Developer LightDrop Games wears its heart on its sleeve: the team is so obviously in love with Tiny Thief that their first game, Brave & Little Adventure, often feels more like a reskinning of 5ants’ iOS hit than an original project.
It’s hard to completely fault them for this appropriation; Tiny Thief is over two years old at this point and rarely imitated, leaving plenty of space in the micro-point-and-click genre for conspirators. And they clearly understand what made Tiny Thief great, incorporating the same burst of charm into Brave & Little’s colorful characters and environments. The problem is that there’s very little Brave & Little does better than its inspiration, and a few areas where it is decidedly weaker, making it a fun diversion for Tiny Thief fans but far from a replacement for a proper, official sequel.
For players unfamiliar with either game, both Tiny Thief and Brave & Little are presented as single-level puzzle scenes grouped into communal chapters. Both games utilize the techniques of point-and-click adventure games on a much smaller scale, challenging players to collect and combine items in pursuit of a specific goal. In Tiny Thief, these goals revolved around stealing from the corrupt sheriff or giving back to the downtrodden townspeople in Robin Hood-esque style. In Brave & Little, our Red Riding Hood-inspired heroine, Molly, is trying to get to her sick grandmother’s house and ends up helping those she meets along the way.
With the overarching goal of getting to Grandma’s house, each of Brave & Little’s standalone stages feels cohesive, creating an ongoing story. While Molly may occasionally stop to free a trapped kitten or release a farm pig from captivity, most of her goals serve this greater purpose. She has to collect food for her journey, track down a ride, find her way through the dark forest, and even seek out a medicinal herb to cure Grandmother. This connectivity is a great way to make the game feel like more than a collection of random levels, and the increasing stakes as you draw closer to Grandmother build alongside the stages’ difficulty.
That said, the puzzles you’ll encounter in each stage are never very difficult, and the game as a whole rests on the easy end of the challenge spectrum. Although the artwork is beautiful, with small touches like the glow of a fire illuminating Molly’s face, it’s also very obvious when an item is interactive, making most stages a matter of walking to and between the clearly-important areas. At first I assumed this simply meant Brave & Little was designed for younger players, until I reached the last two chapters which require frantic tapping and precise movement for the sake of stealth maneuvers. This combination makes it seem like a game best suited to cooperative play between children and parents, as kids will enjoy the easier early levels and parents can tackle the trickier later stages.
There’s also a lack of mid-level saving, which means getting caught on a stealth stage will send you all the way back to the beginning. This is an unfortunate change from Tiny Thief, which provided numerous checkpoints so that you could make mistakes without losing much progress. Brave & Little doesn’t feature many fail states, but in the levels it affects, checkpoints’ absence is sorely missed. On one stage, I had to collect a handful of items before sneaking past a family of bears and then immediately avoid a sword-wielding child. Getting caught by either sent me all the way back to the start of the stage, with no items in hand and on the opposite side of where I needed to be. This is frustrating, and also discourages exploring and finding all the levels’ hidden secrets.
Those secrets are part of the three-star completion that Tiny Thief fans will immediately recognize. One star is earned for completing the stage’s primary goal, which will also open up the exit to the next level. These are the goals like “save the kitten,” “free the pig,” “find the medicine,” etc. Another star is earned for finding all the secret items within a stage, which Molly collects as gifts for Grandmother. These items often require out-of-the-way hunting, like tapping a bird as it flies past or figuring out the combination to a safe, but are completely optional. The final star is earned for finding and tapping the Big Bad Wolf, who is hiding somewhere within each level and is the equivalent of the Tiny Thief’s pet weasel.
Molly also has a pet, although he’s been given a more central role than our old weasel pal. Hans the Goat accompanies Molly on most of her journey and is active in many of its challenges. You may need Hans to clear a path by eating some brush or to weigh down a basket with his hefty goat hooves. When Hans isn’t acting as an interactive object in a scene, he’ll still often be found hanging out, licking trees or head-butting the Big Bad Wolf. Hans is one of the best additions to the Tiny Thief formula and a consistently charming, adorable fixture in Molly’s world. Molly herself is likable enough, balancing objects on her head and shrugging at the player in confusing situations, but Hans is definitely the show-stealer.
Between Hans and the overarching story that ties the separate chapters together, Brave & Little has certainly made some great additions to the Tiny Thief formula. But the lack of in-stage checkpoints, the over-obvious puzzle solutions, and the fact that the game is incomplete at this time—with Chapter 6 “coming soon” and the story having no conclusion—combine to create a less-than-ideal experience. We love the idea of more Tiny Thief-esque experiences and believe LightDrop could successfully carry the torch that 5ants lit, but Brave & Little needs a few more tweaks before it will burn as brightly as its spiritual big brother.