Games aimed at children are an interesting beast – often you’ll find them less challenging than other games, and if it contains a plot it’s a simple, easy-to-follow romp through a colourful and engaging journey. Unfortunately, Tenkai Knights: Brave Battle doesn’t quite measure up to these expectations.
The game itself is based on a television series which is itself based on a construction toy aimed at young boys, so as tie-in games go this is already stretching the material. You are controlling one of four young lads who somehow can connect with a planet that exists outside of their reality and possess the bodies of four legendary warriors who, until this point, appeared to be completely sentient and had no need for pre-teen involvement. The children are then told that they must help save the planet from a typical overlord who wants to destroy his home planet for an indiscernible reason, although why the children need to be involved at all is not made particularly clear considering that the Tenkai Knights themselves have been battling for freedom for centuries. It is hinted that the Knights can only be summoned if someone from Earth is controlling them, but given that this game is meant for children, it simply isn’t made clear enough.
After dissecting the plot more than a story for ten-year-olds should be, you’re thrown straight into your first mission to help the all-but-doomed planet from complete annihilation, and you’re not given any tutorial or instruction on how to play. The manual provides some basic button information, but there is no explanation of how the game actually functions. In days of yore this was the norm and players were expected to work out at least some of the gameplay for themselves, but in this day and age a game for children should really give more of an indication of what exactly you need to do.
Once you’ve worked out how to play, you’ll discover that you’re in a barren arena of floating platforms facing off against four pacing grey, featureless robot-like figures, and your task to to kill a certain number of these faceless drones with no time limit. Every time you slay a foe you’ll be gifted either a brightly coloured block, a tiny image of a weapon, or a block with more detail on it, again with no explanation as to what they are or what they do. The basic blocks and the small weapons are used for building new parts and upgrading old ones, but the rate at which you collect these items means that you’ll be doing an awful lot of grinding before you get enough to build something that ultimately functions much in the same way as previously obtained parts.
Before each mission you’re presented with a cutscene consisting of nothing more than text boxes and stills of the characters, and there are no exceptions to this rule, these things occur at the start of every mission, and you can only skip them once you’ve sat through them once already. Turn on the 3D and for some reason the occasional images that pop up will suddenly stop being quite so fuzzy and blurry, but at the cost of some poor depth positioning of some elements. Every so often you may also hear a line of dialogue from one of the characters, but most of the time you’ll have to use your eyes and read it yourself. There’s no consistency with the voice overs — sometimes a cutscene can be mostly presented with spoken dialogue, sometimes it can have none, and sometimes just one character will be speaking whilst the others communicate with text alone. It’s a strange experience that does mar the suspension of disbelief, and sometimes you’ll struggle to hear the actors’ voices over the repetitive music which usually loops after roughly ten seconds of playing.
From a gameplay standpoint the title redeems itself to an extent. Once you’ve got the hang of the controls and you understand the mechanics things start to pick up, but it’s not all peaches and cream. The controls feel clunky and sluggish, the attacks feel dull and repetitive, and the mission objectives are almost all identical. There's a meter at the bottom which indicates your Tenkai Energy, which allows the execution of 'special' moves; these moves are basically the same as the standard moves but do more damage, and the fact that the indicator is on the bottom right hand corner of the bottom screen, it's often better to just stick with the standard attacks rather than bother with the special ones. You can also pick up items to help you out during battle, but the symbols that distinguish them are largely arbitrary, resulting in yet more trial-and-error before really understanding anything. Many of the items are simply screen-clearers, which after an anti-climactic series of grey explosions will instantly destroy any remaining enemies in a puff of lazy simplicity.
Every so often you’ll change into ‘Titan Mode’, which causes one of the characters to become much bigger for the duration of a mission, and frankly the models look very pretty when in this mode, but it’s a shame that the gameplay is barely any different. You’re a bit slower, but considering the enemies you have to fight whilst in this mode are considerably tougher, you feel no more powerful than before; rather, because of the difficulty spike, you feel less powerful than you once did. Speaking of difficulty spikes, this game is full of them. Most of the time you’ll coast through missions without breaking a sweat, but then all of a sudden the game throws you completely off by giving you a task that is unnecessarily cruel — once you’ve conquered that mission, though, it’s straight back to plain sailing.
The multiplayer side of things is almost identical to the single player, but with the addition of facing off against one of your chums in a battle royale, which is more a test of who has the better character than who has the most skill. You can also choose to battle against one of your peers in Titan Mode, but as this mode is nigh-on identical to the standard form, the only real differences is the limited movement, being that you’re always on a Final Destination-like platform, only with walls at the edges. Playing the missions with a friend is marginally more entertaining, but if you plan on playing this game strictly solo, you’re not missing out on a great deal, as the battle royale-type modes can also be played against the admittedly dense AI.
Overall Tenkai Knights: Brave Battle feels half-baked. With a bit of tinkering and more variety the gameplay could actually be very entertaining, and as long as you’re practiced in mashing the A button you can forgo most of the cutscenes as they don’t really tie into the action. It feels very much like having the same experience over and over again, but the game’s half-decent length means that a child who just wants to pick up and play for an hour or so at a time may well find a lot of joy in this title. Anyone who’s looking for a solid, engaging experience, however, would do better to look elsewhere. Like so many tie-in games, Brave Battle fails to make any real lasting impact.