Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Review: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (360)

From the very moment the game begins, to the very last second, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons on Xbox Live Arcade has one of the most unforgettable, emotionally draining and melancholy game narratives ever in a game. Coupled with good puzzle-action gameplay and a superior visual style that will invoke memories of classic titles Ico and LIMBO, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a great game that will haunt the heartstrings of anybody that plays it.

From the opening scene, we see loss in the lives of the brothers – in this case, Little Brother – who lives with the guilt of seeing his mother drown. Too small, too tiny, too frail to do anything but watch her sink into the depths of her watery grave; it is an important moment, because is establishes his fear of the water that will appear whenever water obstacles must be traversed. And then there's his Big Brother, faced with looking after his guilt-ridden little brother while facing a new family dilemma: Father is sick and injured, and only a special medicine can heal him, which will require a long and dangerous journey that the brothers must make to save his life.

What is unique in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is that it is a co-op game, for one gamer. Left thumbstick on the controller handles Big Brother, right thumbstick controls Little Brother. It can be rather easy to get disoriented while running/walking each of the brothers, especially if they get crisscrossed (Big Brother on the right, Little Brother on the left), but once one gets used to the controls, it isn't as confusing, although parts of the game where there's running involved while escaping impending doom can still be stressful while worrying about the controls.

Also, a point of frustration is the rappelling up and across walls. This needs to be done by switching control of the brothers, and takes some real getting used to, with some aggravating unintended falls from the more-difficult-than-it-needs-to-be climbing controls.


Big Brother is the stronger of the two; he'll lift up Little Brother to get up onto platforms or unreachable items like ladders. He'll also carry Little Brother on his back while swimming, and carry heavy objects. Little Brother can climb through small spaces in fences and gates, to get to places his big brother can't. Working in tandem, the brothers solve the game's puzzles and defeat the many large enemies they will face including menacing trolls and a dangerous and deadly large spider. Puzzles for the most part are rather easy to solve. In fact, up until halfway through the game, gamers may wonder if Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is too easy, because you almost have to try to fail and "die." Eventually, the gameplay gets more challenging, particularly in the face of tougher enemies.

Throughout, it's not the gameplay that will have gamers enraptured or the pretty visuals. Ico comes to mind when looking at the art styling of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, only more brightly and colorfully enhanced. Reminders of Braid also are an appropriate comparison.

Even more impressive than the pretty visualizations is the stunningly touching emotional tugging
into the world of the brothers, racing against time and multiple enemies in order to save their father from joining their mother in the grave. The game does a remarkable job conveying emotion through actions, not words, as all characters talk a gibberish language. Attention is needed to their actions on-screen to understand not only what they are feeling, but also what they require next to get one step closer to completing the long adventure. Constantly, emotion is the driving factor in the narrative.

The terror Little Brother has near water, the smitten, amorous affection of Big Brother with the mysterious (and it turns out deadly) pretty young girl, the absolutely total despair and sadness of Little Brother and his father in the last stages of the game. Without ruining the ending, the last 30 minutes of gameplay in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was the saddest I've played in a very long time. It will meaningfully haunt the emotions of anybody that experiences it.

Like an exceptionally well-done dramatic movie or must-read book just too good to stop watching or put down, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has striking visuals, a strong narrative and good-enough puzzles. However, it will be most remembered for its engrossing, dramatic and emotionally charged adventure.

Lee Cieniawa

The Good:
- One of the most emotionally draining and melancholy game narratives coupled with a superior visual style that will invoke memories of Ico and LIMBO

The Bad:
- Easy to get disoriented while running/walking each of the brothers, especially if they get crisscrossed
- Rappelling across walls while needing to switch between brothers takes some real getting used to, with some aggravating unintended falls from the more-difficult-than-it-needs-to-be climbing controls

Score: 9.0 / 10

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