Gaming franchises are much like business franchises; they exist primarily to provide a welcome, recognisable, reliable face in a world obsessed with choice.
You know that a McDonalds in Tokyo will serve you the same processed McStroke as it's namesake in Spitsville, Idaho. You know that every time you check into a Holiday Inn that the room will in no way resemble the one you booked online.
You make the conscious decision to frequent the franchise because it's comfortable and has meaning. The name conveys security.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold is very much a franchise experience. You're greeted with a cheery smile, welcomed, and encouraged to enjoy your stay. It's functional and enjoyable on the surface, but digging deeper will reveal a title that seldom dares to move beyond the formulaic side-scrolling combat.
Based on the Brave and the Bold cartoon and adapted to Wii by developers WayForward, the game consists of four episodes that act as a homage to the camp Adam West-inspired take on Gotham's leading crimefighter. Batman, ably assisted by one of four co-op partners, lurches across varied scenery in a madcap jaunt that seldom comes up for air, yet manages to carve its own personality in the process.
The game is angled towards younger players, who may be unable to perform with the utmost of dexterity. Or, older players returning from the pub who find themselves similarly challenged. This is reflected in the difficulty level, which essentially doesn't exist. The penalty for death is a minor loss of coins followed by a respawn, so even the youngest or most trousered amongst the players will be able to mash enough buttons to defeat almost any villain.
The real challenge comes in manoeuvring around the levels. You'll need to collect various coins and tokens, which are used for unlocking additional content and boosting your characters stats respectively. The platforming credentials of Brave and the Bold are never in question here - it excels in providing Batman with the ability to leap between levels, scale walls, grapple to surfaces and float strategically to the ground. Not that he's incapable of kicking some "Grade A ass", as the tutorial is fond of reminding you.
The range of attacks provided to the Dark Knight and his erstwhile companion are extensive, which is all the more confusing given the lack of inherent difficulty. Basic combat consists of a variety of punches, from uppercuts to jumping attacks, punch combos, ground slams and air combos. You can perform back flips, rolls and heavy attacks, as well as ducking and blocking incoming hits. This doesn't even include the use of gadgets such at the Batarang, Stun Gun, Jet Boosters, Metal Knuckles, Belt Sword and placeable explosives.
As if all that wasn't enough, once fifty successful attacks have been landed, you can initiate a "Power Attack" by shaking the Wiimote and nunchuck in unison. This calls up a brief cut-scene and launches the caped crusader into a frenzy that obliterates all but the strongest of nearby opponents. Interestingly enough, this move along with a throwing mechanism, the heavy attack and the ground-slam are the only times you really need to waggle the stick around at all - for the most part, the combat is a physically sedate process.
You might think that the sheer variety of attacks on offer would provide battles with the same sort of choreography found in even the most low-budget of Jackie Chan movies, but unfortunately it has the opposite effect. More often than not, it's simply easier to bash the Wii controls until something - anything - occurs to incapacitate your enemy. There remains the outside possibility that, given enough time and inclination, the more dedicated players will learn to master every single combination possible, but considering it's not necessary to attain this level of perfection to progress there's no real reason to do so.
In any case, should you find yourself longing for assistance or simply some witty banter, you can call upon co-op heroes Robin, Blue Beetle, Hawkman, or Guy Gardner (Green Lantern). The A.I. adequately manages your sidekick, for the most part, but happily should anyone choose to pick up a second controller and join in, they can do so at any time without delay. This drop-in/drop-out mechanism is clearly one of the strengths of the title, and reflects the casual demeanor WayForward have worked so hard to preserve.
In addition to the four co-op heroes on offer, there are ten "jump in" heroes that can be called upon to assist where necessary. Which, as we've ascertained, is never. Green Arrow, Jay Garrick, Hal Jordan, Plastic Man and others will appear on command (provided they've been unlocked) and instead of actually providing a useful contribution are clearly included to link back to the comic series. More indication, really, that the emphasis here is to pay tribute to the comic ahead of resolving balancing issues.
Likewise, the ability to link the DS version of the game with the Wii version to enable assistance from the drop-in character "Bat-Mite" might seem like an attempt to cash in, but it's easily justified if you define it as an attempt to cram as much folklore into the game as possible.
It's a little unfair to dwell on the overall problems in the title, such as the sometimes confusing level layout or largely nonsensical plot. Or the annoying requirement to use motion controls when selecting menu options when the control stick would have been easier and faster. It's unfair because it misses the point of the game, which is to provide a casual platforming experience whilst maximising on-screen time with familiar action figures.
The Brave and the Bold is more than the sum of its shortcomings. The ambition was clearly to present a series of madcap adventures packed with witty dialogue, over-the-top flight sequences and brilliantly presented artwork, and those respects, it's a case of mission accomplished.