Last year, video game Batman was dark. He crunched bones. This year, video game Batman is cheerful. He hangs out with Robin and can beat up bad guys alongside Green Lantern.
Next month's Batman: The Brave and the Bold: The Video Game is very different from last year's acclaimed Batman: Arkham Asylum. Created by different people and aimed at younger gamers, the 2010 Batgame is the only one that enables glory-hound hero Booster Gold to help save the day.
Only this year's model includes an argument between Batman and Robin about whether the older hero really thinks Catwoman is innocent of terrorising a museum's cats-in-space exhibit - or whether he just makes excuses for her because he thinks she is hot.
The Brave and the Bold game is a side-scrolling brawler with support for a second player to assume the role of Robin, Green Lantern Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle or Hawkman. If you play alone, the computer will play the second character. The source material is the ongoing Brave and the Bold cartoon, a colourful retro-campy take on the Dark Knight that is tonally close to the old Adam West Batman TV show from the 1960s. The Brave and the Bold hook is guest-stars. The game, like the cartoon, is full of them. There are about a dozen heroes you can choose as your summonable ally, including Booster Gold, Black Canary and Green Arrow. There are a host of Batman villains to fight.
I played a near-finished version of the game cooperatively on the Wii earlier this week, taking turns controlling Batman or Robin. The controls were as simple as you might find on a Super Nintendo game: movement controlled by left thumb, punches and kicks controlled with the right hand. The first level we tried was a fixed-screen battle against Two-Face and his henchmen. I button-mashed some brawling moves against henchmen running in from the left and right of the screen. In the background, Two Face stood over a giant penny on which was strapped his victim. Every so often the henchmen stopped coming and we could shoot Batarangs at Two-Face. In a later sequence of levels, we ran and platform-jumped from left to right to beat up the bad guys and cat-statues in the aforementioned museum.
As you brawl Batman and friend(s) through the game, you can use some special attacks, like one powerful move earned after every 50th hit and another - the summons of an ally hero - that can be used when a certain energy meter is full. That latter ally move brings in Booster Gold, Black Canary or whoever you have selected to do a special all-enemy attack. When Booster flew in, the paparazzi showed up, he zapped each enemy and flew away. He's a celebrity super-hero, so that's what he does. Black Canary shows up and screams. Green Arrow drops a downpour of arrows. The ally shows up and leaves right away. Between levels you go to the Batcave, where you can buy and upgrade gadgets, such as Robin's fighting stick or some flashbang grenades.
I enjoyed the banter between Batman and Robin during the levels I played. The two heroes like to crack jokes with each other in this game. We're in the chummy mode of Batman heroics in Brave and the Bold. No one is sullen. Bad guys and good guys alike seem to be having fun.
The Brave and the Bold felt like a simple game. Just as the cartoon is a throwback to the '60s, this game feels like a more or less 2D throwback to the Super Nintendo. It's no surprise to see Way Forward, the people who recently made faithful new editions of Contra and A Boy and His Blob involved. The Brave and the Bold looks and feels like the kind of back-to-basics game they specialise in.
If you like lots of cameos of DC Comic super-heroes and the simple action of older games, set to the current Batman cartoon style, The Brave and the Bold is probably for you. If you're looking for a follow-up to Arkham Asylum, this game is not it. Wait for Arkham 2.