Blood is thicker than water, the old saying goes. And in the case of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, it’s a fitting analogy for the entire game. Most games these days have you controlling just one protagonist, but this little gem has you splitting your grey matter between siblings on an epic quest to save their father. And that makes this game infuriatingly addictive.
It’s a simple tale that is told here. Two brothers, each with their own quirks and skills set off on a journey with which to retrieve some life-giving water that’ll cure what ails their dear dad, a quest which takes them from the sunny hills of their hometown, through mountain mines and a frozen city that is devoid of life.
It’s kind of like an adventure game of old, as Brothers tasks players with using the two siblings to navigate their way through obstacles and challenges, with the odd boss battle thrown here and there throughout the three to four hour journey.
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
And to really drive home the fact that you’re controlling a family duo, the game splits the controls between the two of them. Each stick controls a brother, while their actions are mapped to a single trigger. Throw in the shoulder buttons to help you turn the camera around, and that’s the entire control scheme right there.
It’s deceptively simple, a setup where the game both shines and fails at. When you’re in the zone, controlling the two brothers is an intuitive and fluid setup.If you happen to have mental capacities that are about as organised as the Zimbabwean economy, much like my mind is, when that camera shifts angles then the entire concept gets thrown for a loop.
But when it works, boy does it work. There are plenty of puzzles here, such as the brothers climbing up an old castle while tethered to one another, that shows just how well this concept can work. A little bit of extra polish, or a quick snap-to button to re-orientate the brothers could have been something that would have really worked for this game.
Likewise with the actions needed to be performed by holding in triggers, this wears thin quickly. It would have been far simpler to make just pushing the triggers once a default action that automatically throws the brothers into their respective tasks, instead of having to force players to constantly hold them in.
With that being said, these gripes about the game don’t exactly diminish it in any way. Brothers is still fun to play, and most of the time, you won’t even realise that you’re playing a game. Hell, you’re watching a journey unfold and while this would be detrimental in other games, it works beautifully here and is something to be proud of actually.
What really works here, is just how accessible the game is. There may be plenty of puzzles present, but they’re constructed in a way that makes solving them feel natural and part of the game, instead of having to force players to backtrack and find item A to shove into slot A. It’s a game that always moves forward, and never looks back. And I appreciate that.
And as clichéd as it sounds, it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts in the end. Developer Starbreeze has created a beautiful world here, one that exists in a fantasy realm that doesn’t go too overboard, and the environments themselves play just as a big a role in the quest.
For a game that has minimal vocals or exposition, it tells a fantastic story, that may leave you slightly broken at the end as the two brothers emote their way through the story. The story takes a dark turn as you get further into it, and it’s a narrative focus that is reflected by the world around the two brothers. But through that contrast, there’s a great game sitting at the core of this tale, and one that is well worth playing. There’s a bit at the end that has some truly fantastic and subtle gameplay design, but I’m not going to spoil it here.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is at the very least, a surprising game. At it’s best, it’s a great example of doing something different with something familiar, crafting a game that could have easily been average into something memorable. It may not be perfect, but the pros far outweigh the cons in this title.