Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons impressed me from the moment I first laid eyes upon it at E3. Its use of a single controller to move two characters around in a visually-striking world was intriguing. Now, only a few months later, I’ve been able to play the game and can say that it is easily the best artsy platforming/puzzle game since Journey. The game starts off tugging at your heartstrings with a prologue of the younger blonde brother trying to save his mother from drowning, clutching her hands, but being unable to hold on and having to watch her drown.
That event plays a pivotal role in the overarching story since the boys’ father falls ill early on, and it’s up to the older brunette brother and the younger blonde one to go far away and find some magical healing water. You’ll partake in some light platforming and a ton of logic puzzle-solving together in order to accomplish your goal. In theory, this may seem mundane, but the single controller co-op-style play mixes things up a lot.
It may seem tough to control two characters at once, but the setup used works fairly well and aids in avoiding confusion. The left stick and L2/LT control the older brother, while the right stick and R2/RT control the younger brother. Those are literally the only buttons used – every command is context-sensitive. This means that while you aren’t using a ton of buttons, you can still do a lot. You’ll run using the 3D Legend of Zelda pressure-sensitive auto-jumping mechanic, and help each other solve puzzles by moving cranks, finding objects and giving them to people, or using creative problem solving – like using a sheep on a giant hamster wheel. The only time that the controls become tricky are when you’re just learning them, or are in a section where you absolutely need to make both characters run in one direction perfectly – you may have to redo some sections a couple of times, but it never gets frustrating.
Swimming is also possible…for the older brother. The younger one is still too traumatized to swim, so he hops on the older brother’s back in order to traverse water. Similarly, the younger brother lacks the strength to pull down levers – so the older brother will have to do that, usually while the young one slinks through a set of bars. There’s a fair amount of variety within the puzzle types offer, but in each chapter, you’ll at least have a few lever puzzles, an action sequence, and meet some new people/creatures.
There aren’t a lot of NPCs, but you do wind up growing attached to them despite some hindrances. Fairly early on, you encounter a friendly ogre who aids you in your adventure with little prompting. He’s injured, and struggles to move afterwards, but still does what he can to save you from an evil ogre. Later, a bird takes you from one place to another as its dying act – and it’s quite clear it’s in rough shape since it’s covered in blood. You don’t know its struggle, you just know that it was abused somehow and appreciates the simple act of kindness shown by removing it from its cage – it chooses to be free one last time before dying peacefully on a cliffside and being cared for by the younger brother in one of the earliest examples of him showing more maturity as the adventure wears on.
English is never spoken once in the game – characters also aren’t given names. In fact, the end credits just designate the brothers as “Older Brother” and “Younger Brother”. Despite these seeming handicaps, you get sucked into the game world quickly and find that the characters have distinct personalities. The older brother is more serious and wants to find the water as soon as possible, while the younger brother can be a bit of a scamp and play games with townspeople. There’s also a very nice little touch where the older brother tries to play the harp and fails, while the younger brother takes to it quickly.
There’s a ton of puzzles to solve, but even if you’re not very good at logic puzzle games, you’ll probably do just fine here. The solutions are easier to find thanks to a mostly linear path – with non-linearity allowing you to soak in the sights and sounds via a bench, or do nice little things like help a turtle get back in the water, reunite lost loves, or watch a shooting star fall from the sky. This game is full of serene moments, but also has some intense ones – like the glider rider shown off in the E3 trailer, or a later rowboat area where you have to navigate the waters while avoiding sharks. Sadly, neither brother had their Bat shark-repellent spray handy and you have to rely on paying attention to their position under the water to survive. While there’s nothing quite that silly in the game, you will get a chuckle later on using snowmen as cover in a stealth section – it’s easily the funniest stealth mission in years.
I loved everything about the gameplay and overall narrative of Brothers except for its few rough edges. There are some animation hitches every now and then where you’ll almost teleport on-screen and while it’s not a huge deal, it does take you out of the in-game world for a bit. The same goes for a glitch I and others have experienced in the second chapter that requires either a chapter restart or just resuming from a checkpoint. Fortunately, I was able to do the latter and it only took me a few minutes to get back to where I was.
This tale of two brothers looks stunning thanks to a cinematic viewpoint being emphasized at all times and impressive lighting effects being used throughout the adventure. Character models are a bit simplistic-looking, but that style works pretty well since they still convey emotion. The environments look really good except for some really thin-looking leaves that don’t quite fit in with the rest of the in-game world very well. Animation is beautiful, and like Journey, little things like pained movements are nice and smooth.
The soundtrack is full of beautiful songs, much like Journey. You’ll want to listen to at least a few songs, including the end credits one, after playing. Sadly, I don’t think the OST can be purchased yet, so be on the lookout for that and pick it up if it becomes available. The in-game language is gibberish, but works at conveying panic, sadness, and happiness quite well. Sound effects like jumping into dirt or turning a gear sound realistic and help absorb you into the world.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an outstanding game that should be played by anyone who loved Journey, or has a thirst for storytelling in gaming that lets the player fill in some blanks and interpret things as they so desire. Like that game, this isn’t very long – it probably won’t take you more than three hours to beat, but it’s quite replayable. A lot of little scenarios can unfold in alternate playthroughs that you could easily miss the first time through if you’re rushing. The lack of filler makes it fun to go through the first time, while the visuals will amaze you and the music move you. It’s an incredible game well-worth its $15 asking price on any platform you desire – although the symmetrical sticks of the PS3 may be a bit easier to get used to than the 360’s design.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: 505 Games
This review is based on a digital copy of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons for the PlayStation 3 provided by 505 Games.