Some fairy tales aren’t meant for children and not all of them have happy endings. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is one such tale. Brothers features a story of loss, adventure, love and eventually: coming of age. Brothers manages to deliver a solid experience that is wrapped-up in an unfamiliar, but surprisingly good new gameplay mechanic.
The story in Brothers is a somber one, filled with a ton of emotion. When the two boy’s father falls deathly ill they must set out on a wonder-filled journey taking them across a beautifully rendered fantasy world. You’ll control the brothers as they travel from a mine inhabited by trolls all the way to a snow topped village where you’re chased by an invisible giant. Through all of this, the two brothers must work together to overcome the environmental puzzles impeding them from their ultimate goal, recovering an item to save their father’s life.
Now I know what thinking, two brothers, two-player co-op, right? Nope, not in this game, that’s the unique catch to Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, you control both brothers with one controller. How might you accomplish this you ask? Well the control scheme is actually quite simply and works surprisingly well. The player controls the old brother with the left analog stick for moving around and uses the left-trigger for interacting with the world. As for the younger brother, you use the right side of the controller with the right analog stick for movement and right-trigger for interaction. When you first start off this is a little disorienting, but after a short time with the the game I found myself controlling both brothers at once easily.
This brother-helping-brother control scheme comes into play throughout the entire course of the game. You will use each brother individually sometimes, maybe taking different paths to get to your goal, or perhaps having one brother move an object while the other pulls a lever. This works well and these puzzles are fairly enjoyable, but there are a ton of them in the game and it brings the variety down a bit. Brothers really shines though, when you must use both brothers in conjunction to advance. I particularly enjoyed a level where they must ascend a crumbling castle tower. They do so by adjoining a rope to both of their waists and swing one-another from hand-hold to hold-hold.
Now why would Starbreeze Studios decide to take a game that seemed meant for co-op play and choose this odd control setup? As I mentioned before, Brothers is a very emotional tale, one that I think Starbreeze felt needed to be experienced singularly to help draw the player in. They may have thought that having someone helping you, perhaps chatting in your ear online, would have kept you from fully taking in the story and becoming invested in the two boys and their journey. In the end I’d say it was the right choice, I found the tale engrossing and very relaxing to play. Oh, did I mention that all this emotion and great story are told without the characters uttering one word of actual dialogue? That’s right, everything in Brothers is conveyed through the character’s expressions, movements and a subtle musical score which pops up at the right times. I’m amazed that I was able to takeaway more and feel more from Brothers then most of today’s AAA games filled with hours of spoken dialogue and cut-scenes. Bravo to the team at Starbreeze.
The other thing that makes Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons a joy to play is the visuals. The game is built on the Unreal 3 engine and looks fantastic, especially the vibrant colors and great shadow effects. The game’s aesthetic reminded me very much of the Fable franchise, which isn’t a bad thing at all. The environments featured throughout the game are all built well with great lighting, water and particularly good snow and ice effects in one of the later chapters. You really won’t find anything in the game’s visual department to disappoint you.
The music is also very well done, but also incredibly subdued. There really isn’t much of a soundtrack throughout the game; this helps with somber mood I spoke of earlier, making you really feel as isolated as the two boys are during their quest. However, when the scene is right, whether joyous or sad, the developer draws you in by quickly, turning up a fitting piece of music. Nothing too memorable, but the sounds and scores of Brothers fit this fantasy world.
There was only a few things I found lacking as I played through the game. As I mentioned above, there a lot of puzzles that involve you having one brother simply pull a lever to advance the other brother through a gate or something of that type. These got old very quickly, especially when compared to some of the more exciting moments in the game. Also, Brothers is not a “hard” game by any means, not even for a puzzle game. I was able to make it from the opening to the closing credits, only dying a hand-full times. There were also a few glitches I encountered, mostly clipping through objects and one time, on my second play-through, a villager was floating in the air, but nothing game breaking.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an engrossing, emotional tale that may have you reaching for the tissue box. The only thing I could think of while I’d played was, “Man, this is a fairy tale book come to life!” The different, but engaging controls may have a brief learning curve, but in the end, it’s the story, visuals and the tug at your heart strings that will force you to see this quest to it’s finish. If you ever wanted to play a digital Grimm’s fairy tale, here’s your chance!