Describing what kind of game ‘Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons’ actually is can be surprisingly difficult. You wouldn’t think it just by looking at it but ‘Brothers’ is an isometric, cooperative, adventure game in which you play entirely by yourself, with one controller. That’s right, a single player co-op game. ‘Brothers’ comes to us from Starbreeze, the studio that brought us such titles as ‘Syndicate’ and the critically acclaimed ‘Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay’ and it’s quite a departure.
The story told here is simply delightful. Surprisingly emotional and at times relatively dark, you play as two brothers on a quest to find a mystical cure for their very ill father. This quest
takes them right across the land, to mountain peaks, through villages and settlements, over thundering rivers and even through a giant’s castle. Ultimately there isn’t a lot of game here, it’s a short and very sweet ride that should last you anywhere between 4-5 hours. For some that may not warrant the 1200 point price tag but those willing to fork out the points will not be disappointed. Those that do stick it out will find that the game at times takes surprisingly dark turns that really make ‘Brothers’ stand out on the XBLA. It’s full of puzzles that you need to complete to get around this world, which really got me thinking… Why is every location in this world a co-op puzzle? For example to cross a ravine one brother must lift the first half of a bridge whilst the other brother climbs a windmill and leaps over to an adjacent windmill to get across the ravine, only to then raise a platform so that the first brother can lower his section of the bridge onto this newly formed portion of the bridge. How are people in this world getting from point A to point B alone? Do they need to always travel with a partner, why are the bridges in this game so damn complex? Don’t get me wrong these aren’t complaints, just meaningless observations.
The game’s biggest flaw come from the confusion caused by controlling both brothers on screen at the same time with the two thumbsticks. It can be quite hard to wrap your head around at times, especially when the younger brother (controlled by the right thumb stick) finds his way onto the left hand side of the screen and the older brother is way the hell over on the right hand side of the screen. Trust me, there will be many times where one or both of the brothers are just running into walls as you try and re-adjust. I found myself constantly trying to keep track of where everyone was and keeping them on their respective sides which at times can prove to be harder than required, especially when the perspective of the camera automatically shifts. The camera can be tweaked using the right and left bumpers but still can prove cumbersome. The camera also found itself getting stuck behind objects and buildings but never truly felt like it was ever a hindrance. The developer is aiming to create a unique experience that allows players to experience the story from both characters perspectives but ultimately, it’s a battle at times to get anyone on screen to go in the direction you want. There is no real combat within this game, you usually find yourself either running from bigger enemies or using your wits to outsmart them; bringing puzzle solving elements into some of the combat sequences. Even with no real weapons as such, these gameplay mechanics that boil down to puzzle elements invoke a strong sense of comradery between the two brothers.
One great great thing to see is that both brothers have very different characteristics and ways of interacting with the environment and world around them. Where one brother might be too short to reach a high ledge, the other can climb with ease. Where another may be too large to fit through a small gap in a metal fence, the other may squeeze through. These different characteristics also apply when interacting with the NPCs’ scattered around the world. The young brother has a boyish immature nature, approaching people and playing pranks and just generally irritating people. The older brother, however, is the more mature of the two, using his words to get information and advance the story. It’s really quite interesting to see how both brothers face the same situations within the game world and it’s always a joy to see how different their individual characteristics are.
The dialogue is handled in a ‘Sims-ish’ manner; using gibberish and mumbles along with big expressions and obvious actions to get the point across to the player. Its effective, we don’t need to hear what these characters are saying to understand their story. The visuals are reminiscent of something like the fable games, cartoonish and yet grounded in some sort of reality. At times this game can be downright pretty. I found myself on many occasions taking a moment to really take in these locations and environments and since you can see the next area you will be traveling to off in the distance, the visuals really give you a sense of the scope of this world. This mighty quest takes you through so many varied environments and call me crazy but there is nothing like a good ol’ fashioned fantasy quest. The music here is perfectly suited to the games tone, jovial and mysterious folk tunes will accompany you through your quest. The music fits in perfectly and really immerses you in this world, resonating perfectly with the adventure.
Before finishing up I thought another interesting thing to note is the idea of co-op play but with two people. Just to see what it would be like, I tested ‘Brothers’ with a second person. That is, two people playing on one controller with one person using the left thumb stick and left trigger and vice versa. The experience was very different here and honestly not bad at all, especially if the person you are sharing the experience with isn’t an avid gamer, since it’s a fairly simplistic title. It makes you wonder why it wasn’t co-op to begin with.
‘Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons’ is a heartwarming and oddly emotional tale that will last you about 4-5 hours. Those willing to fork out the 1200 points will be rewarded with a gripping arcade title, full of beauty, wonder, admittedly strange controls and the first single player arcade game since limbo that has truly drawn me into its world.