The fate of tiny games seems to be two parts due to whether or not you can assemble a decent amount of health with a marketing budget about as small as it can be to afford a booth at Pax, and if you can get critics to call your game an eight or higher. Especially when you have jerks like me who says, “I’ll give you five dollars for a year’s work… sucker!” Which I just did with a not-quite indie game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Publisher: 505 Games
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons can best be described as a puzzle adventure game that is naturally about two brothers, and their adventure through a fantasy world in order to get the Macguffin that will save their father from death. It is nothing too groundbreaking in terms of premise, with the execution of the storyline through nothing aside from gibberish for all characters, with text existing only for instructional purposes. Effectively allowing for a story that is centered around the charm the game can emit and the world it is set in. As the course of actions can best be summarized as a long walk with an ending that feels more than a little predictable, while still being among the more well executed conclusions I’ve seen in recent memory.
The gameplay of Brothers is quite simply controlling two brothers, the big brother with the left stick and LT button, with the little brother settling with the right stick and complimentary trigger. As a control scheme, this may sound a bit confusing in terms of simultaneous movements of the two player character, and that is because it very often is. The manipulation of the duo’s movement is something akin to trying to maintain the same pattern with two pencils, making me wish I had a split brain in order to get the most out of the experience. Except for how the game seldom if ever requires a large level of elegance in the brothers’ movements, as the final challenges keep the desired movement on the simple path, with the consequences for failure being to merely try the challenge once more.
Meaning that the majority of puzzles are having brother A manipulate object X while brother B walks over to use object Y to reunite himself with brother X. A formula that sounds as if it would grow incredibly repetitive after a while, but the length is short enough, capping at about three and a half hours for me, that the formula ultimately works, with puzzles keeping some level of uniqueness through the game’s eight chapters. During the later of which, the usage of the previously introduced mechanics is actually alarmingly clever in its utilization. Even if certain segments, such as when you need to control the brothers paddling a canoe, are a bit wonky in their controls. Though that could be a conflict of what I expected the controls to be, and what they actually were.
Yet, the game has a more immediate appeal in terms of its visuals. Invoking a clear fairy-tale aesthetic, there is a natural charm to the title that is present even aside from the amount of interactivity the brothers can take advantage of in certain parts of the world. However, what is rather interesting is how the game’s world very much morphs its tone very nicely as the boys grow further and further from home. Through a shift that, if it were any more graphic, would probably give it an M rating.
Meanwhile, the overall quality in the world’s craftsmanship deserves to be declared. Still being an XBLA title at its core, Brothers is not the most graphically impressive title out there, but the detail placed in every screen is something of a delight. In part due to the sense of scale given to some of these areas being heightened by how you are ultimately playing as two children, and how the camera is static for the majority of areas, meaning the focus was more honed. Yet, I would be amiss if I did not mention how the brother’s interaction and placement into the environment does not have as much care as one would expect, as it is incredibly easy to find a location where the brothers are floating off of the ground.
Would I recommend Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons? In a heartbeat, as its unique blend of fantasy resonated with me greatly, and while more than a little intimidating due to its odd controls, it ultimately added to the experience for me. Greatly helped by a very visually appealing world that manages to tell a story without any dialog. As the only substantial problem aside from an odd view of morality portrayed through certain key optional events, is how the game is undeniably brief with little incentive for replayability, as you can easily find all that is hidden in under four hours.
Applaudable efforts that do get hung up on a few too many branches, but very much deserving of a recommendation despite not being all that astonishing.