Game Review: Brothers

Game, BrothersReviewed on Playstation 3, Official Website

Rated “T” for Teen

Many successful indie games feature a novel game play mechanic (or several). The world-revealing ink splatter of “The Unfinished Swan” [Our Review] is immediately understandable and visually stunning. The “light equals existence” rule of “Closure” and the shadow-play of “Contrast” [Our Review] need a few moments of experimentation, but quickly become second nature. Indy games excel at exploring gimmicks.

[The game was recently made part of Sony’s “Instant Game Collection”. For PlayStation Plus users there is absolutely no reason not to try this game.]

“Brothers” is based on a gimmick, but one that, at least for me, remained frustrating through the whole experience. The majority of the game is played as two brothers. The left analog stick and triggers control one and the right analog stick and triggers control the other. Simultaneously. It’s an intriguing idea, but one that often left onlookers wondering if the game featured drunken children. The only way that such an odd, frustrating control scheme could possibly work is if the rest of the game was polished to virtual perfection.

It’s a good thing that’s what it is, then.

It’s a gorgeous, deeply emotional game. The story is simple and understandable despite the lack of (intelligible) dialog. Their father has fallen ill: the brother’s must embark on a dangerous journey to retrieve a magical elixir to cure him. The boys each have distinct and likable personalities that come through in every interaction and movement. Big brother is responsible, thoughful and just; little brother is playful, impulsive and self-centered.

While essentially a linear experience there are plenty of nooks and crannies and odd tasks for the brothers to complete on their journey. Most progression is based on cooperative mechanics. Little brother can squeeze into places big brother can’t fit. Big brother can offer boosts and pull levers two difficult for little brother. There are times when the brothers much stay close together and times when they must spread out.

The puzzles become more complex as the game progresses but never become truly difficult. The controls will irk you in a dozen minor ways, but in exchange the entire game is relaxing, calm and easy. If you have a philosophical bent you might consider the controls a metaphor for the brothers relationship: strained and sometimes confusing, but also simple and intuitive. The controls are frustrating, but so are brothers sometimes.

The game is rather short – it can be completed in four to six hours – but is packed astoundingly full. There’s no padding for length by reusing environments or mechanics. Each new area is unlike the last and most feature completely new ways for the brothers to interact. Post-game chapter select makes further exploration simple. You’ll probably also it to clean up the nicely simple, but sometimes obtuse, trophy list.

The world is rich and full for a pair of novice adventurers. They’ll help a friendly troll rescue his abducted bride and meet an eccentric inventor who’ll lend them his flying machine. There are fantastic monsters galore for them to trick, befriend or avoid.  There’s even a damsel in distress or two. One of the most disturbing and utterly gorgeous sequence in the game has them navigate the aftermath of an epic battle of giants. Piles of enormous, mauled carcasses litter the earth as the brothers follow a mountain stream polluted with spilled blood.

As may be fitting for a Swedish developer, the game feels like a Nordic saga. The kind of story that wide-eyed children would beg doting grandparents to recite on cold nights in front of the fire. I won’t spoil whether it’s ultimately a comedy or a tragedy, but, emotionally, it strikes its notes with crystal precision. This is a story that will stick with you long after it ends.

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