - the Batman most of us first encountered when we were children - is more controversial than a psychotic one who beats up Robin and calls himself The Goddamn Batman. Oh, how the Dark Age of Comics did change the world. To put it simply, if you can only accept the story of a rich guy who dresses up like a bat to fight crime if it is taken as gravely seriously as it is in the Nolan trilogy, you gotta get some perspective, man.
Well, here comes the Brave and the Bold, swinging fresh perspective like the Hammers of Justice. What a breath of fresh air.
By its own words, the TV series was a love letter to the Silver Age of Comics, and it was pretty successful at duplicating the rambunctious fun of that era. Sure, there's a bit more irony and, sure, it's aimed more at kids than some previous Batman shows, but where's the harm in that? Have we really gotten to the point where superheroes can't be kid's stuff anymore?
Of course being a kid's show means you gotta have some licensed video game spin-offs. That's as important as crapping out a figurine of the Neon Talking Super Street Bat Luge. And, if you're lucky, you can get WayForward to design that game for you. Well folks, Batman got lucky. WayForward's DS version of Batman: The Brave and the Bold is, itself, a love letter to the Golden Age of Action Platformers. It's a fun little title that captures the spirit of the series well. While it lasts, anyway.
Generally speaking, this is one of those games where you run to the right of the screen and punch anything that moves. You've played this sort of game countless times before, but no big deal, because who doesn't love games like that? There's some rudimentary platforming, but nothing too tricky or complicated. For some reason this game reminds me a bit of Battletoads in feel, but with a straight 2D perspective and the difficulty dialed down from 10 to 2. And with Batman in it.
One of the main features of the TV show was how it teamed Batman up with relatively obscure Silver Age superheroes like Blue Beetle and B'Wana Beast. That's been brought over to this game to good effect. The main character is still Batman, of course, but each level comes with a guest star who you can switch out for Batman during play. Expecting Superman or Wonder Woman? Don't be silly. This is The Brave and the Bold we're talking about. Get ready to play as... Red Tornado!
Red Tornado? That's the guy who hates the ground, right?
It's all good fun. Each character has their own signature moveset that you'll have to use to complete their level. Plastic Man, for instance, can turn himself into a spring to jump higher. Green Arrow can use plunger arrows to make platforms for himself to climb. Aquaman swims really well and talks to fish, as you'd expect. These mechanics aren't complicated, but each character plays differently enough that it never gets stale. And, if you build up a combo, they'll team with Batman to perform a unique screen-clearing special move. Entertaining, even if you feel you've seen this sort of thing before.
The obscurity doesn't stop with Batman's team members. Apart from the Joker (who pops up for the tutorial) and the surprise final boss, it's mostly weirdo villains no one talks about these days. Get ready to throw down on Clock King. Gentleman Ghost. Gorilla Grodd. Scream Queen. These guys are about a step away from being featured in Wizard magazine's old "Mort of the Month" section. Some Batman fans might moan about all these cheesy characters popping up, but to me seeing these guys threaten Batman is half the fun. I've fought the Joker and the Penguin in video games many times before, so why not go deep into the catalog, for once? These wackadoodle villains really bring it. At some point you realize you're punching dinosaurs and shooting ghosts with explosive arrows. And you smile, because what cold-hearted person can resist this stuff?
Not the momma.
To keep Batman competitive with all these oddball side characters, you can upgrade his gear throughout the game. One batarang not enough? How about two? Three? Four? How about a rolling cape attack? How about smoke pellets? How about a, uh, beam sword? Ok, the utility belt gets a little out of control, but who cares?
The graphics and presentation are uniformly excellent. The characters have a pixellated SNES+ look that's immediately appealing to anyone who's ever played a video game. The animations are fluid and the whole package is just a joy to look at, from the Bat Cave to the custom title screens for each level. It's also a delight to listen to, with brassy, exuberant, big band music everywhere. It really suits the rollicking adventure, and makes me wonder why more games haven't exploited that genre.
So the graphics, gameplay and presentation are all tops. I must love the game, right? Well... Two significant problems: BTBATBDS is too easy and it's too short. And I mean it, this time. The clock on my 3DS says I completed the game in 2 hours and 17 minutes. That's pretty slight by any standard.
WayForward does try to expand the game with some decent extra content. There's connectivity with the Wii version, if you have that (I don't, but any DS connectivity is pretty novel to me). There are pixel trophies to collect, though they aren't particularly well hidden. And there are challenge modes that let you run the side characters through unique levels. This mode is fun enough, but I find it more notable for including possibly the greatest Game Over screen I've ever seen.
It's not so much that you failed to save the world. It's that you embarrassed Batman.
