It's difficult to come up with a fault for Batman, but he does have one noticeable chink in his armor: he's not funny. His utility belt has a knack for supplying the perfect gadget to save him from imminent danger, but a batarang isn't much help in coming up with a knock-knock joke. Thankfully, Batman doesn't have to worry about stand-up material in his latest adventure. The Brave and the Bold pushes humor to the forefront, but it's the cast of supporting characters who supply the laughs. Robin and Blue Beetle are always ready with a quip during dry moments, and even the often ridiculed Aquaman is able to lighten the mood, often at his own expense. This happy-go-lucky atmosphere meshes beautifully with the simple combat, which is just varied enough to stave off a feeling of repetition. A lack of difficulty does hold this back from delivering the satisfying thrill of victory most good beat-'em-ups are known for, and it limits the long-term value in the process. But the simple pleasures in The Brave and the Bold make this a fun and charming brawler.
There are four self-contained episodes in The Brave and the Bold. The stories are what you would expect from a cartoon superhero caper--gorillas running amok, and statues coming to life--but it's the manner in which these tales are told that gives this game personality. Villains interject their dastardly thoughts and cunning insults throughout the levels, and their repartee gives this game a goofy charm. Each episode teams Batman up with a different sidekick, but these second bananas don't stay meekly out of the spotlight. Robin takes offense to every perceived slight; Blue Beetle makes fun of the preposterous situations; Hawkman won't stop talking about how old and wise he is; and Guy Gardner is a pompous jerk even after he messes everything up. But the jokes aren't limited to the cutscenes. Blue Beetle muses about superhero/supervillain relationships in the middle of a hectic fight; Robin continually argues that a catlike person has to be Catwoman; and Batman offers a few objections while everyone prattles on around him. It's a great dynamic that makes this game immediately engaging and accessible, even for people who don't know their Batman from their Man-Bat.
The action doesn't quite reach the highs of the outstanding presentation, but the 2D fisticuffs at least keep you entertained between story segments. Batman is not one to fight crime alone, so he always has a partner by his side. Co-op play is handled seamlessly in The Brave and the Bold, so a second player can hop in or drop out at any time, and the computer picks up the slack if you choose to play alone. The artificial intelligence does have some issues during the few moments in which you have to work cooperatively, but it's generally a smooth experience, and the AI isn't afraid to get its hands dirty and finish off foes in style. When you're teamed up with a friend, the camera struggles to keep both players in the frame during certain fast-moving segments, but it's a minor blemish. This is an easy, pain-free game for players of all skill levels, and the simple co-op implementation makes the whole thing a breeze. Just don't expect to take your adventure online.
Combat is the primary focus, so there are lots of opportunities to bash angry foes into smithereens. The smooth controls allow you to jump, kick, roll, and block with ease, creating an empowering feeling that you are always in full command of an altruistic superhero. You have a decent repertoire of moves--including uppercuts, throws, and jump kicks--but you really only need to mash the punch button to defeat most enemies. However, there is just enough variety to keep things from becoming repetitive. Flying enemies must be knocked out of the sky with a well-timed jumping attack; explosive mines require a poke-and-run approach; and gun-toting miscreants will strike you down if you're not quick on your feet. Motion controls are kept to a minimum, but you can unleash a super attack by shaking the remote and nunchuk together, and the brief cutscene and awesome display of might make this satisfying to pull off in battle. You can also summon a lesser hero if you need help in a jam, and it's always worth a laugh to call forth the Flash just to hear him use his name in his awkward battle cries.
Saving the world from the forces of evil is rewarding in itself, but a lack of difficulty takes away some of the thrill of victory. The Brave and the Bold is a ridiculously easy game. It makes sense that Batman isn't going to succumb to a villain named Gentleman Ghost, but the lack of any sort of challenge is hard to ignore. If you die in the middle of a fight, you immediately respawn, and the only penalty for your failure is a slight subtraction from your bank account. Because of this slap-on-the-wrist punitive system, there is never any fear of death. While this certainly erases any potential frustration and lets you take in the sights and sounds unimpeded, it removes the heroic satisfaction to some degree. More troubling is the lack of memorable moments. The boss battles are fairly pedestrian, and no other gameplay scenario stands out. The entire game is cheery and fun, but The Brave and the Bold could have used a few outstanding set-piece battles to give the experience a bit more flair.
Outside of combat, there are platforming segments that give you a chance to stretch your legs. The levels are linear, but there are hidden nooks and crannies for persistent players, and trying to find all the branching paths gives this game some much-needed replay value. Initially, the jumping segments can be humbling for whoever is controlling Batman. Unlike Guy Gardner and Blue Beetle, Batman cannot double jump, which means you have to rely on his grappling hook to get around. This slower method of travel means it's easy to leave ol' Bats in the dust if you're controlling the other player, and it's strange to see the Dark Knight treated so disrespectfully. But you do unlock a jetpack later on that removes this problem. The jetpack is one of the flashier gadgets you unlock, but there are a good variety of battle toys that help keep this game fresh throughout the adventure. Batarangs, explosives, and lock picks can be used to open hidden areas, and some also double as weapons. Furthermore, you can upgrade these tools with new powers between levels, and it's fun to see what potential each gadget holds.
The Brave and the Bold is a good-looking game that makes great use of its presentation to suck you into the adventure, and the striking, hand-drawn visuals are impressive throughout. Every character is well animated and finely detailed, mirroring its television counterpart impressively well, and the wide assortment of backdrops continually give you something new to ogle. The punishment-free combat does little to separate the game from other beat-'em-ups, but smooth controls and a good variety of enemies keep things from feeling stale. The Brave and the Bold may not reinvent the genre, but a pleasing aesthetic and fun gameplay make this a good choice for anyone itching for some more time with the Batman.