As far as pop culture is concerned, there are two types of Batman. Batmen, if you will.
One is the gritty, serious Dark Knight that’s been Chris Nolan’s Hollywood blockbuster success of late and the star of Rocksteady’s excellent Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Then there’s the silly parody of a man who is so obsessed with bats that everything around him gets a Bat-prefix, short of his butler and sidekick (then again, Bat-Robin and Bat-Alfred do have a certain ring to them).
Batman: The Brave and the Bold falls somewhere in between. Based on the Cartoon Network show of the same name, WayForward’s game captures the Dark Knight in one of his lighter moods. It’s nowhere near the cheese party of Adam West’s bizarre stint as the caped crusader, but the vibrant colours and sense of humour nod to the cult 60’s show. It’s a universe that takes Batman seriously without wandering too far into crime drama territory. It's also a universe with villains devious enough to transform most of the population into cats.
The premise of the show is to team Batman up with typically lesser-known DC heroes and square off against lesser-known villains like Catman and Gentleman Ghost. You don’t need to be intimately familiar with the show or the DC universe to appreciate the characters, but it certainly does help. Anyone who is will instantly recognise the beats this game hits. From the beginning teaser fights to the opening ripped straight out of the cartoon, WayForward did a commendable job capturing the look and feel of the show. The animation is rich and gorgeous, and the funky music is the same as that of the cartoon. Characters are even played by the same voice actors, including Paul “Pee-Wee” Reubens doing a stint as Bat-mite. It really does feel like you’re playing episodes of the show.
The game is divided into four episodes, each with eight stages and multiple boss fights. Bats teams up with a new hero each episode with their own special abilities and equipment, those heroes being Robin, Blue Beetle, Hawkman and Guy Gardner, one of the Green Lanterns. Each episode’s story is told through a mix of television-quality animated scenes, talking head-ish cutscenes and in-game dialog. The last of the three is a nice touch and feels natural, allowing character development during platforming and battle sequences — except during those few times when it’s drowned out by a concurrent fight or cut off by a cutscene.
Solo players can choose to use either character before each stage, which then assigns AI duty to the other. Unfortunately, your teammate isn’t always the sharpest tool in the shed, oftentimes doing a poor job of keeping up or pummelling the wrong enemy. Drop-in, drop-out co-op is a big help in this regard, and while you won’t have too tough a time with the AI, beat-em-ups are always best played with a buddy. There’s even a little screen at the end of each stage to see how you did compared to your partner, which provides plenty of bragging fodder.
The DS version focuses heavily on platforming, but on Wii Batman’s adventure is mostly just an all-out brawl. Combat is solid and satisfying, making use of pretty much every button on the Remote and Nunchuck. Motion controls come into play for high-powered special attacks and the pointer is used to aim certain projectiles like batarangs. It’s tight and simple, perfectly suiting the game’s younger target audience. Once the final episode is wrapped up, Bat-mite’s Challenge opens up to put your fighting skills to the test in multiple timed battles against increasingly difficult menageries of baddies.
As you pummel foes into little poofs of smoke, you collect coins to put towards equipment upgrades. Equipment is doled out to you as you go and helps Batman gain access to new areas; some areas are only accessible with equipment found later on, providing some replay incentive for earlier levels. Boosting the efficiency of your equipment is nice (why, yes, we would like to throw three batarangs at once, thank you), but sadly there are no additional attacks to unlock or learn, and with everything given to you at the outset, it might not take long for players looking for more depth to grow a little bored of just punching stuff in the same way. Repetition is inevitable in beat-em-ups and might not be an issue if you just don’t care about anything other than throwing some Hammers of Justice into some dude’s face, but those looking for a deeper take on the genre won’t find it here. While you do unlock new assistant heroes, each with their own special screen-filling attack, they all work basically the same way, thus limiting the variety they bring.
Those with a DS copy of the game can connect at any time and take control of Bat-mite, steering him around the big screen with the stylus, and can either help or hinder by throwing health or bombs. It’s a fun little addition and nice to see included, but it’s not really enough to make you want to go out and buy the DS version just to use it. Unless you’re big into griefing your fellow players, that is.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold is easy for young crusaders to get into and feel like a champ while providing just enough depth for older players to get a bat-kick out of it. Clocking in at around four hours it’s not the most lengthy of adventures, but there’s enough replay incentive here to last awhile for the bat-willing. While it’s not a pusher of boundaries for its genre, it’s certainly a very fun bat-take on beat-em-ups.