Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a fairy tale of a game. It’s a straightforward story filled with wonder, emotion, and life lessons. Like Journey, Brothers is a small game that conveys so much without even a spoken or written word of dialogue. Saying that Starbreeze Studios has created one of 2013’s most unique interactive experiences is easily an understatement.
Brothers opens with the younger brother, Little, kneeling at the grave of his mother. A quick flashback shows her tragic drowning in front of Little, caught helplessly on a boat during a storm. We cut back to reality where the older brother, Big, asks Little to help him with something. The brothers’ father is dying and needs his sons to transport him via wheelbarrow to the town doctor. The doctor presents the boys with a map to the only cure that can save their father.
Off the bat, Brothers features a story darker than most games and presents what prove to be key themes in the story: death and grief. The two siblings travel a tremendous distance and across unbelievable lands to save the life of someone they love. Throughout the journey, death is ever-present, whether by passing through a town hit with the plague or a silent battlefield after a war. Despite containing zero explicit dialogue, Brothers’ storytelling will engross you with its cinematic feel, which likely comes from Starbreeze collaborating with Swedish film director Josef Fares.
A lot of what I learned about the world and story came from observing the environment, watching characters’ actions, and listening to sounds, music, and the tones of characters’ voices. This all-inclusive design is simple, yet executed beautifully. This is a game to take your time with. When there are chances to interact with other characters or other objects, do so, as each brother will reveal more about his distinct personality. Benches throughout the game are positioned at select angles to sit on and take in the marvelous vistas. Brothers is not a particularly long game, at around three to four hours, so make the most of the experience and moments like these.
When taking control of the game, you will immediately be introduced to the game’s unorthodox control scheme. Each analog stick controls one of the brothers’ movement and the respective side’s second shoulder button functions as that brother’s action button. While these controls sound simple enough, they can be difficult to master. Controlling two characters simultaneously to traverse broad landscapes and solve numerous puzzles gave me a challenge whose only close relative may be the dual-screen, real-time combat in Tetsuya Nomura’s Nintendo DS hit The World Ends With You. After some time, I got better at Brothers’ controls, but still didn’t find them intuitive, which was clearly intentional. They are designed to let you feel the difficulty of coordinating one’s actions with another person. Very near the end of the game is a moment where even deeper meaning is placed on these controls–the revelation made me gasp “Wow” and made any previous difficulty I had with the layout worth it. It’s a fine achievement when a game’s controls, let alone its ending, can nearly bring a tear to my eye.
Meanwhile, the art design of Brothers is straight out of storybooks from days of yore. Human characters have a cartoonish-caricature style to them while other creatures come in a large breadth of shapes and sizes. Landscapes range from green rolling hills to a snow-covered frozen ocean. There are sights I never thought I’d see in a game. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect to see next as my journey through Brothers progressed. The rhythm of surprise after surprise kept me curious and engaged throughout. That’s why it was a shame to have graphical performance hiccups that took me out of Brothers’ fairy tale world. Textures would pop-in late somewhat frequently, and I occasionally experienced framerate stutter. Luckily, none of it was game-breaking–just a hinderance to an enchanting time.
I highly recommend Brothers to anyone seeking an adventure game with more maturity in its storytelling. It’s a game that focuses on cooperation and how we deal with death–a stark contrast to killing wave after wave of enemies. Unfortunately, I can’t say I found anything, other than the ending gameplay portion, to be close to a revelation. Brothers is certainly reliable and solid for the most part, yet only time will tell if this tale becomes a legend.