These extra modes are appreciated, but they don't make up for the scant material in the rest of the game. If this one was more of a challenge, maybe the short level count could be justified. But, as it is, this is a very easy game that's also very, very short. That said, it's also been out for a while. You might put on your detective's cowl and track down a copy for a decent price somewhere. I found mine for 5 dollars in a buy back store. At that price, it's a steal.
So that's my take. Batman: The Brave and the Bold is no classic. It's too short for that and probably too easy. But it is worth a look for fans of WayForward, fans of the TV series and fans of a Batman who isn't perpetually depressed. And it'd be a good, quick blast for kids, if you know any that like Batman. (Kids? Who like Batman?)
If nothing else, it's the only game you're ever going to play where Aquaman rides on the back of a gorilla version of Batman who, himself, rides on the back of a sperm whale. If that sounds appealing to you, then I wouldn't sit around waiting for the Arkham series to deliver the goods. This is your game.
Was 'Batman: The Brave and the Bold' really not received well on TV? I was in the understanding it was welcomed, for the very reasons you mentioned, Kris. It was a welcome change of pace after the much darker takes on Batman, particularly 'Batman: The Animated Series' and 'Batman Beyond' which let's face it, no animated TV version of Batman is ever going to be able to live up to. 'The Batman' was also kind of serious, even though it shouldn't have been. The plots were goofy, but they were taken with kind of a straight face. It was an odd mash-up of styles, and the jury is still out on whether or not it really worked (for me, anyway).
Also, 'Batman: The Brave and the Bold' was based off of, unsurprisingly, The Brave and the Bold, a comic book series from the 1950s that teamed up heroes from the DC Universe. So while this is definitely a love letter to the Silver Age of comics, it's also a love letter to the old comic series.
In any case, I've had a passing interest in this game since it came out, and I think if I'm able to find it for the same price you did, ($5!) I'll snatch it up for sure. Your review definitely re-piqued my interest in the game, and I'd be remiss if I didn't own a Batman game for my favorite system ever.
I was warned off of the series by some comic book fan friends of mine, so that's where I first got the impression it was controversial. But to be honest, most of the grumbling I heard was of the "Idiots on YouTube" variety, which isn't the best place to build a case that the show wasn't well-liked. That "Batman oughta be darkity dark / wth is this?" reaction reappears pretty consistently across Brave and the Bold vids - in an early version of this review, I quoted some of these YouTube comments, but I took that out because I felt I was devoting too much time to it. Even so, my impression was that the audience was somewhat polarized on it, based mostly around whether they felt there was any place left for the Silver Age Batman or whether they thought it was a stain on the Timm-Dini masterpiece from the 90s.
There's also the Bat-Mite "appearance" at Comic Con where he addresses the issue head on. Not sure how deep the criticism actually goes, but the fact that the show itself made a joke about it lead me to believe it went deeper than usual.
I'll say this, I'd be happy to learn it wasn't controversial and this is another case of a vocal minority trying to spoil things for everyone else. BTBATB isn't something I want to sit down and watch every episode of, but I'm surely glad they made it.
I agree with the review in pretty much every respect. The game really seems like I should have been twice as long. Maybe the Wii connectivity is super cool. I don't know. Eventually I'll find a super cheap version of the Wii game and find out.
I bought the DS game for my 5 year old. And he loves every minute of it. He's beaten it a few times over but still plays it again and again.
Nice review! I would also buy it for $5. Almost bought it for $10. But I'm holding out for $5.
Are you a comic buff, Kris? I used to be... Still haven't really seen Brave and the Bold. My only exposure to it was the (unique) Wii version of this game. Rented it, wasn't such a big fan. I did love the humor and presentation, but the actual brawling kind of left me cold. I'm even more of a brawler snob than a Batman snob, you see.
Regardless, isn't saying that B&B isn't something you'd want to watch every episode of kind of a criticism? I'm not really big on super-dark comic book material, generally, but I did think that BTAS and Batman Beyond struck a great balance, almost to the point where you wouldn't NEED another Batman cartoon (and the eponymous one that followed was shit). I actually just watched some of the early BTAS episodes with my nephew, and I was like, "WASN'T IT AWESOME?!". He goes, "Maybe I'll like it a little more when I get older..." And then I was all, "...yeah, probably." He's 5.
Anyway, I did love the presentation, and the game might be worth picking up for that alone. It's the Comic Jumper of the DS! I think the connectivity feature is a playable 3P Batmite on the Wii version. That's cool.
Those goofy-ass Silver Age comics, though... I mean, don't get me wrong, they're amusing and incredibly ripe for parody. But there are very few that genuinely appeal to me. Give me the Golden Age or... Bronze Age (what would you call the late '80s/early '90s?) any day.
I don't know if I'd call myself a comic buff, but I'm fairly familiar with the history of comics. I know what I like and don't like about them.
