Image shamelessly linked from the official Brothers website.
This game is available digitally on PS3 and Xbox 360, as well as on Steam,
Android, and IOS. Retail versions are only on either the PS4 or Xbox One.
Once in a while, you play a video game that affects you emotionally. People my age usually cite Role Playing Games like Final Fantasy VII
and the death of an important character, Earthbound
, with its weighty "coming of age" story, or perhaps Lunar: Silver Star Story
(from my own experience) when Luna gets captured, or worse, when she becomes the Dark Goddess. Others point to the rise of the survival horror genre, with games like Resident Evil
or Dino Crisis
, where the chills, thrills, and spills evoke reactions of fear and horror that we may not have previously experienced, save for perhaps with Doom
. These moments helped many of us realize that games could be about more than pointlessly gunning down baddies or butt-stomping walking mushrooms. These games tapped into a place that early games weren't capable of doing, due to hardware limitations, and forever altered the landscape of what games could communicate with the audience.
Image shamelessly linked from Dual Shockers.
The younger brother's haircut is the unfortunate marriage of a Final Fantasy "do" and
a 90's bowl cut. Have you ever seen a hairstyle so wretched? No. You haven't.
More emphasis on storytelling and narrative has become more of a trend in the last decade, since hardware has allowed for more realistic depictions of people, more voice acting with larger games, and often the use of professional voice actors to help convey that story. With big-budget, sprawling, epic story-based games like Mass Effect
becoming the norm from triple-A studios, indie developers have to do something different to tap into that emotional resonance, often at a much more base level. Sometimes this is accomplished through tried and true methods, like dialog boxes with static art for a more traditional turn-based RPG feel; other times, a game communicates much of its ethos and story through the art style, and a lack of narrative that is as telling as it needs to be. In the case of Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons
, it's all in the set pieces, the emotional weight of the initial opening sequence, and the courage of two young brothers as they work together.
Image shamelessly linked from MattBrett.com.
Right from the title screen and initial opening sequence, this game is gorgeous.
First, I'll say that I'm going to speak in generalities, so as not to spoil the game for those who haven't played it. That said, I'm going to say that it's hard to do so without revealing any plot details, so here's a possible *SPOILER ALERT*
just in case. The story is told without real dialogue. You hear a bit of voice acting in the game, mostly grunts and an incomprehensible language that the characters speak to one another, but the dialogue itself is unimportant, and would, in fact, be obtrusive to the narrative. That's the first major hook of the game - the story is all told by communicating everything through visual cues, background music, and the events that happen in the game. As the events in the story unfold, you get a sense of what's happening purely through the basic emotional cues, be they visual, vocal (inflection, volume, level of perceived stress, etc.), musical, or situational. In Brothers
, less is truly more.
Image shamelessly linked from Kotaku.
"They see me trollin', they hatin'..."
The story begins with the younger brother mourning a loss. He recalls a memory of the loss as it happened, and is saddened by that event, even though he receives comfort from the memory of the person he lost. Immediately, you're set up to care about the character, and begin to feel the weight of what he's dealing with. You're then thrust into a situation where you and the older brother have to tend to someone who is sick, in hopes that you don't lose them as well. Your first job is to get that sick person to someone who can help, and then from that point forward, you have a task to complete in order to find something that will help this sick person. The crux of the game is that the two brothers must work together in order to get the thing they need in order to help the sick person.
Image shamelessly linked from GameSpot.
And old man opens a gate leading to a dark path down a hill at night.
I see nothing that can go wrong with this scenario...
In terms of gameplay, this is more or less a puzzle-platformer, but very simplified in a sense. You control both brothers at a time, each with one thumbstick, and each has an "action" button. In the case of the PS4 version, which is what I played, you use the L2 and R2 triggers as each brother's action button. L2 is for the older brother, R2 is for the younger brother. The left analog stick is for the older brother, and the right analog stick for the younger. L1 and R1 can be used to rotate the play field to an extent, depending on where you're at on screen, and what vantage point you need to traverse the landscape, solve a puzzle, etc. In some areas, you can barely adjust the view at all, and this is important, because the game is guiding you to the general area you need to be, or need to look, in order to complete the next objective. Because you control each brother independently, it can be a little confusing at first, but the control scheme is simple enough that, with a little practice, it can be mastered relatively quickly.
Image linked shamlessly from Game Informer.
Maybe the young kid's bad haircut was inspired by these trees...
As you control the two brothers, you travel across the land where they live, and are presented with a number of varying obstacles to overcome. Most of these environmental puzzles are relatively simple to deduce, but fun to solve, and because the game is good about making you care about the characters right away, you're motivated to solve the puzzles and progress the story. As each scenario unfolds, you get subtle hints as to the relationship between the two kids. The younger brother depends heavily on the older brother, and the older brother is protective of the younger brother. There's also a sense of humor injected into the game at different points, which is good, because the story starts from such a dark place, and there are a number of very emotionally heavy moments throughout the game that can certainly make it seem very depressing. After solving each puzzle, the brothers get to go a little further on their journey, sometimes interact with a character, and occasionally take on a danger along the way. The game flows relatively seamlessly from one location to another, with cut scenes that often transition using the in-game engine and these advance the narrative a little more.
There's no real combat to speak of, aside from one scene where you're fending off wolves, or a rather unexpected skirmish toward the end of the game. As I was playing Brothers
, it reminded me of the God of War
games, minus the violence and quick-time events, and leaving the lush scenery, environmental puzzle solving, and the ever-changing perspectives you view the action from, though with far less jarring sudden changes. There are a few moments where you have to have relatively quick reflexes, in order to avoid peril, or you need to act quickly in a situation to prevent one of the brothers from dying. As a result, there are a few moments in the game that can be nail biting, or minor adrenaline rushes. By contrast, there are also a couple moments where you look at the screen, take in the context of the situation, and your heart sinks, because you know the brothers have already been through so much, and here they are, dealing with even more in their already fragile, emotional state.
Image shamelessly linked from Giant Bomb.
I wouldn't want to see the creature making those footprints!
The music in the game is mostly understated, which is fitting, but there are times when the score becomes louder, more cinematic, and crescendos beautifully to underscore the emotion within a particular scene. Music is used effectively to help convey the feeling you're supposed to get during different portions of the game. Sound effects are sparse, but generally strong, with noises for different environmental puzzles, and various nature sounds in the background. The boys grunt and groan when you're directing them to climb, jump, or push/pull objects, and the indecipherable voice parts help accent each scene by giving an indication as to the emotional state of the brothers at any given time. Overall, the sound design is another strength of this game. Graphically, everything is beautiful, with well-rendered art, a nice overall aesthetic, and gorgeous backdrops throughout. Animation is fluid and well done, and the lighting in each area is appropriate and nicely implemented.Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons
is not without a few flaws. The control scheme does take a while to get used to. Couple that with the game's very short length, and it's not always smooth controlling the brothers around the screen, even with the relative ease of solving most puzzles. Most of the puzzles are quite easy to solve, and though the point of the game is less puzzle solving, and more advancing the story, it's forgivable, especially since it's far beyond early-mid 90's FMV games, but it's still worth pointing out. Did I mention the game is short? I completed it nearly in one sitting over the course of an afternoon at a friend's house, and because of the type of game it is, you won't be coming back to this one immediately, unless the story really spoke to you, and you just have to play through it again to experience it. Otherwise, this will likely sit on your shelf for quite some time between plays.
Image shamelessly linked from GameSpot.
Swing low, sweet little bro, comin' for' to carry you home...
Despite the short length of the game, I was emotionally affected by the story, was genuinely concerned about the characters and the narrative, and enjoyed the puzzles in the game. After solving each puzzle, I had a sense of satisfaction that I had figured it out, and was excited to move on to the next one. The story, sparse though it was, was sad, gripping, often harrowing, and overall, it really gave the game meaning beyond the play mechanics. The sparse use of sound, music, and dialogue really helped accent the game's simple narrative, and allowed each situation to play out without being bogged down in the details. The lush graphics helped cement the story and drew me into the world, and the gameplay was smooth enough, despite some learning curve with the controls, that I really felt as though it was a fulfilling experience. I would play through it again, because I know there was additional scenery I could interact with that I passed over, and the whole experience was beautiful enough that I would go back to experience that emotional journey.
At the time of this article, the game is going for around $15 on every larger platform (PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Steam), and $5 or less on mobile. I would say it's worth every penny to experience, because it gives the player more than just a game to play; rather, it takes the player on an emotional roller coaster, and you may well come away from the experience with a newfound admiration for family. Recommended.