When you face losing someone you love, it can be difficult to accept that the world will keep on turning without them.
In Brothers, a new XBLA game by Starbreeze Studios, two nameless boys embark on an epic journey to retrieve a rare ingredient that may cure their ailing father. From humble beginnings in their idyllic, sun-dappled seaside village, their travels take them to some wondrous locations, including a corpse-laden giant's battleground where the rivers literally run red, to a quiet and remote castle in the sky, and a frozen, faraway village that hides a dangerous secret.
But though you witness a strange and magical land unfolding all around them, and see first-hand how infinitesimal these siblings and their family are in the grand scheme of things, your focus never slips away from their painful personal journey. With some settings reminiscent of Ico, and story beats similar to Journey, Brothers is a tale in the same tone, but it's the shared bond between the two siblings that manages to make their story a very unique experience.
This is a bond that is strengthened through the game's controls, which has each brother's movements mapped to their own individual thumb stick, and their interactions to each trigger button; left stick and trigger for the older sibling, right for the younger. Though mastering their simultaneous actions can take some practice, it opens up some interesting opportunities later in the game, where the brothers take one another's lives in their hands, and the visual treat of achieving perfect platforming synchronicity is its own reward.
They share several magical moments, from piloting a hang glider and riding on mountain goats to teaming up to take down larger opponents, and in those rare and heartbreaking moments when the pair are separated, you too feel their anxiety, loneliness and fear.
Prior to the game's release, the developers at Starbreeze Studios had often stated their intention of never repeating a puzzle or challenge throughout the story's duration, and aside from a few simple traversal techniques, Brothers does succeed in keeping things almost totally fresh throughout its 2-3 hour run time. This, coupled with the rapidly changing and widely varied environments, keeps you on your toes and always guessing as to what might be around the next corner.
The Achievements in Brothers are an interesting diversion from by-now standard Achievement systems found in other games. None of the Achievements on offer in Brothers are in any way related to the game's overarching narrative; instead, almost every individual achievement tells its own self-contained story, and several are involving little puzzles in their own right.
These puzzles may be as simple as dunking a white rabbit in a pile of soot so that a group of nearby black bunnies accept it, but a few are slightly more complex. For instance, the Achievement 'A Sad Tune,' available later on in the game, is earned in several steps. After first rescuing a man intent on ending his own life, you can then investigate the reason for his grief and finally, help him find a small measure of peace. It's quite an affecting little tale, one that you might have missed completely by rushing on by to the next narrative objective.
It's difficult to talk about for fear of spoilers, but grief, and all the complex emotions it engenders, is a central theme of Brothers. The shock and emptiness felt, the loneliness, the anger - the way grief slows time and makes even the simplest tasks feel Herculean in effort. And eventually, the acceptance and acknowledgement that you can, and must, go on. Brothers boldly attempts to address a few of those feelings by its final act, and it also manages to tie a few neat little ideas back to its control scheme in the process.
The tale of these two sons is taken to some very dark places, and like the best fairy tales, the macabre is equally mixed with the magical. This is a world full of stories, all unfolding, interlocking and touching one another in different and profound ways. It's a bold creative vision, one that the often simplistic art direction of the game cannot always match. But despite some slight technical let downs, and its sometimes underwhelming aesthetics, Brothers is a rather beautiful tale of love and loss, of fables and fairy tales, and of family most of all.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons launches today. Download it here for 1200 MP.
Bold, bizarre, and bittersweet
- Touching story
- Inventive controls
- Glimpse into a fascinating world
- Visuals fail to match creative vision
- Camera can be unintuitive