Indie games have come a long way, from just being short, simple exercises in gameplay to telling stories in a unique and occasionally emotional way. 2012 saw two such gems, one from Telltale Games in The Walking Dead and the other from thatgamecompany, the beautiful looking game Journey.
Now, in 2013, developer Starbreeze Studios and publisher 505 Games add a new title that matches both the previously mentioned games in terms of emotional storytelling and unique gameplay. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a brilliant game with a unique control scheme, beautiful graphics and music, and an emotional story that’s by turns thrilling, touching, and funny. It’s yet another reason to look beyond the typical AAA releases, and it’s a title that well deserves to be in your library.
Brothers starts off on a tragic note, as a young boy witnesses the drowning of his mother. Flash forward slightly, and the boy and his elder brother have to deal with their father falling gravely ill. They learn of a special tree that holds the key to healing their father, and both brothers set off, determined to return with the cure.
Along the way they encounter villagers, an unfriendly farm dog, mountain trolls, and environmental hazards, all of which they must overcome. The story is relayed without a recognizable spoken word – the brothers speak more in a Sims-esque language – along with music and gestures.
It’s all quite straightforward and easy to follow with some twists and surprises thrown in along the way. The journey takes the boys into forests, up mountains, and through caves, castles and ice clogged rivers. You can interact with people and events along the way with both brothers being different in how they deal with others.
The elder brother may take a broom and help a woman sweep her yard, for example, while the younger bother will just comically horse around with the broom. Both rely on each other to get through, echoing the theme of the title. It’s this reliance that gives the game a very unique feel along with its unique control scheme.
You see, you control one brother with the left stick and the left shoulder button, and control the younger brother with the right stick and right shoulder button. While it sounds awkward, it works quite well in practice. The joysticks move the characters, and the shoulder buttons are used to interact with people and the environment. It works well, since you need the two to work together to get through the various obstacles on their journey.
One example of this is when they must cross a farmer’s field guarded by a not-so-friendly pooch. You use one brother to distract the dog, while the other runs and climbs to the next spot out of the dog’s reach, and then you switch, until both are safely on the other side. Big brother will lift the younger one up to broken ladders, and then the young one will drop a rope for big brother to climb up.
Sometimes both have to work in tandem to open gates or operate switches and levers, and it all adds a puzzle solving aspect to the whole adventure. There is no combat, so when the pair do meet threatening enemies later in the game they need to work together and use their wits to get past any foes.
It’s nothing too taxing, though you may need to give your fingers a rest on occasion, as relaxing at the wrong time will lead to certain death. It never gets too frustrating, and if you’re having a problem, taking a break is recommended, and then you should be able to proceed without too much difficulty. The game is quite pretty to look at, with its mountain vistas, detailed buildings, running streams, and forbidding forests. The characters and settings all give a fairy tale air to the entire proceedings, and serve the story well.
Despite that fairy tale feel some scenes may disturb younger players, especially in the final chapter where the boys are menaced by more than just a cranky barnyard dog or a mischievous villager. This is far from an M-rated title, however it does bear mentioning for parents who might want to share this with their young ones. There’s nothing worse than any Grimm Brothers story though, so the game can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It is by turns, funny, sad, thrilling, creepy even, but always engaging, making you want to carry on to the next scene.
The game has a couple of minor flaws that keep it from being perfect. I hit one glitch that necessitated restarting the chapter over, and on occasion, the camera presents you with a bad angle. Neither one of these was enough to detract from the overall experience, but they’re worth noting.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is simply a must play title. It tells a heartfelt story and uses unique gameplay mechanics that add up to a rich experience that shouldn’t be missed.
It’s an emotional journey through a fairy tale land, filled with wonder, adventure, and touching moments. It’s a journey worth taking, and one you won’t soon forget.
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