Review: Brothers A Tale of Two Sons tells of an emotional experience with slightly frustrating controls
The XBLA Summer of Arcade is here and with it comes a slew of (hopefully) great games that will make you want to reach for that wallet and buy them all. First up is Starbreeze Studios' adventure game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, and with it, one of the more unique games thanks to its odd control scheme.
Brothers tells a tale of two boys, on a quest to find a cure for their dying father. However, instead of delivering this narrative through the english spoken language, the game relies on gibberish. This is actually quite effective for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that the player can take away from it what he or she wants, depending on how they interpret it. It's not like different players will understand the story completely differently, but rather the context of each gibberish line spoken within the game. It makes the story relate on a more personal level. Of course, it also means that Starbreeze really had to make sure that every action and reaction by both the brothers and various NPCs had to be clear and concise, as to clearly understand what's happening, and what's being asked of them.
The bulk of Brothers' charm lies in their individual personalities. The younger brother, being more mischievous, as well as inquisitive is always wondering about his surroundings, whereas the older brother is rather focused on the task at hand, being the helpful and supportive older sibling he needs to be.
One of the key features that set Brothers aside from almost any give in the genre is its entirely unique control scheme. Each brother is tied to a separate control stick, meaning the left one controls one of the brothers, while the right controls the other. Actions are then performed by holding down the respective triggers.
I'd love to say it's something you get used to over time, but even by the end game my brain struggled with navigating each brother precisely. When they're on the correct side of the screen which corresponds with their respective analog sticks, everything is mostly fine. It's when they switch sides that your brain gets confused, and you'll start making them move in abnormal ways that you certainly don't want them to.
I guess it's a relief then that the game doesn't focus on combat whatsoever. In fact, many of the enemies you come across in the game you simply have to run away from, albeit in some rather inventive ways.
Even with these often confusing controls, the interaction between the brothers which is often used for various puzzle solving is downright precious. The younger brother can't swim for example, so he needs to hold on to the older one while he traverses the water. Sometimes a ledge might be just a tad bit high for him, which means the older brother has to then hoist him up. The younger brother does have his advantages as well. His small size for example allows him to pass through barred gates, in order to flip a switch and allow his big brother to pass through. These puzzles showcase brotherly love on a fairly interactive level, and it's always endearing to see each one help the other. It also helps form a symbiotic bond between the two brothers and the player.
Brothers also has some truly gorgeous environments, from tall valleys, to underground caverns, dying forests with rivers of blood flowing through them, to icy landscapes. It's a wide variety of environments that change up quite frequently. One of the last areas particularly, which revolve around a giant tree, is pure spectacle.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a fantastic start for the Summer of Arcade 2013. While it's not the happiest of games (I admit, I teared up a few times) it proves it can more than deliver on a fantastic narrative without a single word of actual dialogue. Frustrating controls aside, you shouldn't hesitate to make Brothers a part of your XBLA library.