Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons review (XBLA)
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by 505 Games. It was released August 7, 2013 for 1200 MSP. A copy was provided for review purposes.
Known for its extensive portfolio of dark and gritty shooters, this humble offering from Starbreeze Studios is a sharp left turn into delicate territory. Framed in vibrant fantasy, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons follows two boys whose father has suddenly fallen ill. The only known cure for his elusive illness exists far away, and so they embark on a perilous journey through dungeons, caves, and forests in desperate pursuit to save his life.
At the core of Brothers is an unprecedented mechanic. You have simultaneous control of both siblings—each one delegated to a control stick and its corresponding trigger as their context-sensitive action button. As you explore the gorgeous vistas of the fairytale land, you must control both brothers cooperatively to solve puzzles, climb mountains, and occasionally outsmart the beasts to reach your mystic destination together.
Here’s what we liked:
Split-brain co-op – Naturally, this simultaneous twin-stick character mechanic takes some getting used to, but it’s also a refreshingly unique concept that makes Brothers a completely different experience from anything else. It turns simple things like walking and exploring into a multi-tasking mind game that feels surprisingly interesting, as if you were learning dual-analog shooting controls again. Players will undoubtedly get mixed up, especially when you roam the boys to opposite sides of their sticks on the controller. Luckily, the puzzles have been designed with that in mind, as both the architecture and automatic camera frame the brothers on their respective sides so you don’t get confused.
No arbitrary collecting – This may seem like an odd commendation, but these days it seems every story-driven experience is bogged down by pointless trinkets scattered around the furthest corners of its linear path. These treasure hunts only succeed at interrupting the game’s flow so you can scan every inch of ground like a mechanized vacuum cleaner. Instead, Brothers uses interactive wonders hidden in plain sight that beg for your curiosity. Each contains a secret that unlocks an achievement, but they won’t be given without a bit of thought.
I spy with my two guys – Brothers has a breathtaking view around every corner. We may never know what kind of collaboration goes on between level designers, architects and artists to create such a seamless world, but somehow Starbreeze has created caverns, mountains and castles that all connect into one mysterious journey. Whenever you find a bench, the boys can plop down for a rest while the camera pans to highlight the gorgeous landscapes and the soundtrack stirs the wonder. To add to this otherworldly atmosphere, all the dialogue is unintelligible gibberish. Unlike your campfire ghost story, this tale is told only by vocal inflection and emphatic animation, leaving the exact words spoken up to your imagination.
A Grimm tale – You might not know that your childhood fairy tales like Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty, and even Little Red Riding Hood are actually quite gruesome and obscene in their original Brothers Grimm telling. Similarly, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons begins with a morose but manageable conflict in a backdrop of a cozy village and light danger. However, the game takes a very dark turn as you stumble upon turmoil and strife spat out by the cruel nature in this fantasy world. The brothers must face it together, and you get to experience how much they depend on each other to be strong through the dangers of a strange frontier. Their journey culminates in a powerful testament to the profound beauty of family love and the pain we willingly suffer to preserve it, just like the morals of our childhood fairy tales.
Here’s what we didn’t like:
Small Tale – Your first playthrough will only take about three hours. However, whether or not this is a problem may differ for some people. In the scope of the game, three hours is plenty of time to experience and appreciate the arc of the story with enough variety in puzzles and trials. In fact, to draw out the tale longer might have detracted from the experience. If you’re the kind of person who rates dollars spent against hours of play, this is not the game for you. However, if you want to experience that child-like wonder of discovery and can appreciate the intricate care of an artistic experience, you will be more than happy with this game—especially after going back to unlock the secrets.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons marks yet another example into the debate of quality versus quantity as it presents a setting and conflict rarely explored in games today. Whether or not you buy this game, Brothers is a bold and creative step to enrich our industry past cheap thrills and shock value and into sacred territory that explores humanity, family, and growing up.
Score: Buy It