Name: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Genre: Adventure / Puzzle
Platform: Xbox 360 (Xbox Live Arcade)
Price: 1200 MS Points
This year’s Xbox Live Summer of Arcade kicks off in style, with the wonderful Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, warming Tech Digest’s cockles. Read our full review to find out just why we think it’s so special.
The Xbox’s Fable and the PS3’s indie smash Journey don’t seem the most obvious of bedfellows, but they’re the two games that jump to the forefront of my mind when trying to draw comparisons to the marvellous Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. An excellent example of the unique strengths of narrative in game design, wrapped up in a sumptuous fantasy world, Brothers is a short but sweet game that I expect will be universally enjoyed.
As the title suggests, the game follows the adventures of a pair of brothers. After watching them lose their mother in an opening scene, we then jump forward to watching the duo care for their sickly father. In true fairytale style, it quickly transpires that his life depends on the pair recovering the only special item that can restore his health, which will require a perilous journey across a magical kingdom to acquire.
The pair will have to work together, co-operate. But this is a “co-op” title with a twist. Rather than control one of the two brothers, you control both the younger and older sibling simultaneously. Each is assigned one analogue stick and one trigger with which to interact with the world, and you must learn to make both work in tandem for the pair to be successful on their quest.
It’s an ingenious, though initially admittedly frustrating control scheme. It’s like trying to play the old playground game of patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, an oddly disorientating experience, and one that’s exacerbated should either of the brothers cross paths to find themselves moving on the opposite side of their controller designations. However, this gameplay mechanic soon finds itself falling into a simple rhythm as your brain comes to terms with controlling the two, and one that subtly reinforces the bond between the two and you, the player – there are no passengers in this tale, each has a role to play and you are responsible for both.
Indeed, the tale itself is the most important element here, and “true gaming” moments are really only here to propel the brothers towards further interactions with the world. As such, puzzles (and the game’s difficulty overall) are a little on the easy side; most consist of ensuring the pair work in tandem to cross obstacles, with one brother boosting another to a ledge, or holding a lever to allow safe passage through a trap for the other. A few standout moments, such as guiding a hang-glider down a canyon requiring both siblings to shift their weight equally and evenly, show the dual-control scheme working at its best.
With the challenge kept to a minimum then, it’s the world on show and the way that the brothers individually interact with it that makes the game really come to life. Overseen by Swedish film director Josef Fares, the game thrusts the siblings from one gorgeous location to another, from a quaint Nordic village to an icy tundra, a cliff-top prison to an ancient battleground strewn with the bodies of giant warriors. Full of life and a sense of history, it’s a well-realised world I’d love to see more of.
These locations are not merely eye-candy, but filled with unique secrets and character interactions to bear witness to. With the game’s characters speaking a nonsensical language and no subtitles to guide meaning, all story-telling here is visual, and having the brothers individually interact with objects and NPCs in the game helps tie the edges of the story together. Both brothers have distinct personalities; the younger proves himself to be a musical whizz when prompted to play a harp, while the older is tone deaf. The younger has a more carefree attitude to the world, while the older is serious, preferring to act quickly and work diligently when presented with a problem.
Fairly linear, the game is richly populated with things to do, and those who rush through the main thrust of the quest will miss out on some truly touching moments. An entirely optional side-moment (I use “side-moment” here as opposed to side-quest as it’s a short but poignant event, the likes of which are littered liberally throughout the game) that sees the pair prevent a man from committing suicide is one of the most affecting I’ve taken part in in recent times.
Like Journey before it, Brothers benefits from being experienced somewhat blindly. There’s so much I wish to share with you, but withhold for fear of spoiling your own intimate reactions to the events that transpire in the game. Rest assured, Brothers is a game that will stick with you long after the credits have rolled.
Though the game is short at around three hours long, the brothers’ struggle will see you care deeply for the two. And while the game isn’t particularly difficult, it’s full of some of the most emotionally resonant and memorable scenes I’ve seen all year. A magical experience as rich as the greatest of Grimm’s fairytales, expect this to be a dark horse contender when the best-of lists start popping up towards the end of the year.