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Bramble: The Mountain King Review (PS5) – Thorny Issues Wound A Dangerous Dark Beast Of A Folk Tale

Bramble: The Mountain King Review (PS5) – Dimfrost Studios uses dark Nordic fairytales to conjure up a grim adventure. Read on to see if there is a happy ending in PlayStation Universe’s Brmable: The Mountain King review for PS5.

Bramble: The Mountain King Review (PS5) – Thorny Issues Wound a Dangerous Dark Beast Of A Folk Tale

Once upon a time, there was an era of dark and enchanting puzzle platformers. Developers such as PlayDead (Limbo, Inside) and Number None (Braid) put a fresh spin on a long-established genre.

Others would try to emulate this to varying results (Little Nightmares, Black The Fall, Deadlight). Still, it’s been challenging to find anything that truly replicates the absolute cold grimness of PlayDead’s 1-2 punch of Limbo and Inside. At times, Dimfrost Studios’ Bramble: The Mountain King does just that.

Based on Nordic fairytales with none of the softening you usually get, Bramble: The Mountain King is presented as such. With a soft-spoken narrator detailing the journey of two young children who stumble upon the dangers of the forest. Olle is a young boy that follows his sister into the woods one night.

The pair discover something magical on their adventure as they are shrunk down in size. Unfortunately, Olle’s sister is captured by a troll, and Olle sets out to traverse the forest in his newly-diminutive form in search of her.

One of Bramble’s greatest strengths is how it toys with your expectation of how dark it can be. It begins with a vaguely ominous tone and then delights with adorable gnomes.

After the abduction of Olle’s sister, things fluctuate from that sort of sweet and wondrous encounter to horrifyingly grim moments on a regular basis. Olle really goes through the wringer during the events of Bramble.

An Enchanting Folk Tale

I keep this in mind when talking about Bramble, because the dark tale is by far the game’s most compelling aspect. It is thoroughly unflinching about depicting the rawness of old folk tales. Fair warning that Bramble goes to some distressing places when depicting mortal harm to children.

It also has the capacity to be shocking in other ways. In the wrong hands, it could be seen as distasteful.

But Dimfrost Studios knows what it is doing and never undersells the fact this is a side of the world that isn’t safe for humans. The siblings’ curiosity is punished for not observing that. It can be upsetting, but it’s honestly refreshing to see such smartly-observed coldness in a game that can be so very beautiful.

Bramble is gorgeous. Even in its darker moments, there’s something impressively enchanting about how Dimfrost has constructed this world. The forest itself is the standout as it veers towards a realism that only accentuates the fantasy elements that cohabit with it.

The characters’ have hand-painted storybook sheen to them that adds to a strange dreamlike feeling to the presentation. Camera angles are largely fixed, which certainly does the game plenty of favors in showing off its visuals. It does come with something of a sacrifice in terms of how the game plays.

Bramble is rather simple to play, with a focus on storytelling front and center. There’s nothing wrong with that in my opinion because relative mechanical simplicity can still create an impact when done well. Bramble does not do particularly well at this though.

Un-Fairy Tale

The fixed cameras being part of the problem is where I’ll start. They make judging some gaps and planning what’s ahead quite difficult, and at times it’s incredibly frustrating. Olle’s jumping skills feel inconsistent throughout Bramble’s run and that makes these issues far less forgivable.

There’s a section about midway through the game where Olle eradicates obstacles by shining a light at a certain part of them. You need to put him in the right spot for it to work.

This is made quite unclear by some of the camera angles chosen. This ends up being exacerbated during a sequence that requires stealth and timing where the game doesn’t line you up to perform this properly. This wasting vital seconds scrambling to find the sweet spot.

Then there are the many times when Bramble’s ambiguity regarding puzzle solutions is so muddy and unclear it could hide some of the horrific creatures that rise up from the swamps in this game. The worst moments come when the camera problem and the ambiguity coincide to cause Bramble’s biggest stumbling block.

These issues knock Bramble a few branches down the tree. It still doggedly climbs back up again because its storytelling and presentation are so well done. It made persevering through the frustrations a lot easier because I was so invested in finding out the fates of Olle and his sister.

Hell, as is the norm these days, some of the issues may even be gone within weeks of the game’s release. That would be great, because it deserves to be the best version of itself.

Picking Out the Thorns

My time with Bramble: The Mountain King ended up being a bit of a rollercoaster. I came in slightly skeptical of what it had to offer beyond the clips I’d seen doing the rounds on various social media platforms.

Yet I found myself impressed with what I actually got. Right up until the game starts to get in its own way.

But by the time I finished it, I knew it’d stick with me because of its strongest moments. The utterly bleak and cruel story beats juxtaposed with the sweet storybook fairytale parts in a manner that really stunned me at times. Flawed as it might be, I can’t help but admire the game and its developer for what it has created.

Bramble: The Mountain King is available on PS5 on April 27, 2023.

Review code kindly provided by publisher.



The Final Word

It’s a shame Bramble: The Mountain King has such frustrating level design drawbacks because it undercuts a beautifully dark and disturbing fable. It’s not doing a whole lot as a game that helps it stick out either, but the narrative structure behind it rescues it from the clutches of true disappointment.