Bravoman: Binja Bash Review

So – pop quiz time – what do you get when you make a mobile app based on a web cartoon series, which in turn was adapted from a fourth wall breaking web comic, that was originally derived from an obscure videogame that was only ever released in the US on the TurboGrafx-16?  I’m sure that at least some of you out there are expecting me to give you a punch line next, thinking everything I previously stated was somehow the set up for a presumably lame joke. However – with the utmost certainty – I can assure you all that I am currently speaking with absolute seriousness, for today we are here to look at Bandai Namco Games’ recent release of Bravoman: Binja Bash (out now, free)!

248161-BravomanHowever – before I tackle this recent adventure of limb stretching action – let’s rewind the clock a bit and delve into why this game exists at all, as it’s a rather unique story all on its own. The tale begins with a 1988 Japanese only arcade game titled Bravoman, which somehow managed to reach US shores – complete with an unfathomable translation – on the Turbografx-16 in 1990. Afterwards one would be entirely forgiven for assuming that the series had straight up died, seeing as how nothing else happened – other than a few minor cameos – all the way up until 2012.

Then – for reasons probably known only to Bandai Namco management – a plan was initiated last year to resurrect a bunch of game properties that were either obscure, or completely forgotten, via comics on a website called ShiftyLook! While most of these comics were short lived – ending after fifty or less strips – one in particular took off running rather well, and that would of course be none other than Wonder Momo! Uh – scratch that – that’s actually ShiftyLook’s other major successful revival project, we’re actually here today to instead talk about Bravoman: Super Unequalled Hero of Excellence!

screen568x568Capitalizing on the success of said webcomic, as well as the animated web series, ShiftyLook recently teamed up with Hiptic Games to put Bravoman precisely where he belongs: his first starring videogame role after a whopping 25 years! In it players take control of the titular hero – as well as a variety of his friends, and some of his enemies – as he travels about Neo New Kyoto, smashing seemingly endless hordes of evil robot ninjas. While Bravoman: Binja Bash might at first glance look like just another endless runner, it’s actually anything but with snarky cut scenes – hidden stages – and multiple boss battles for players to deal with. These bosses include Benjamin, the heavy-metal ninja cyborg that attacks with musical riffs from his giant keytar sword; Pistol Daimyo: Lord of the Fan-Dance, who strikes out with his both his head cannon and an army of crow demons; and finally the maniacal Dr. Bomb, a man known as much for his mechanical inventions as he is for his atrociously poor grammar.

While not actually an endless runner – as the stages have fixed scenery, with actual endpoints – the title has co-opted the concept of automatic forward movement to keep it’s controls relatively simple. On the left side of the screen are three buttons: jump, whose purpose is rather obvious; guard, which can be used to negate damage from incoming attacks; and a special move button, which can only be used once it has fully charged up. One important thing of note regarding the jump button is that Bravoman won’t take damage if he fails to leap over a wall – as opposed to how actual endless runners play out – he will instead simply stand there until you deliberately hop over it, which can sometimes be used to the player’s advantage.

unnamedTapping anywhere on the right side of the screen – as there is no dedicated button – will cause Bravoman to attack with his super powered mechanical stretching limbs, thankfully sans him screaming “Bravo!” each and every time (it was one part of the original game that could quickly become irritating). The exact location that Bravoman attacks will be based on where you tap, effectively letting him pummel robotic ninjas – so long as the shot was correctly lined up – almost anywhere on the screen. These mass produced mechanical minions – once shattered – will litter a pile of randomly selected parts all over the field, which can be picked up simply by having Bravoman ran over them.

The matter of these robotic pieces of scrap is certainly important, that said – before I can cover them – there’s still a few other gameplay matters I need to tackle first: the hidden submarine stages, and the swinging mechanism. Each of the game’s three main stages has a path – that should you take it – will lead Bravoman to an underwater section, where the only way to proceed is to use the Torpedo Assault Mode that he so greatly dreads. After all – even if one did have a fancy super powered suit – who would want their entire body to suddenly be violently rearranged into the shape of a submarine, especially if they were going to be shot at afterwards?

Bravoman4During these stages players will have to maneuver their submarine transformed hero around rocks while blasting underwater ninjas, and then finally dealing with a special boss at the end that generally drops rare parts when defeated. The controls here are very different with players having a move up, move down, and dash forward button on the left hand side of the screen, meanwhile tapping anywhere on the other side causes the submarine to fire in a straight line ahead of itself. Perhaps the nicest part about going into one of these hidden stages is that, whether you succeed or fail, it ends with Bravoman getting sent back to main stage afterwards will full health restored.

As for the swinging mechanic, whenever you’re playing Bravoman himself – or certain other specific characters – there will sometimes be green grapple points that appear floating in mid-air. If you manage to successfully punch one of these then Bravoman will use it to launch himself up into the air, letting out a victory shout in the process, as he avoids what otherwise would generally be a large chunk of dangerous pitfalls. I would like to say right now that while the tutorial stage has you aiming upwards at these from an angle, the actual ideal method of using these is to jump upwards – such that you’re situated horizontally across from it – and punch at the grapple points from the side.

