This is a phenomenal game I’d recommend to almost anyone.
I first heard about Brothers when it was gathering some buzz as the latest smaller-budget game to be trying something nobody else had done before. The notion of controlling two characters at once was intriguing, though I didn’t expect it to be much more than a gimmick. Then YouTube personality TotalBiscuit started calling it his favourite game of all time, beating even his beloved Deus Ex. How could I not be intrigued?
Even so, I was stunned by just how good Brothers turned out to be.
It starts you off in the siblings’ home village, carting your sickly dad to a priest and being sent on a grand journey to find him a cure. It’s the simplest story in the world, but what’s impressive is how emotionally attached your become to the brothers. Despite having no names and speaking only gibberish, they convey personality through their interactions with each other and the world; Big Blue is strong and leaderlike, whereas Little Orange is agile and mischievous.
The village introduces the unique control scheme with straightforward puzzles and its art design, while pretty, is bog-standard fantasy fare. As you venture into the wilderness, though, the challenges become more complex and your surroundings increasingly unfamiliar. Without a line of dialogue and only some basic cutscenes, Brothers successfully communicates that you’re straying into the dangerous unknown and creates a charming fairy tale atmosphere. And the key ingredient to this magic is the controls.
I can’t give specific examples without major spoilers, but the game establishes right at the start that the siblings need to work together to get things done. Little Orange might slip through some bars and open the gate from the other side, say. Then you start having to negotiate jumping puzzles with both brothers at once, turning what would be a simple platform section into an exercise in patience and precision. Once the adventure was truly under way, I found myself losing count of how many times I muttered “wow” at the variety of satisfying ways the game’s core mechanic is put to use. It’s an experience that feels very well thought-out, to the extent that I was often rewarded for applying a bit of simple real world logic to a situation. How do you get that big pipe through that narrow gap? Inch forward, then reverse into that corner, spin around and proceed. Even the more straightforward tasks become so much more interesting because of the controls, and it really is hard to explain without just telling you to try the game yourself.
Once I started to feel attached to the lads, I was all the more surprised to find the game straying into dark territory that I haven’t seen in many other titles. I refuse to spoil, but these moments add emotional variety and stand as a towering example of how to apply the “less is more” rule of storytelling to an interactive medium. This is a game that says more simply by not letting you control a character at a specific moment than the entire script of some big-budget titles. I might go so far as to rank Brothers alongside Papers, Please as a game that blends mechanics near-flawlessly into its narrative, and in places it also dabbles the environmental storytelling that Dark Souls uses so effectively.
In short, Brothers left me genuinely astonished. Other than a bug that caused me to fall through the floor at one point, I struggled long and hard to think of meaningful criticisms before deciding I had none. It’s a beautiful, compelling and perfectly-paced emotional rollercoaster that might’ve been great as a straightforward old-school platformer, but becomes truly special as a result of the near-seamless integration of story and mechanics. I’d go so far as to call it necessary play for anyone who wants to see how games can use their strengths to create narratives, rather than try to ape Hollywood and end up pleasing nobody. Gaming has had an image problem in the mainstream for a long time but Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a clear example to use in its defence.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is out now for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
Image rights: 505 Games