Title: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Version Tested On: PC
Available On: Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Android, Windows Phone
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Publisher: 505 Games
Official Site: www.brothersthegame.com
Release Date: August 7, 2013
Where To Buy: Xbox Store, Steam, PSN
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an adventure game developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by 505 Games. Available for Xbox 360 and Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 3 and 4, iOS, Android and Windows Phone, its accessibility is comprehensive. The game is presented in an aerial view that overlooks two brothers, Naiee, and Naia, as they embark on a heroic pilgrimage across hostile Scandinavian lands. In order to save their dying father the siblings are tasked with retrieving special healing water from the spectral Tree of Life, leaving behind their quaint seaside town and venturing into the unknown forests, caves, and mountains beyond. But don’t underestimate this third-person fantasy—despite the existence of cheerful creatures like mushroom-backed trolls and flying griffins, the game is equal parts shadow and grief.
The primary challenge in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons lies in its bizarre navigation. The pair of siblings are controlled individually using the controller’s two thumbsticks and its triggers are used to interact with objects, such as grabbing an item or holding onto ledges. While the ability to maneuver both Naiee and Naia with simultaneous ease can be disorienting at first, improvement is inevitable and in a short period of time the characters can be hurled across ledges and up ladders with practiced ambidexterity.
If anything, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an interesting analysis of the brain’s motor skills—there were points where the protagonists crisscrossed a certain way and I was suddenly fumbling to control them as gracefully as before. Unsurprisingly, the game’s puzzles are geared toward this sense of unbalance; most are easy enough to decode but harder to execute, as they require both brothers to perform unique operations in sync. But regardless of your feelings toward unusual game mechanics, Starbreeze Studios has much more to offer than just offbeat navigation.
Visually Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an impressively beautiful game with some of most interesting environments of its genre, none of which outstay their welcome. From weaving your merry way through the village—taking care to avoid the neighborhood bully or the farmer’s aggressive dog—to running across the back of a sympathetic creature as it helps you from one platform to the next, the sense of adventure runs high in this excellently-paced Swedish fantasy. At one point in the game, the colossal bodies of fallen giants obstruct your path across the rocky hills. Their blood flows into the streams of water tumbling from the mountain—streaking the current a bright red color in the aftermath of a battle between two giant armies—and the mood is exciting and eerie as you cleverly maneuver around (or over) their massive corpses.
The ambitious attention to detail is outstanding and each level introduces a bewitching landscape truly different from the last. Boss fights are straightforward but still manage to entertain, and the game does a clever job demonstrating your role in each puzzle, like hiding behind the bodies of frozen villagers while attempting to flee from an invisible giant. Characters speak a gibberish language that sounds similar to the dialect in The Sims, humorously babbling to each other as they communicate about an object or cry out in alarm.
While the larger story of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons centers around both sons, the cut scenes often shift the focus to young Naiee, who is struggling to cope with the death of his mother after witnessing her drown at sea. He is terrified of water—relying on Naia to guide him through it—and his horrific dreams are playable, imparting a very real sense of dread in the player. In fact, many parts of the game are startlingly dark, like cutting down a man attempting to hang himself—and retrieving a music box from the ashes of a fire that killed his family—or running through a shadowy forest stocked with rabid wolves and catching the silhouette of hanging bodies in the light of the lantern.
But in spite of its somber aspects the game is just as capable of light-hearted ambiance, with challenges that revolve around the rescue of a peaceful troll woman, or liberating an injured griffin from the home of a giant and soaring around on its back. The emotional ups and downs are what makes Brothers such a passionate work of art, as every hurdle the brothers face brings them closer together until they reach their final destination in the branches of the Tree of Life.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a magnificent tale of family and fraternity. Its gorgeous visuals, interestingly dark themes, and overall sentimentality sets it apart from many other puzzle-platformers you might have experienced before, earning it an award for Best Game Innovation at 2014’s British Academy Games Awards. With a Nordic soundtrack that honors the unbounded beauty of Scandinavia and evokes the severity of its mythology, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a breathtaking fable that can be played multiple times without losing a drop of its former beauty, making it one of the best indie games of 2013.
- Gameplay: Innovative controls that render its puzzles unique.
- Graphics: Stunning and highly detailed. Each environment is completely different.
- Sound: Nordic and ghostly, imparting a strong sense of mythology.
- Presentation: A wonderful game with a satisfying balance between tragedy and beauty.
- Beautiful graphics
- Innovative gameplay
- Satisfyingly dark
- Mechanics are not for everyone
- Controls are awkward on certain platforms
Growing up in Louisville, Kentucky but currently residing in the windy city of Liverpool, UK, Brittany Soldo is a freelance video editor and photographer.