Brother – A Tale of Two Sons – What We Think:
This solo co-op game, (a term I stole from Capybara Games‘ fall 2013 trailer for Super Time Force and one that should probably become a de facto gaming term) first launched as part of XBOX 360’s 2013 Summer of Arcade series) and subsequently on Steam.
The game says it requires a gamepad to play which I thought was interesting until I played it. The core mechanic, you see, requires that you use the left thumbstick to control the older brother and the right thumbstick for the younger, smaller brother.
Out of the Depths…
Brothers begins with a rather dire cinematic wherein the boys watch their mother drown from where they helplessly cry out to her from a rowboat. Shortly thereafter you are introduced to the actual world where they are wheeling their ailing father in a cart to the nearest medic/soothsayer for help.
This gentle introductory quest serves as the tutorial wherein you discover that in order to move the cart, one brother must grab the front handles and the other the back and you must manipulate both in tandem to maneuver it along the winding path to the objective. To act on an object you simply pull the corresponding trigger for the brother whom you want to activate.
This beautifully-realized, simple control scheme is perfect for what will essentially become a series of increasingly complex platformer puzzles you solve in the ultimate test of your ambidexterity. The game is indeed a platformer on rails, despite that fact that the developers have successfully created a lush, immersive world in a style reminiscent of Lionhead Studios’ Fable series.
The 3D environments create the illusion that you are moving into, along and through it, but ultimately you are merely progressing along a series of platforms; jumping, climbing, cranking and manipulating objects therein.
In fact, though the game is somewhat linear, there is always some interesting new way in which you are being pushed toward the finish line. Without giving too much away, some uniquely animated NPCs join you for parts of your journey to transport you to difficult areas in rather astonishing ways.
A Scenic Outlook
Occasionally you will discover a park bench upon which you can take a seat and the camera will zoom in to afford you a beautiful vista – a hint that the developers are proud of their design and want you to sometimes just take a moment to enjoy the view.
But beyond these postcard-worthy scenic points, there are many small activities you can partake of so that the world feels more alive; a young girl is playing with a ball – press a trigger and one of your brothers will take that ball from her and pass it back, or even take a jumpshot from the three-point line at a basket. You encounter an old man playing a harp by a rushing riverbed – pull the trigger to have one of the brothers take their turn at playing the instrument much to the old man’s delight.
While these little activities have little to do with your progression towards finding the tree of life that you seek to heal your father, they promote a sense of curiosity and wonder that elevates this game to a higher emotional ground.
The Left Hand Talking to the Right Hand
Insofar as the core gameplay, what is truly novel is the way that each brother, with their respective advantages (basically height differences) must always act together to solve puzzles, but of interest here is the way in which you must often perform their actions – which can often be quite different from the other – at the same time.
For example, in one sequence, the younger brother, climbs up onto a landing after getting a boost from his brother up to a rope ladder, and then, pulling the right trigger, you must crank the thumb stick while you negotiate when to pull the left trigger in time for the older brother to hop up and grab a moving chain and hold on as he is pulled through a giant vice grip which is being held open by the younger brothers continuous cranking, until the left hand brother arrives safely to the next landing.
Though the actions at first seems bit repetitive – getting a boost to a landing, scaling a wall, hopping across a gap – the devs find refreshing new ways to introduce new combinations, where timing is also a factor. Of course the brothers can never be so far apart as to exit the screen, so whenever they get to the opposite extremes of the field of view, you know that the solution to the puzzle is within reach.
Brothers is not an RPG – you do not level up, score points or collect items. You will, however, eventually engage in some challenging boss fights, so there is an element of “combat” involved, but like any good boss fight, it will be about finding the weakness in your over-sized gatekeeper and exploiting it.
I Hear You Loud and Clear
In Brothers, the characters all speak an abstract language, not unlike the Sims, which helps to make the game accessible to anyone around the world; the story is still very clear, and any time you feel confused so to what to do next, you can simply pull the left or right trigger and will get some form of easy to understand prompt.
This is a game wherein the incredible attention to detail in the artwork does not become a way to mask a dodgy game design. In fact both work together in perfect harmony – leading to an interesting, and well-crafted game that also meets the highest standards in production value.
All Together Now
I had a terrific experience with it, and chose to review it now, because I feel it was grossly overlooked during the busy summer months. In fact Brothers is one of the best games I have played all year. It is really a game for the Casual gamer, meaning that anyone of any age could pick it up, but the mechanic that has you basically making circles on your chest with one hand while tapping your head with the other, requires legitimate coordination and feels like a visceral full-body engagement.
The only thing that prevents me from giving it a perfect score is the questionable replayability – once you have made your way through the game, there will likely be little deviation from your original experience as the world is not randomly-generated, is on rails, and the puzzles – while eventually requiring some real coordination and cleverness – will remain the same.
Then again, so will the rides at Disneyland. It may be a place you want to visit over again, just because it was such an amazing trip the first time around.
Watch the launch trailer for Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons: