Teetering precipitously on a fine line between being cute and kid-friendly versus extending politically incorrect stereotypes, Brave: The Search for Spirit Dancer is a colorful platformer aimed straight at the 'tweener audience. Lush landscapes and stylish animation provide a movie-style atmosphere for our Native American tale, set in a pre-industrialized North America that hardly seems like it ever existed.
The aptly named Brave is a spunky young warrior-to-be, whose world is turned on its ear by an apocalyptic demon unleashed on his peaceful village. All of a sudden, an idyllic existence morphs into a catastrophe, complete with a zombified girlfriend and a slain grandfather (but it really is a kids' game - we swear!). Through a mystical stone, the late Grey Bear is able to communicate from beyond the grave to help lead his progeny across all sorts of fantastical environments in a quest to find the ultimate muckity-muck, Spirit Dancer, and save their town.
Though he starts off with nothing but a pointed stick as a weapon, Brave will collect items and skills along the way, including tomahawks (both flying and regular), bow and arrow, and level-specific boss-battling powers. Your trusty axe will slash thousands of nasty enemies and helpless fauna, but it's highly unlikely the bow and arrow will see much time in combat. It's just too darned tough to aim and fire the thing, which is surprising considering that the rest of the controls work pretty well.
The enemies and boss battles will seem like a walk in the park compared to the rough-and-tumble spirit planes that serve as links between worlds. You'll need to navigate your way with thumb-numbing perfection to make it from one end of each area to the other. Stages of ice-climbing, rapids-riding, iceberg-hopping, volcano-jumping and the treacherous final bridge are tough and loaded with cheap, instant deaths. Luckily, there's a save system that's not too punitive, so there isn't a ton of unwanted replay.
Platformer aficionados will be comfortable during the quest, as all of the requisite standards are here - double-jumping, item-collecting, miniboss-fighting, puzzle-solving - along with some nifty shaman-style goodies like creature-mimicking, animal-tracking, power-summoning, and body-possessing. These all serve to add a mystical flair to the tasks at hand.
The colorful and cartoony animation style is top-shelf all the way - the characters' comically out-of-proportion hands and feet would keep a chiropractor in business forever if those sorts of jobs existed back then - but the wonky camera will cause a lot of frustration. More often than we'd care to say, our poor little Brave got himself into an unwanted dead zone because we simply couldn't see the enemy or next jumping point before it was too late.
The story is entertaining enough, but gameplay's as linear as a ruler, and random exploration is basically out of the question. This brings into question any sort of replay value as the relatively brief but fun escapades come to a close. Ultimately, Brave: The Search for Spirit Dancer serves its purpose as a good - but not great - spiritual jaunt through days gone by.