Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons PC (reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Mobile The game was purchased by the reviewer himself.
Indie games have been on the rise and with greater power comes greater criticism. It seems for every good indie game out there we get at least 10 stories about controversial developers pulling stunts on Steam. Fortunately, we have excellent gems like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons to remind us of why this new industry is so amazing. Except, this is actually from a pretty big developer… well, it feels indie.
Brothers is what it says on the cover: a story about two brothers. Naiee and Naia live together with their father in a house bordering the sea. Naiee, the youngest of the two, watched his mother perish at a young age while they were out at sea. Since then he has been afraid of swimming and stays clear of the water. One day, fate makes a turn for the worse when their father becomes sick. After carting him to a local doctor, the boys are told that the only cure is to travel to a mythical tree, whose water is said to cure all ailments.
Thus the boys set out on an adventure and the greatest strength of the game lies therein. It really feels like you are out on an adventure that grows gradually more dangerous. At first you’ll find yourself working through a village as a bully blocks your progress, yet before long you’ll find yourself guiding the boys through troll-invested caves, perilous mountains and unsteady fortresses.
The game is mostly silent with characters only occasionally shouting names and making noises, so there is no dialogue to tell the story. Instead, you get a real sense of the characters growing as you watch them interact and emote. The brotherly bond between Naiee and Naia is thickened by the problems they overcome, but is also challenged at some parts. There are also optional people you can choose to interact with and either brother will react differently when speaking with people or observing an obstacle.
It’s a simple tale told perfectly and nearing the end manages to tuck at your heartstrings just enough. The payoff is also handled marvelously, so I really can’t name any flaws when it comes to the story.
The gameplay is best described as “experimental”. You control both Naiee and Naia at the same time using the two thumbsticks on a controller and the shoulder-buttons for interactions. These controls take some getting used to, especially when you have to use the right stick to control the brother on the left and vice versa. Even nearing the end of the game I still found myself steering into walls or releasing the wrong shoulder-button, sending one of the brothers plummeting to their death.
Confusion aside, the controls fit the game well. Most of the time you’ll simply be walking around, taking in the environment, and occasionally stopping to solve very simple puzzles. These often have you pulling levers or having the brothers cooperate to move an obstacle. I was only stuck once, which happened when I thought I was supposed to wait for a friendly NPC to come back. And that’s fine, actually. This is not the kind of game where you are supposed to get stuck since the fun lies in constantly moving forward through this giant world.
The platforming adheres to that same principal as checkpoints are frequent and dying is rarely punished. The paths you are supposed to take here are generally quite obvious and the two boys are agile enough to reliably walk over fallen trees or hang from ridges without incident. Naia, being the strongest of the two, frequently has to help his younger brother by moving something heavy or carrying him across rivers, while Naiee compensates for that by fitting through narrow openings.
Finally, while there is no combat to worry about, there are enemies to deal with. Some of these you must run away from or stealth past while others need to be tricked. In a way, it reminded me a bit of Limbo where you deal with enemies in a similar manner, but with the added challenge of having to control two characters that don’t have the same abilities.
A Tale of Two Sons is beautiful and it absolutely knows it. As you wander through the game’s world it makes sure to pan the camera in such a way that you are often staring at amazing vistas. It feels like a tour through Viking-era Scandinavia and the highlight of the game for me is a trip through a valley filled with the corpses of defeated giants. Likewise, the various characters you meet are colorful and look fun, especially an early encounter with a friendly troll who I found to be quite cute. Naiee does look a bit off, though, thanks to his ridiculously large hair that looks like plastic.
As mentioned before the dialogue is either gibberish or a Scandinavian language I am not familiar with. I can at least say that, for what it is, the gibberish spoken here isn’t bad and conveys plenty of emotion. I was particularly happy to see the boys have fun during the more lighthearted scenes of the game; too few developers realize that you need moments of happiness to make the sad scenes really hit home and Brothers nails this perfectly. The music was provided by Starbreeze’s usual composer, Gustaf Grefberg, and this is by far the best work he has ever done. The songs often sound a bit alike, yet they are all fittingly epic and I loved hearing them as I stared down the game’s beautiful landscapes.
I do have to say that there was this one scene I didn’t quite understand that I assume was some sort of dream sequence and had no relation to anything that happened or was going to happen later in the game. I find it hard to complain about it, but because the whole journey felt so amazing it stood out to me that they threw in such a random nightmare bit for a few minutes.
Extras and Completion
As mentioned before there are optional tasks you can do throughout the game that unlock various achievements. To get these you really need to keep your eyes peeled because it requires you to perform interactions that aren’t always immediately obvious, some requiring you to have performed optional interactions several chapters before it. Still, completing these felt really good and some of the solutions are quite hilarious.
The game only lasts about 4 hours, but I will say it’s fun enough to warrant replaying every once in a while. While maybe a bit short, it does mean the game never outstays its welcome and you won’t find yourself dealing with unnecessary padding.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an excellent game for all ages and genders and if I were to ever write a book akin to 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die it would certainly appear in it. It offers you a grand adventure through a beautiful world and has you use interesting controls to solve simple puzzles and platforming sequences. It’s the kind of game that doesn’t cater to anybody in particular and instead offers a fun experience that only a handful of people would object to.