Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, developed by Starbreeze Studios, is a unique little bit of gaming.It would be easy to call it a puzzle game, or a puzzle platformer. Or… something else like that, but it’s really neither. There aren’t actually many puzzles, and you don’t actually platform. So, what’s going on with this title? Does this make it bad? As you all know by now, the traditional good / bad format will tell us:
The visual presentation of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons really drives home the experience. If this game looked like trash, or had bad animations, or anything uninspired, it would fall much more flat than it actually does. As it stands, both the backgrounds and characters are done so well that you’re constantly awed by each new vista the game throws your way. The game uses a vibrant pallet to really draw the player into the whimsical fantasy world it has created. And a fantasy world it is. It isn’t immediately apparent from most screenshots, but there are heavy fantasy elements that do an amazing job of conveying the notion that: “These two brothers are going to extreme lengths to complete their quest”. More on this later.
Unique Controls Give A Unique Experience:
For those that don’t know, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is played with two analog sticks, and two shoulder buttons (please god, use a controller for this game). This essentially means that the player is only ever using 4 fingers maximum. Both brothers are controlled at the same time, and both take different actions with their “do button”. While the older brother is stronger and faster and may be used to lift gates or push rocks, the younger brother is smaller and can fit into spaces his older brother cannot. What makes this so engaging is that it’s a type of execution challenge that not many games present players with (and certainly not as the core feature of their experience).
This means that while the game doesn’t really have puzzles, since everything is presented in a fairly straightforward manner, the execution challenge doesn’t come from timing or placing jumps like standard platformers, but rather being able to tell your hands to do two different things at the same time. It’s a patting your head and rubbing your tummy type of scenario.
Viscerally Gripping Narrative:
I don’t want to give too much away about the narrative, seeing as how it twists and turns is the lion’s share of Brothers’ appeal. I will, however, say that the game explores a dynamic that isn’t often addressed. I can’t think of the last time I played a game that focused solely on a relationship between two young brothers (Or siblings of any type for that matter). Brothers presents this relationship in a way that’s both realistic and relatable. These characters don’t just happen to be brothers. We aren’t just told that they’re brothers. Their interactions actually make them feel like brothers. Throughout the game they bicker, compete, and deeply care for one another. It’s really a great direction to see a game go.
Fantastic World Building:
This is tied closely to the visuals, but I wanted to point it out separately. While Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was executed very well, it was also conceived of very well. The world of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is incredibly imaginative.
What starts out as a story that could be a believable period piece, eventually introduces mild fantasy elements with familiar entities (trolls, vast mines, what have you). Then things get crazy. I don’t even want to spoil it for you because part of what I loved about the game was turning the next corner and saying: “Wow, didn’t see that coming…”. A reaction I had around almost every corner. It’s a world that I wanted to know more about, but at the same time was completely content moving through and simply marveling at the grand scale (not necessarily in size, but also in richness) of it. The game successfully got me into the mind-set of the characters. I thought: “This is amazing… incredible even! I wish I had time to explore. To learn more. But I don’t. I have to find this tree”.
Death Causes Pacing Issues:
This is my biggest complaint about Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. The game isn’t about challenge, in fact there is hardly anything really challenging about it. It’s about the narrative, the story of these two brothers. It’s about working as a team and how that’s not easy (which was reinforced by the controls, because, ya know, having your fingers keep track of two different things is awkward). However, there are parts where you could die. Where you’re moving both brothers at the same time, over treacherous terrain, and if you make a mistake you have to start over. The game didn’t need this. It interrupted the flow. Honestly, I spent some time recently playing That Game Company’s title Journey and I just wish Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons did what Journey did. Punish players be inhibiting them in some way (maybe they slide down a cliff and have to start over, or maybe one of the brothers gets hurt and moves more slowly and has some injured animation), but having you hard reset segments? This wasn’t a good decision in my mind. It wasn’t too big of an issue, but all it did was detract from the game.
It’s Very Short:
Very short. I finished Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons in about two hours. That’s pretty crazy. Granted it was a cheap game (I paid $3 for it on the Steam Summer Sale), but two hours feels crazy short for any modern game. I want to emphasize that this isn’t a huge issue though. Every game has a certain amount of “awesomeness” in it (that’s an industry term). If a designer can condense that awesomeness into two hours, instead of spreading it out over twenty hours, that’s a good thing.
Obviously, if they can give you twenty hours of that continuous level of awesomeness, that’s better, but I’m trying to say that two amazing hours are better than twenty mediocre ones. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons might not be the most amazing game I’ve ever played, but it’s definitely packs enough “awesomeness” into the time it has to be a game to remember.