Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Review
Something new and inventive to kick off Summer of Arcade 2013
Summer of Arcade has a legacy; it gives video games that would often be lost in the shuffle a platform to greatness. The history is littered with iconic titles like Braid, Castle Crashers, Shadow Complex, Trials HD, ‘Splosion Man, LIMBO, and Bastion. That is intimidating company to keep, but while Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons may not be quite as good as the Summer of Arcade elite, it stands its ground in impressive fashion.
Developed by Starbreeze Studios, whose development history include titles like Syndicate, The Darkness, and The Chronicles of Riddick, Brothers stands out as a game that refuses to be bogged down by standard video game conventions. While opinions may vary about the quality of the game, there can be no argument that this game feels different and refreshing. Part of this could be attributed to film director turned game designer Josef Fares, whose cinematic eye is apparent from Brothers’ title screen through its emotional ending.
On the surface, Brothers does little to stand out from other 3D, story driven platformers. The puzzle-filled labyrinth level design and terrain/dungeon traversing gameplay will recall thoughts of Uncharted, while the world interaction is similar to that of Assassin’s Creed. However, Brothers doesn’t bother to bog itself down with combat conventions or divert user attention with an abundance of open world options, as it chooses to maintain its focus on it core gameplay. This commitment and focus pays dividends as the gameplay in Brothers feels appropriately difficult and engaging. Running to the right spot in order to trigger the proper action can still be a little annoying, but in no way stifles the fun of the game. With so many functions built upon being in the right place at the right time, Brothers could have turned into a buggy mess, but again, the focus and dedication to perfecting the core mechanics is what allows the game to artfully dodge this bullet.
The biggest aspect of Brothers is the twin stick gameplay. The game revolves around the cooperative work of the titular brothers who are, for the most part, unnamed throughout the game’s duration. The older brother is controlled with the left stick and the younger brother is controlled with the right stick. The game becomes instantly engaging as to simply move both brothers in the same direction requires coordination and mental discipline. Not only is it an uncommon style of gameplay, it is an uncommon way of thinking. Often the game feels almost like a brain teaser, and might be easy to grasp for coordinated and ambidextrous individuals, but I found it taxing aspects of my brain that are fairly unused. It all has the same feel as the trick of rubbing your belly while you pat your head. Again, employing a trick like this could feel gimmicky or easily become overwhelming, but Starbreeze finds a perfect balance in difficulty and pacing.
The gameplay is fairly linear, occasionally offering alternative routes through the platforming maze that lead to different puzzles. Sometimes the Brothers stumble across characters they will be forced to help, but other times you can skip these mini-side quests and plow ahead. Different settings offer small set pieces to interact with in simple ways, like people to talk to or a stack of stones to skip into the ocean. These details add little surprises into the game that feel like treats, most of them differing between the older and younger brother, meaning that you will want to interact with most items and characters twice to see how the brothers respond. There is a beautiful subtlety differentiating the siblings; the older brother will be physically stronger and mature in his interactions, while the younger brother still possesses the strength and instinct of a child. While a familial bond is present between them, Starbreeze has gone out of their way to make them feel different in all the right ways.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons tells the story of a boy who has recently lost his mother, something that haunts him at the beginning of, and throughout, the game. Things become immediately worse as his father falls ill. After assisting his brother in bringing his father to a doctor, the boys are instructed to travel to a distant great tree, which holds the key to saving their father. Keeping with the game’s theme of shrugging video game conventions, Brothers doesn’t bother with dialogue, and all the characters speak in a sort-of Simlish. The lack of comprehensible dialogue is a little off putting at first, but as the game continues the storytelling is so well done that it becomes apparent that the words were simply unnecessary. While the arc of the story is rather straightforward, there are little surprises along the way. Brothers plays on formula, keeping players on their toes by offering creative scenarios.