Transforming robots and building blocks seem to be a pretty big hit in the toy market right now. Put them together, and you have the basic formula for Tenkai Knights - a kids crazy that's spawned a popular cartoon series, a range of Ionix brand construction bricks, and now the obligatory tie in game Tenkai Knights: Brave Battle. After all, can a toy really be classed a success nowadays if it doesn't have its own tie in video game?
The story follows four teenage boys - Ceylan, Guren, Toxsa, and Chookie. After stumbling through a inter-dimensional portal, oddly enough found in an antique shop, Ceylan and Guren find themselves on the cube shaped planet Quarton. While on Quarton you learn about the war between the Corekai (the good guys, who fight alongside the Tenkai Knights) and the Corrupted (the baddies), before it's revealed that, by passing through the portal, you've somehow managed to "become" the legendary awakened Tenkai Knights, Bravenwolf and Tributon.
And that's some handy timing. With the Tenkai Knights having only narrowly thwarted Vilius' latest evil plot to take over the world - summoning a Tenkai Dragon - there's plenty of cleaning up work to be done. Having scattered fragments of the dragon, and its Teknai energy, all over the world while they were beating it up, it's up to the Tenkai Knights to reunite, and stop Vilius from gathering these dragon fragments, so he can't summon the Tenkai Dragon once again.
Feeling lost yet?
Luckily, the game itself is a lot simpler. A part-platformer, part beat-'em-up, part robot brawler, Tenkai Knights Brave Battle is a button mashing game at heart. Divided up into missions, each stage gives you a number of objectives to complete - usually to defeat 'x' amount of Corrupted opponents, defeat titans, and/or to protect things from enemy attack - but as there's only usually two or three objectives in each level, things never really get overly complex.
In most missions you get to choose which of the legendary Tenkai Knights you want to play as, although the story does sometimes end up making the choice for you. As you'd likely expect, each Tenkai Knight has different strengths and weaknesses, so you can choose which one best suits your play style, or would be best for each mission. While Bravenwolf is nippy, thank to his high dash stat, he's less good at attacking from a distance, while Tributon is the exact opposite. You can also customise your Tenkai Knight, by changing which weapon, shield, and back piece they have equipped, which in turn affect your stats - but we'll come back to this later.
Finally, in the pre-mission bit, there's also the option to send out a 'co-operation request'. If you're really struggling with a mission, this lets you join forces with someone else that owns the game and play it together - although disappointingly, there's no option for single card download play.
When you've finished tweaking your knight, upgrading its weapons or begging a friend for help, it's on to the mission itself, where you'll find yourself presented with a small area of platforms, and a handful of enemies dotted over the map. As mentioned earlier, all you really have to do in the levels is beat everyone up - but there's a bit more to it than that.
The top screen usually shows how many enemies you've got to beat to complete your objective, while the bottom screen acts as a map, showing which power-ups you've obtained, and the amount of Tenkai Energy you have (although what the Tenkai Energy actually does is anyone's guess, seeing as the game doesn't explain). The controls are all fairly straightforward, too, with the +Control Pad/Circle Pad handling movement, B letting you jump/hover, and A, X, and Y handling your attacks.
In a way, it's lucky that the controls are pretty straightforward, as there's absolutely nothing in the way of a tutorial here - something which seems a bit odd for what's essentially a kids game. While you can figure out what each button does by heading to the options menu, there really should have been a tutorial for the less experienced players.
Sadly, even when you've figured out what each button does, the controls leave a lot to be desired. When you're trying to attack an enemy, things feel clunky and slow (although let's face it, you are controlling a giant robot), while the computer players seem to have an unusually precise aim. Often, even trying to land on a platform next to your opponent is tricky enough, as you'll jump, and get instantly hit by their laser, which sends you flying backwards, and knocks you out of the sky. As you can probably guess, this can get really annoying, really quickly. Most of the levels require fast thinking and pattern spotting, and the enemies can be really tricky to dodge or work out the 'routine' of how they attack.
Ever fond of their transforming, the Tenkai Knights also have a Titan mode, which is basically a bigger and stronger version of themselves. Unfortunately, you cant activate this mode whenever you choose - even though it'd be a handy feature to have in some of the trickier stages - as it's only usable in certain missions, usually involving a boss fight.
At the end of the missions you're greeted with the 'items acquired' screen. Some enemies will drop 'colour shards' or 'items' instead of power ups, but as with the rest of the game, there's no explanation of what they are or how to use them when you first come across them. As it turns out, you have to head over in to the customisation mode to put your newly acquired loot to good use. The fragments you collect can be used to upgrade weapons and create new ones, with newer weapons bringing with them better item stats. There are LOADS of items to collect and upgrade, each powering up your Tenkai Knight, but none of this is necessary if you don't feel like dipping your toes into the customisation waters - you can easily play through most if not all of the story without changing your Tenkai Knights.
In order to upgrade your weapons, you'll usually need to "spend" a certain amount of certain types of items - but annoyingly, there's no easy way of getting the items you need. The items you collect are found randomly during missions, and rather than level 1 offering parts A B and C, and level 2 offering X Y and Z, any part is obtainable from any level, which means that if you want to upgrade a particular weapon, you'll have to just keep replaying levels at random, as there's no way to be sure you'll get the piece you want. On some games 'grinding' for items wouldn't be so much of an issue, but when there's a chance of playing several similar missions ten times and still not having all the upgrade items you need, that's not fun. While the idea of upgrading and customisation is interesting, in practice, it's just not as good as it seems.
Away from the story mode we also have Versus mode, which is divided up into two types of battle - Rumble battle and Versus battle, which can both be played against the computer, or someone else locally, providing they have a copy of the game. Rumble battle gives you a choice of eighteen Tenkai Knights to battle with, only eight of which are available from the start (the rest are unlocked as you play), with up to four Tenkai Knights able to take part in a single battle. The stages you can battle on, just like the story mode, are really basic and small levels with few platforms to jump on. Unfortunately, it's all far too similar in feel to get excited about.
The Versus battle is eerily similar in concept to the Rumble battle, only this time there's a duel between two Titans, rather than two Tenkai Knights, with eight to choose from. The idea of massive mech battles may sound exciting, but as previously mentioned, unlike the normal Tenkai Knights, there's much less customisation, meaning the basic move sets and level designs get boring rather quickly.
On paper, blocks that can transform into robots is a good idea. Toys of said transforming block robots, also works really well. Cartoon? Sure that can work. But Tenkai Knights: Brave Battle doesn't make this idea into a good video game. While it had potential with the idea of upgrading parts, similar to the appeal of the toys, the dull level design and basic controls really let it down in the 'fun' department.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS