If the argument of video games being an art form needs any more proof, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons would be the absolute perfect consensus.
This wonderful indie title was made by Swedish developer Starbreeze Studios (the minds behind Syndicate) and published by 505 Games. It came to the Xbox Live Arcade a few days ago and will be released on Steam August 28th, followed by the Playstation Network on September 3rd.
When you first boot up the game and come to the title screen, you can already tell that the focal point of Brothers is its visual, enamoring storytelling. I had heard nothing but praise of it from others, so I knew it had to be something particularly special. Within only a few minutes of playing, I could already tell it was the type of game that I haven’t seen since LIMBO. While their aesthetic styles are drastically different, they both drive the story with that which undeniably moves us the most: raw human emotion. Sure you have it in many games out there in varied degrees, but there are very few that not only give it to us full force, but show it to us in a rarely seen light, make us experience it to the fullest extent. In these games you’re not a bystander of emotion, you enact it, whether you like it or not, and in the end you’re thankful for it.
The trailer for the game describes the plot as follows: “A man, clinging to life. His two sons, desperate to cure their ailing father, are left with but one option. They must set out upon a journey to find and bring back the “Water of Life” as they come to rely on one another to survive. One must be strong where the other is weak, brave where the other is fearful, they must be… Brothers.”
Just as the title implies, in this game you take on a dual role, as two young brothers. Their father has fallen ill with an unknown, but clearly grave sickness. The village doctor informs his two sons that there is only one cure for his ailment, and it’s located near a magical tree far beyond their home. With little delay, the two brothers agree to set off on a journey to find what is called the “Water of Life”.
Along the way, the boys encounter all manner of natural wonders, from fairy tale creatures to underground caves, historic castles, arctic landscapes, enormous battlefields, and much more. Through each leg of their adventure they must work together to solve puzzles to overcome obstacles big and small. This is where the truly unique trait of the game lies.
When you take control of the two brothers, each is commanded by one side of the controller. The older brother is controlled by the left analog stick and trigger, and the younger brother is thus controlled by the right stick and trigger. The left and right bumpers circulate the camera, which constantly stays in third person view. These are the only controls you need. It seems simple enough, but it does take a good amount of practice. After years and many times using the left and right controls to dictate movement of a single character and the camera, learning to control two characters simultaneously quickly became the main challenge of the game.
I commend the developers for pushing us to try this rather new, rarely used form of gameplay, even if it did get a little frustrating at times. Oftentimes my brothers were running off in complete opposite directions without me meaning to, due to the “character/camera instinct”. Some of the puzzles require considerable dexterity to get through, and I made a good number of mistakes. But really, it’s all in good fun. The amazing landscapes were distraction enough from any annoyance I got.
Many people drew parallels between Brothers and games like Fable (I recently played through Fable III so I can attest to this) and Journey. GamesMaster called it, “Short but immensely satisfying, it’s Ico meets Limbo in Fable’s World…”. Across the board, the game received great reviews, but people pushed on the notion that Starbreeze played it too safe, that they didn’t exercise their full potential with this game. Personally, I don’t see how more needed to be added. If you add to much to a game like Brothers, you can end up diluting its greatest elements. All of the game’s characters spoke very little, an indiscernible, “gibberish” language. But it didn’t matter that you couldn’t understand it. Everything else “spoke” for the story.
Another point of criticism was the character design, that it was underdone. Of course when you certain characters’ faces close up, they don’t exactly have many facial features, but you’re not there to remember how many freckles or wrinkles they have. The faces still express profound emotion, you simply have to open your eyes and your mind more. When you have the siblings interact with other people, creatures, or parts of the environment, each of them brings out their own unique characteristics. The younger brother is more playful and reckless, spitting in wells and messing up rosebushes, but is far more talented with a harp than his older brother. The older brother is stronger and can move bigger obstacles, while the younger brother can slip through tight spaces. Brothers is a creative and clever game that proves that you don’t need “real life” graphics to tell a realistic and original story.
This game was exquisitely well done. It’s a delightful, incredibly moving little story that needs little more than a night to finish.
When you browse through the network of arcade/indie games available out there, some of them just don’t grab your attention. They copy big titles (I can’t tell you how many Minecraft knock-offs I’ve seen), or just push out a method of gameplay with no substance at all. But now and then, you find the golden egg in a basket of rotten ones. I firmly believe that Brothers will be a title that, like Limbo, will be memorable and live on for a very long time in our hearts.
If you want to experience this unforgettable story, it can be yours for only 1200 Microsoft Points, or $15 on Steam and the Playstation Network when they come out August 28th and September 3rd respectively. Trust me, it really is worth every point/cent.