Retro Review: Brothers - A Tale Of Two Sons / by Steve Russell

Originally released last year during the Xbox 360’s Summer of Arcade through their XBLA service, Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons has since found its way to being ported across multiple platforms, and for good reason. 

Set within a sprawling, fictional, fantasy world, the story begins straight away with a young boy, little brother Naiee, paying respects at the tombstone of his mother, who they lost after drowning at sea as he tried, in vain, to save her. Older brother, Nyaa, calls him over in order to aid their sickly father and soon we are not only introduced to the unique gaming mechanics of Brothers, but thrown headfirst into the story as we are sent on a quest by the towns doctor in order to retrieve a cure from a magical tree, before it’s too late.

What comes next is a story that quickly develops, steam rolling into an incredibly immersive, beautiful and, ultimately, compelling experience. The project, led by award-winning film maker Josef Fares, borrows heavily from filmic pacing and cinematic narrative development; it also manages to strip away dialogue, replacing it instead with a made up language, unique to Brothers, yet importantly still provides its characters opportunities to clearly develop in front of you, as you interact with different things and characters along their journey. 

Part of the fun with the game is to interact with as many things as possible with each brother; it provides us with an obvious, but necessary, understanding to each of their personalities. Nyaa, as the elder, tends to be more respectful to other people and his surroundings; Naiee, on the other hand, is as precocious as they come. Nyaa takes a moment to look down a well within a village, Naiee doesn’t hesitate to spit straight into it. Moments like this help to create a connection with these, essentially, voiceless characters. 

This connection between the player and the brothers is developed further through the plethora of smart, charming and fun puzzles that comprise the bulk of the game plays action. Don’t expect any fight sequences, or button mashing with this game; instead, be prepared to enjoy well thought out, puzzle heavy experiences that utilises the games unique gaming mechanics perfectly. Each joystick and L2/R2 on the controller takes control of one brother; left for older, right for younger. At first there is an odd disconnect as you process this gaming mechanic, but once it clicks after a few minutes of gameplay, you can’t help but be impressed by its deep simplicity. 

The puzzles have obvious solutions, and the platforming is consistently fast and fun; but the puzzle and plot beats being somewhat predictable takes nothing away from the overall experience of this game, and this is down to the games successful blend between the sheer scope of the projects beautiful, epic, environments, its charming characters,and their subsequent development, and the consistently engaging gameplay. 

I recommend taking a moment whilst playing to just soak in the atmosphere that has been lavished upon every single location within this game; the developers throwing benches throughout, where the brothers can sit, specifically to allow the player to enjoy the captivating view. It would be easy to blast through this from start to ending; simply: don’t. Enjoy it for what it is, a fantasy, fairy tale that takes you from the depths of the earth, to the high peaks of the snowy mountains; through icy tundras to creeping through a giants castle. It’s a shame that the character models don’t have the same amount of detail as the games locations, when I first started playing it the characters looked as though they came from a high end Xbox game, rather than the more powerful Xbox 360/PS3 generation, but it's not enough to truly diminish the overall experience. 

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The beauty of the pacing with this game comes from being able to guide us from one location to the next so seamlessly, despite how drastically different each area is. Though, arguably, the brothers find their way from one extreme location to the other quite quickly, the story allows us to forgive this necessary pacing as we get lost within it, allowing the story to take us where it will. 

This is one of the final things that allows such justified praise for Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons; its sense of pacing is near perfect. The characterisation and subsequent development, what they manage to achieve, in the games playtime is phenomenal, showcasing and, frankly, shaming a lot of the longer AAA Titles that come out each month. The game is roughly three hours long, and its short playtime helps the experience; it really is amazing what developers Starbreeze Studios have accomplished. 

From unique platforming mechanics and puzzles, its character development, the sprawling landscapes within the game, the captivating soundtrack, and its three hour playtime, Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons is the perfect indie game. Deep, brave, and compelling, Brothers captivates in a way that leaves you feeling emotionally connected to the brothers plight throughout. Even subtle contextual elements help to create a profound emotional impact; at the beginning of the game I used Nyaa to interact with a flowerpot; he breathed it in, appreciating the smell and beauty of the flower. I then used Naiee to interact with the same flowerpot, he promptly knocked it to the ground and laughed as it smashed into pieces around him. Near the end of the game, I had an opportunity to have Naiee interact with another flowerpot, this time he chose to breathe it in and appreciate it. Poignant, yet subtle, character growth, and one that could be easily missed if you’re just ploughing through the game. Once again: don’t.  

Arguably, once you’ve finished the game, you may not feel the need to revisit it or replay it. I disagree with this; Brothers should be treated like a favourite book, or movie, and can, and should, be revisited on occasion, its three hour playtime allowing the perfect excuse to revisit the wonderful world that has been so lovingly crafted.

Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons, is another recent addition to the growing collection of truly wonderful independent games, adding fuel to the faux-intellectual debate as to whether video games can be counted as art. Play this game, experience its story, and understand that what you are experiencing is interactive art.

Brothers: A Tale Of Two Brothers is out now through XBLA, PSN Store, and on PC

★★★★

Steve "The Other Guy" Russell // @stevetendo

You can listen to Steve Russell each Monday, as he hosts a roundup of the weeks oddest news stories over @ The Totally RanDumb Podcast