It definitely is a criticism to say that I wouldn't want to watch every episode of Brave and the Bold, but it's not particularly strong criticism. I certainly wouldn't say it's a perfect show and it is pitched at a slightly younger demographic than 33 year old guys who don't have kids. But it's also a heck of a lot better than some of the garbage I liked when I was 7 and the overall quality and fun is undeniable. That nephew of yours would probably like BTBATB more than BTAS - though I think all of us would agree the earlier series was more of an adult show.
As far as comics, there is a Bronze Age, but it was earlier than you think. Late 80s/Early 90s is the beginning of what's sometimes called The Dark Age of Comics and I called that era out at the beginning of my review. That's about the time I started reading comics as a kid and I basically jumped into comics and jumped right the heck back out again. There's still a lot of good stuff, but I'd say the whole genre was going through its awkward teenage years. It was learning how to be an adult artform, but mostly it was just making an everloving fool out of itself on a daily basis. More than the rip-off alternate covers, the action movie cliches, the jello jiggler tits, the sophomoric philosophizing, the art-heavy/story-light approach and the collectathon multi-part crossovers, I find the goth-like obsession with dark themes during that period really off-putting. Not, of course, when it's handled really well, like in Watchmen. There's obviously nothing wrong with dark themes, as a rule. But for every Watchmen, there seems to be 40 issues of Punisher War Zone. Give me the goofy Silver Age or mutant Bronze Age any day over that crap.
Hmm, maybe it was just my anecdotal evidence then. My circle of friends actually dug the "goofy" take with 'The Brave and the Bold.' It makes me sad that there may be a larger group out there that bemoans this style.
@kriswright So you never really got into any particular scene?
I don't really care for the deconstructionist or post-deconstructionist stuff, in general, either. Or big events. I prefer classic, timeless tales of heroism and derring-do. I grew up in that Roger Stern-y, like, mid-250 Amazing Spider-Man/Brood War/Peter David-Hulk Marvel Comic era. Mid-'80s? And then when the pre-Image guys crashed the party and stank up the joint, I bailed to good ol' Chuck Dixon-era DC in the early '90s. Generally speaking.
My nephew didn't like Pee-Wee Herman's Big Adventure, either. There's no accounting for that kid's taste...
Hm. I didn't follow 'The Batman' all that closely, but the few episodes I saw weren't bad. I liked the new take on Joker. For the better part of my life time, the Joker has always been a homicidal maniac, but always physically inferior to Batman. The new, stronger, more acrobatic/gymnast Joker was a larger threat than any other incarnation I'd seen in recent memory.
I caught an episode of 'The Batman' called "Artifacts" which I found to be quite good. Reminded me of a really well done 'The Animated Series' or 'Batman Beyond' episode. Great pacing and a good story arc...not to mention several nods to the fans.
What didn't you like about 'The Batman' anyway? I'm curious.
@GameDadGrant Actually, the Joker used to be kind of a metahuman, if memory serves. Like, his accident also gave him super-strength. So he was stronger than Batman. If memory serves.
I don't have such vivid memories of The Batman. I just saw a few episodes, and it seemed like a far inferior version of BTAS. Maybe you saw the best eps and I saw the worst? I dunno. Teen Titans was alright.
I enjoyed my time with the Wii version. It definitely lasted me at least twice as long as this one lasted you. There were four chapters but they were all pretty long. I actually tried the Wii - DS connectivity, and it was kinda neat.
I collected two types of Marvel comics when I was a kid: The Liefeld Generation garbage and ridiculous oddball comics no one else I knew ever read. I read Captain America and Thor when C-Listers were working on them, writing stories about Doughboy and the Great Lakes Avengers. I adored Peter David's run on X-Factor, with Multiple Man and Strong Guy. I was a fan of Sleepwalker, an unfairly mocked character who was sort of the last Bronze Age superhero as far as I'm concerned. Even then, those comics seemed dated and a little quaint, but at least they trafficked in ideas and not just a pack of sub-Van Damme action movie cliches, like X-Force or whatever else was selling in the millions.
Or at least that was my feeling at the time. If I read them today, I'd probably find them to be utter garbage, too. But at least it was quaint garbage. I have fond memories of lying in bed reading Sleepwalker. When I remember reading X-Force, it's like I just want to punch myself in the face.
I'm a couple of years younger than you and I guess that makes something of a difference. Jim Lee's X-men #1 came out around the time I started reading, so the Image guys were already at the party. Basically, even back then I thought Image was everything that was wrong with comics. It seemed like a bunch of good artists had decided they were good writers, too, and the storytelling quickly degraded into all that "This Blood's For You" stupidity. I mean, just thinking about it now, I still kind of resent those guys for ruining the fun of comic collecting for me. Because it just wasn't fun to collect 5 different versions of Brigade #1, or whatever. When that became the focus, I just gave up on the whole thing.
Same sort of thing happened to baseball cards a few years earlier.