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Ladies and gents, it’s time for the the Summer of Arcade, and you know what that means. Microsoft will tote what little love it has left for indie / XBLA games by releasing a handful of noteworthy titles, almost-certain to find their way to the PS3 and PC. But you haven’t come here to listen to me rag on Microsoft. No, you came for a review of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
Fine. Here it is.
Seriously, stop reading this, and buy it. Imagine Journey played by one person, mixed with a healthy dosage of dark fairy tales, a hint of The Last Guardian, and there you have Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
Sounds incredible right? If for some reason you still need some more convincing, I guess you can read on.
Brothers is the product of a Starbreeze Studios — those lovely folks behind The Darkness and Syndicate(2012) — backed by an award winning Swedish filmmaker in Josef Fares. The setting is downright memorable. It’s a concoction of all the dark fairy tales of yore. The type where Sleeping Beauty never wakes up, and Hansel and Gretel get deep fried for the witch’s dining pleasure. Things start off fairly mundane, but quickly evolve into a world I would love to see more of.
The brilliant thing is, it’s never overwrought. I love a game that gets into the nitty-gritty of each faction and nation, but in Brothers, everything is much more atmospheric. That’s not to say there isn’t a certain depth to it. Each time I met a new character, whether they be friendly trolls, blood-thirsty cults, or giant invisible monsters, the subtle details were as juicy as they come. I may have only been passing-through, but each area and its inhabitants felt incredibly rich with detailed environments and nuanced animations.
Arguably the most remarkable feature of Brothers is the fact that it has you controlling both brothers at the same time. The left stick maneuvers the older brother, while the right the younger. Same goes for the left and right triggers, which allow you to interact with the world, other characters, and each brother. Alas, no game is perfect, and this cruel reality is made abundantly clear when trying to get used to the controls. Both a blessing and a curse, controlling each brother can be a bit cumbersome at first. I found myself discombobulated on several occasions when simply trying to run down a path. Eventually I got used to it, almost, by making sure the older brother was always on the left, and the younger on the right.
Yet as a I alluded to earlier, the obtuse controls are also a blessing. Much of the gameplay is centered around puzzles which focuses on each brother’s strengths and weaknesses. Obviously, the eldest is stronger, but all that muscle means he can't cram himself into tiny spaces. Thus emerges smart and enjoyable puzzles, in a fashion we've never seen before. It’s not all puzzles though. There’s a surprising amount of variety. Uncharted-like climbing and Zelda-esque boss battles are just a few of the many situations you’ll find yourself in. While Brothers wasn't overly challenging, I never felt like I was only going through the motions.
This is probably due to the game's fantastic pace. Too often I find myself criticizing games for being poorly paced — even when they’re only a few hours long — but each area in Brothers feels incredibly fresh. Nothing feels too standard, even when backed up by obvious tropes or plot twists. There's always some new mysterious creature or event talking place / going on, which keeps the player in sheer wonderment.
Like Shadow of the Colossus or Journey, there is a minimalist story packing a cannonball full of emotions. As someone who grew up following an older brother around all day, Brothers was incredibly powerful. Of course, having a brother isn’t necessary to appreciate the beauty of the narrative, but it certainly does help to have first-hand experience regarding the subject matter. As the brothers trek across their world, to find a cure for their ailing father, an even deeper bond is formed. The relationship they have is one almost anyone who has had any relationship could relate to. And I hope that, ultimately, everybody will be able to become emotionally attached to this pair of young protagonists.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons may be at odds with itself when it comes to controls, but as far as story, world design, and gameplay, it excels with jaw-dropping excellence. Some people will undoubtedly be turned off by the controls at first, but I urge them to press on. By game's end, you'll have thanked yourself for your self-instilled perseverance.