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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Review

Something new and inventive to kick off Summer of Arcade 2013

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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.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

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.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

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.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Set in a fantasy world, filled with giants, monsters, and plenty of other fantastical creatures, there is a danger for Brothers to feel unoriginal. At times, the game falls into this trap, but often it uses preconceptions to fool players rather than dragging their audience through cliches. The art style might bring back memories of Fable, but the cinematic nature of Brothers allows grandiose backdrops that set it apart from other fantasy games as it embraces its epic-quest narrative. Instead of hinging on terrain setting like Elders Scrolls or Diablo, this fantasy’s art revolves around simpler ideas, like a castle or a battlefield. It creates a world that while showing off its epic qualities in background, embraces a more intimate feeling in the foreground. These choices connect you to the brothers, making you embrace their characters quickly. When the older brother gets his first kiss, you smile at young love; when the younger brother is quick to trust a monstrous troll, you sympathize with naiveté. So much is conveyed in simple animations and well crafted art.

That doesn’t mean Brothers is without its flaws. While the majority of the music is understated tones, meant to create atmosphere, at some points there is a strange horn melody that sounds like a weird bird. You can hear it in the trailer, where it is as equally off putting. The graphics also feel a bit dated when compared to other late generation Unreal Engine work. Heck, it might have felt dated when compared to mid-generation work. Much of the stuff that is rough around the edges is easily forgivable, but it’s still there and momentarily takes you out of the experience that Brothers works so hard to build.

The only other qualm to find with Brothers is the length. The game clocks in under four hours and can be completed in as quickly as three. The notion that video games need bloated playtimes is a bit archaic, but Brothers feels like it only gets about chest-deep in the water before deciding that the story is over. Right about the time you grasp the controls, right when you are waiting for the true climax, the game starts to wrap things up. There is a solid argument that Brothers is supposed to be consumed in one sitting, and stuffing another hour or two in the game would make one playthrough a difficult task. That argument aside, it still feels slightly on the short side.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

But make no mistake, dated graphics and short playtime do almost nothing to harm the game’s pedigree. Brothers is still a fantastic experience and a wonderful way to kick off this year’s Summer of Arcade. Once upon a time, this warm weather promotion felt like it was a playground of new ideas for video games. Summer of Arcade used to boast a title every year that was pushing the mold and showing how independent games could compete with the large market. While Brothers may not be as great as Bastion or Braid, it channels the same spirit of something new and inventive. The controls are well tuned, the gameplay feels fresh and original, the characters are delightful, and the story is emotional. At the low price of $15, Brothers is basically a steal off of the Xbox Marketplace. As we brace for the blockbuster titles of the holiday season, it almost feels necessary to stop and appreciate that sometimes games aren’t about saving up gold or finding new guns, that we don’t need an epic sword to find or a war to fight. Sometimes games can be about two boys trying to find a way to save their father and their adventures along the way.

Our ratings for Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons on Xbox 360 out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Smart design and a gorgeous world help paint the perfect setting for Brothers, but dated graphics dull the experience.
Each locale presents a new puzzle and the use of the twin sticks makes players think in a new way.
Single Player
While it may be short, the journey of two brothers trying to save their father is an engaging tale that will sink its hooks in early and refuse to let you go. However, the ending does feel slightly unfinished.
The game has bugs here and there, I had to restart a checkpoint once. Again, the look is a little dated, but there is nothing that is game breaking and the frame rate never drops.
Despite a couple of missteps, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons shines as a great game and a wonderful addition to the roster of Summer of Arcade hits. The game is original, emotional, and consistently entertaining.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons box art Platform:
Xbox 360
Our Review of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is ranked #127 out of 1971 total reviewed games. It is ranked #19 out of 160 games reviewed in 2013.
127. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
128. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
PlayStation 4
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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
8 images added Aug 11, 2013 15:13
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