1378008479_screen_20130831_2323_2Anyways, those aforementioned scrap pieces are one of Bravoman: Binja Bash’s core mechanics; for – while you begin with 100% access to the super unequaled hero of excellence – the game’s other playable characters are unlocked by collecting and spending various Binja parts. Alternatively these other heroes – a list including Bravo Woman, Braveman, Waya Hime, Alphaman, and Anti-Bravoman – can also be acquired much quicker via real world money. This – in light of some issues that plagued the game at launch – led many to believe that Bravoman: Binja Bash was simply another exploitatively difficult freemium title, the likes of which could only truly be finished by forking out tons of money.

While many freemium iOS titles claim up front that they can supposedly be enjoyed without the need to shell out large volumes of cash, in general most mobile gamers know that – as the villainous Dr. Bomb might put it – these claims are the lies. However, it would seem that the fine people over at ShiftyLook were dead serious when they claimed that Bravoman: Binja Bash was meant to be 100% enjoyable without the use of IAPs. They then, as proof of their veracity, quickly rushed to market a patch that addressed the various draconian issues that gamers everywhere had experienced when the title first launched.

imagesThese changes included: slowing down the floating Binja heads, so that they’re far less evil than Castlevania’s medusa heads; reducing fall damage, which previously was the game’s number one cause of death, so that it only took away half your remaining health; speeding up Bravoman’s punch animation, which certainly helped him out massively with the climactic final showdown with Dr. Bomb; as well as enabling players to cancel their current attack directly into a guard maneuver, which was just useful all around. The game now exists in a very playable state, and players everywhere should no longer have troubles successfully leading Bravoman to a super unequalled victory over Dr. Bomb and his army of his Binjas. Based on the speed of ShiftyLook’s response to everyone’s complaints, I am guessing they – similar to what happened over at Dioxis Mining – let their longtime beta testers gauge whether or not the game was too difficult.

That said – to reiterate – while ShiftyLook certainly never wanted for players to be unable to trounce Dr. Bomb, they did intend that you’d be spending some serious grinding time if you wished to freely play as anyone other than the titular hero. However, I would like to add that this grinding – despite what your skill as a gamer might be – is completely unharassed by any of the progress stealing tricks many other iOS games regularly employ. Whether or not you successfully defeat a stage’s boss – which is certainly a lot easier to do now because of the update – you will still get to keep all the parts you collected either way, where as many other freemium titles would have threatened to take the parts back as leverage to extort players into buying continues.

20130903177429This setup really is a fair proposition in the long run – especially compared to many other freemium titles – since there is no such thing as free lunch to be had in this world, and even things like this cost both time and money to produce. I know that I personally would rather give my money to a game that isn’t playing with a maliciously stacked deck, rather than – per se – something such as Rule the Kingdom (our review). That said, fans of the Bravoman animated series might be especially interested in buying early access to game’s characters – rather than slowly grinding to unlock them – as the creators over at ShiftyLook have said that profit from the game will go towards funding more animation.

When you do get these extra characters – whether through grinding or paying out money – you will find that they not only get their own unique cut scenes, but they all have significant differences in how they handle. Bravo Woman – for example – doesn’t have limbs that stretch, she instead charges towards her enemies with a flying punch that is far more powerful than Bravoman’s attacks. One consequence of this is that since her body leaves its default location in the middle of an attack, she can actually sometimes avoid one enemy simply by launching a strike against someone else. Because of these small – yet significant – gameplay differences that each character has, it actually does feel like you’re playing through a whole new game each time a new hero is unlocked.

5_bravoman_binja_bashAnyways – matters of input controls and IAP related issues aside – I would like to say that the gameplay found in Bravoman: Binja Bash is actually fun, especially in light of the fact it’s being offered for the up front cost of totally free. The title, thanks to its recent update, certainly stands well above many other freemium platforming games available on the iOS marketplace (I guess it helps to get a leg over the competition when your hero has limbs that mechanically stretch). Now while you might find many paid platforming games on the iOS that do things better – such as Mikey Hooks (our review), which could certainly teach Bravoman a thing or two about swinging from grapple points – I want to remind you that those titles are just that: paid up front experiences.

As for the presentation of Bravoman: Binja Bash, I can assure everyone that game’s assorted character specific snarky cut scenes will certainly please long time followers of both the web comics and the animated series. The dialogue is positively chock full of all the fourth-wall bending wonkiness that the fans have come to expect, right down to a plot-point in Bravoman’s storyline that references the common insufficient RAM based crashing issue that happens all too often with mobile games. That said, even though there are many deliberate references in Bravoman: Binja Bash for longtime readers, one does not need to have already read the webcomic series in order to appreciate the wonkiness.

iFanzine Verdict: Bravoman: Binja Bash is a freemium title that – thanks to a recent update – is actually far more fair than many other IAP driven games on the iOS, especially since you easily can finish the main story without spending a single cent. While IAPs will certainly net you the game’s other playable characters much faster, no cheap stunts were pulled to unduly harass your efforts if you choose to grind for them instead. The end result is an actually fun freemium platforming title that stands well above most of its contemporaries in the same price range (one would really have to start looking at pay-up-front titles to find something better). Furthermore – matters of IAPs and quality aside – the game also features much of the same fourth-wall bending wonkiness that fans of the webcomic have come to expect, and will certainly not disappoint ShiftyLook’s longtime readers.