Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Review – An Emotional Journey
Back in 2001, a game called Ico emerged on the PS2 and made a quiet little splash in the world of video games. Aside from being an excellent action/adventure/puzzle game in its own right, Ico was particularly notable for how it managed to use gameplay, not story driven cutscenes or even dialogue, to forge a bond between its two main characters and tell a powerful story in a way that only video games can.
This method of storytelling has been somewhat lost over the years, but Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, is one of the very few games I’ve played since then that manages to capture that same magic that Ico had 12 years ago.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed)
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Publisher: 505 Games
Released: Aug. 7, 2013
Developed by Starbreeze Studios, Brothers is a twin stick action/adventure game that has the player controlling two siblings simultaneously. Using the left stick and shoulder button to control the big brother and the right stick and shoulder button to control the little brother, the game is essentially a single player coop experience where you use both brothers’ unique abilities to solve simple puzzles and explore wondrous lands throughout the game’s seven chapters.
The game’s story is a simple one, but is expertly told and packed with heart. Brothers opens with the siblings’ father taking ill. After wheeling him back to their house, the doctor explains that the only cure to save their father rests on a great tree far away in a distant land. Without hesitation, the two sons embark on a journey to save their father, the only family they have left besides each other.
At this point I should also say that this story is told without any real dialogue. The character speak in a sort of gibberish language that only they understand. It’s an effective style that engages the player by letting them fill in the blanks and project their own version of what the characters are feeling or saying.
The real character development, though, is done through gameplay. Each brother has his own unique interactions with the environment that shed a little light on their individual personalities. The older brother’s interactions are generally those of a responsible teen who helps his elders with chores, is very polite, and is fiercely protective of his younger brother.
The little brother, on the other hand, is your typical adolescent brat, loving to pull pranks, spit in community wells, and show off the considerable musical talent that his big brother hilariously lacks.
The addition of these interactions is such a small detail, but it goes a long way in making the player feel emotionally attached to the characters. One fun example is when you need to get a sleepy old man to lower a bridge. When the older brother tries to politely get his attention, the man simply shoos him away and goes back to sleep. But when the younger brother interacts with him, he takes a nearby bucket of water and dumps it over his head, while laughing heartily. Now that he’s wide awake, the older brother can talk to him again and get him to lower the gate.
There’s a great feeling of camaraderie between the two siblings that other story based co-op games strive for, but few ever really achieve on the same level as Brothers. They rely on each other both emotionally and physically. One of my favorite recurring elements of the game is the fact that the younger brother can’t swim, likely as a result of his mother’s death by drowning.
This characterization works its way into gameplay: in order to cross streams, the younger brother must grab onto the older brother and be ferried across. Over the course of the game, there were times when the two brothers were suddenly thrown into a river, and I let out an audible gasp because I completely forgot that the younger brother couldn’t swim. The gasp wasn’t because I thought I might have to replay a checkpoint. It was because I didn’t want the younger brother to die because of my negligence.
Despite taking taking many cues from both Ico and Limbo, Brothers is comparatively rather light on the puzzles. The puzzles that do exist are very simple in nature and likely won’t take more than a simple glance to figure out. That being said, while they won’t tax your mind very much, the puzzles in Brothers are fantastically designed, and elicit strong emotional responses.
In one chapter, the brothers must navigate their way through a bloody battlefield of fallen giants, and the only way to progress is to find ways to mutilate the giants’ corpses to forge a path through the river of blood. Yeah, things tend to take a turn for the surprisingly dark.
There’s a ton of variety in Brothers’ seven chapters. Aside from the aforementioned battlefield, you’ll make your way through caves, giant castles, dark forests filled with man-eating wolves, arctic rivers, and more. The soundtrack is also fantastic, fitting perfectly with the tone of each chapter.
The downside to all of this, though, is the price. The game currently has a $15 price tag on the Xbox Live Marketplace for what is ultimately a three- to four-hour experience, with little reason to come back to it. It’s a hell of an experience to be sure, but I can’t help but wish there was something extra in the package, like a commentary track or something. I’d be fascinated to learn more about some of the inspirations for game.
The themes and ideas explored in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons are not new to video games, but very rarely are they executed upon as skillfully as they are here. As a game, Brothers disappoints a little with its overly simple puzzles, short run time, and low replay value. But as an experience, it dazzles with an emotional story, endearing characters, beautiful visuals, and a soundtrack to match.
Whether you pick the game up or not should depend on what is more important to you: the game, or the experience.
- Emotional story told in a way that’s only possible through video games
- Unique control scheme does a great job of making the player responsible for developing the brothers’ close relationship
- Wide variety of locals with a different gameplay focus in each chapter
- Stunning visuals with a soundtrack to match
- Only 3-4 hours long with a $15 price tag
- No replay value
- Puzzles are extremely simple and provide little to no satisfaction upon completion
Final Score: 80/100
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