Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons is the latest game by Swedish game developer Starbreeze Studios. Like the title suggests, this is the tale of two sons that embark on a fabled journey to save their dying father. The game begins with the younger of the brothers, Naiee, paying his respects at his mother’s tombstone. With the aid of a flashback we discover that she drowned at sea while he tried to save her. His elder brother, Nyaa, calls him to help him carry their ill father to the village’s doctor. This is where you first get to try out the unconventional control scheme. You control each brother independently with the left and right analog sticks, and each brother has an action button with the corresponding trigger button. This unusual way of controlling the game is at first confusing, but your brain quickly adjusts to it and you soon get the hang of it. This sort of single player co-op helps create a sense of synergy with the two brothers.
Now on with the story, from which I’ll keep the details as scarce as I can! After all, this charming story needs to be experienced firsthand to be fully appreciated. The village’s doctor tells the young siblings that the only way to save their father is by collecting the waters from the Tree of Life. And so the journey begins, and the two brothers embark on their epic journey that takes them through the village, hills, ruins and mountains, all along facing challenges such as deadly wolves, an equally deadly farmer’s dog and many more non-canine foes. As part of their quest to the Tree of Life they also find the time to help others along the way, such as reuniting a friendly pair of trolls that have a distinctive Nordic charm. There’s also another incident with a man at the edge of desperation. I think this particular incident was expertly executed, a testament to how well this game conveys story and in particular emotion, especially considering that both brothers (and indeed all of the NPCs) speak gibberish; they mumble along like a Sims character but you understand everything they’re saying and everything they’re feeling.
This is in no small part thanks to first time game director and award winning Swedish filmmaker Josef Fares. His wide shots expertly show off the massive world, and how tiny our two little heroes are in relation to it. Brothers reminds me a lot of Ico; with the interaction of two characters (one stronger with the other more vulnerable). With the platforming and the puzzling it’s clear Brothers owes it a debt. But where I think it surpasses it is in the way it deals with death and the imminent danger of it. Naiee the younger brother is afraid of water, which means he needs the support of his older brother to cross lakes and small rivers. When this support is not present your heart starts racing as you try to get the two analog sticks to work together; you quickly try to remember which hand is right, which one is left and you get a sense of genuine panic. OK, you get a similar feeling in Ico, when the shadows take Yorda, but the fact that in this game you’re in control of both characters somehow creates a greater panic.
Tying the story and game together you have a lot of platforming and simple puzzles, something that I found was right for this type of game, where you want to enjoy the story telling. Nothing gets in the way of it, not even achievements, all of which can be missed because they are not story related in any way.
Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons gets a recommendation from me. Yes, most of the puzzles are very easy and it won’t slow down a seasoned gamer. Well, apart from the “to me to you” moment I had while trying to negotiate a large pipe through a particularly tight part of the map, but I think that was mostly my fault for going the long way around. Overall Brothers is a charming little game expertly directed by Josef Fares. The control scheme, however frustrating at points, is still a welcome breath of fresh air and the way the characters convey story through their pretend-speak is fantastic. An excellent example of gameplay and narrative which is full of personality, this is another triumph from Starbreeze.
Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons is out now on XBLA, PS3 and Steam. XBLA version tested.