What does it take to invent a special bond between two beautifully created brothers fighting odds to find the end? What does it take to make your left hand complement your right hand in a very natural way? The very creative Starbreeze Studios pair up with publisher 505 Games (of Payday 2 fame) to give us the pair that deserves to stay in your console/PC for a lifetime. With their magical tale of two kids who set out on a life changing journey, in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons takes the mythical Nordic fable route and puts everything magical in its way. Simplicity reaches a new definition with Brothers, which starts off as an indie joyride and ends as a beautifully refreshing hardcore video game. The title uses the Unreal 3 Engine in the most beautiful way possible. The speech in Brothers is completely in phonetics, and you will probably revisit the good ol’ Sims days with the cut scenes. The brothers call each other as Naya and Nayi (as I can decipher out of it). And that’s how Brothers puts itself across a myriad of other games this season.
With their father dying from a disease, the brothers enter gameplay as pulling a cart carrying their father to the village doctor. The doctor, more like a sorcerer from Skyrim, tells them about a certain potion (all in phonetics) and sends them on a never-returning journey across the length and breadth of the Nordic landscape. Scared at night by howling wolves, or sunbasking in the morning from the wings of a mythic owl, Brothers features an atmosphere unique to itself. The story will take you across a twisty climax and send you rolling down the side of your bed with your pillows full of tears.
When a person purchases an indie game, his choices and expectations are very different to the ones around mainstream games. When I started playing Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, I was happily drifting at the speed of a beautifully etched indie game that literally kicked my emotional side with the very first cut scene. The two protagonists looked so real, behaved so real, that it was almost impossible to say that this was anything but mainstream. But something bigger added to this effect, and then came a different element, and they kept coming. The game just continuously started building up and attracting my attention even more vigorously. If you would ask me, I’d say Brothers is not at all an indie game, to say the least, it doesn’t seem like one.
The game introduces the elder brother as your left fingers’ synchronized moves and the younger brother as your right’s. To be honest, I have never played two characters at the same time with the same joypad, and this was the first moment that pulled me into loving Brothers. When you would stretch your analogue sticks further away from each other, the brothers would drift apart inside the game, and would call out to each other. When you would make them come near, they will almost hit a chit chat. The little joys of combining the two analogue sticks in a creative way have never touched my soul like this.
The characters are detailed to a legit extent, and so are the beautiful scenarios that almost make you throw a ‘Whoa!’ The Nordic setting is depicted in an enchanting way, with mountains, rivers, bridges, hamlets, mythic creatures, all etched out with each new encounter. They have a children’s book look and feel to it, and you instantly know that the game is going to break this entity towards the end. If you watched Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth and witnessed reality and imaginations at the same time, like it is in the film, you will exactly know what my emotions were like while playing Brothers.
The gameplay is unparalleled to whatever I have played of late, indie or mainstream. Synchronizing both your sets of fingers for a jump across the ledge so that neither of the brothers falls down. At times you would have to make one brother turn the wheel while the other hangs by the crane that is slowly moving as a result of the other brother’s actions. You would feel immense pressure on both your fingers set, but you will never want to give up. Bigger wheels require stronger hands, and the elder brother comes to the rescue. While the narrow gaps between gates and cages are the perfect gateways for the childlike younger brother, each of them perform in a different way, complementing each other, and in time you will know what to do. When you interact with people inside the game, in its limited ways, Brothers will depict the characteristic differences between the two brothers. While one looks strong and falls for evil women, the other is just a child and knows how to throw pails of water at sleeping strangers to wake them up. The game just makes use of your analogue sticks and the two lower buttons on the joypad, that’s about it.
Level design is another thing. I was crossing the hamlet once and this big St. Bernard guarded our way. What I saw at a distance were stacks of hay on either ends of the path. So I would make one brother dash while the other would distract the dog by pressing down the lower button. ‘Aey!’ he would scream, and the other one would just run and climb on top of a haystack. And then he would call to distract the dog so that the other one makes his way. All this requires coordination of your thumbs on the analog stick. Failing which, either of them may die and your game will be over. Together you will cross rivers rowing a boat and escaping the dance of Killer Whales, climb atop a mountain riding cute little mountain goats and ultimately fly down the mountain in a glider.
Music plays an important role in controlling the cut scenes and gameplay time. The music is enchanting and poignant, and the game almost feels like poetry, it behaves almost like a mountain echo. The exclusion of proper dialogues makes this game your complete interpretation, and you will end up loving both the brothers, especially the younger one for his eccentricity and deep attachment to his dead mother. The puppet like body movements and natural scenery adds up to that vibe Brothers is aiming to create.
In time, you will fall in love with the mushroom giants, hate the drunk villager, fear the invisible troll and admire everything that the developers put into making this 3 hour long game. The very inclusion of the Unreal 3 engine has blown my mind away, because usually my connection with Unreal is that through bloodshed and gore. Challenges are plentiful in Brothers, and no two challenges or levels look similar. And the best bit is, by the end of the journey, your left fingers set would want to meet their right cousins.
I can be proud of myself as a gamer and a creative being, as long as tales like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons keep on repeating on my console. Even though there are minor gameplay drawbacks in the game (like running into each other and dropping off a ledge) but it sure doesn’t stop you from loving the title. I usually do not claim every Tom, Dick and Harry to be masterpieces because my reasons as a gamer are mammoth like. But I can totally say this one is a hand grenade, a mini enigma, a true masterpiece. Play it before you lose your heart and soul.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 console.