Have you ever wondered what it would be like to traverse a fantasy landscape (littered with wolves, giants, and sea turtles), while tied to your brother with a ten-foot long rope? Are you exceptionally adequate at drawing a straight line with one hand, while painting still-life with the other? You won’t actually do that in Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons, but the control scheme will bring you very close to it.
The game begins with one of many very dark and almost gut-wrenching cut scenes, revealing the watery demise of the main characters’ mother. After the initial, “wow, already?” moment, we fade back into present time, with Younger Brother (Naiee) sitting over his mother’s grave. He is jolted out of his trance by the other main character, Older Brother (Naia), who is somewhat carrying their sick father by means of a make-shift cart. Older Brother yells at him in the game’s unique gibberish (no actual words are spoken the entire length of the game), and the adventure kicks off. The brothers are tasked with finding a special medicine (the “Water of Life”) for their father, that only exists in a certain area, far on the other side of the land. In the three to four hours of gameplay (total), it will take loads of teamwork, and a plethora of problem solving techniques to reach the quested area and retrieve the elixir.
Thanks to Starbreeze Studios, the land is gorgeously rendered, and feels constantly like you’re wandering through a 3D oil painting. The lighting is also top notch, however, the character models are so-so. They don’t look bad, but on a close-up, they just don’t hold as much weight as the surrounding world, which literally left me breathless on a couple of instances. The characters seem a bit too early-gen 3D, with hair that looks like you could break it off, put it on a stick, and roast it over a campfire. The creatures in the world look close to the same way that the brothers do (only slightly better), which is a good thing, because it helps to unify everything nicely. Textures are present on the characters and creatures, just like the surrounding lands, which handle lighting and shading very well, giving them a seamlessly blended appearance.
The world the brothers inhabit is full of unique creatures, some of which will help them along their way, while others attempt to hinder their progress. At one point, a mushroom infested troll makes his presence known, and offers to help the boys platform their way to their goal, but only if they help him, as well. It seems his significant other has been kidnapped, and trapped in a nearby castle by other, meaner trolls. Once you help him and his lady friend reunite, it’s off for more adventure, and more incredible creatures. Also occupying the land, are the likes of wolves, giant sea turtles, griffins, and even horribly deadly sentient trees that live in the side of a cliff. The creatures, although not all unique themselves, are all portrayed through the game’s own style. Wolves are very dark, with brightly lit eyes. The trolls are typical trolls, but with the addition of mushrooms growing off of them, and facial expressions that will punch your heart while wearing brass knuckles. With this in mind, the creatures in Brothers are the recipients of my X Factor nod.
The control scheme is fairly brilliant, and pretty flawless. Playing on the Xbox 360, the trigger buttons act as the “action” buttons, allowing you to hold onto ledges, climb vines, and grab different levers. Left Trigger and Left analog stick control Older Brother, while the Right Trigger and analog stick control Younger Brother. The Left and Right bumpers rotate the camera back and forth, giving you limited views of the surroundings. Another, and my favorite, way to observe your environment, is by having a seat on the various benches overlooking the countryside. These offer a beautiful view and a nice rest stop to slow the game down.
My favorite section of the game concerns paddling a boat through a stretch of icy waters, while you dodge creatures strongly resembling Orcas, as they jump out of (and back into) the water around you like Asian carp. The paddle strokes used to control the boat are uncannily realistic. Want to turn right? Use Older Brother (situated on the left side of the boat) only, and let YB have a rest. Need to turn left sharply? YB pushes forward, while OB back strokes.
Once your fingers adjust to, “YOU, go here…YOU, go there”, the controls become second nature, allowing you to send the two brothers into different sections of the screen to accomplish different tasks.
Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons is an adventure/platformer riddled with puzzles, and you will need complete cooperation from both of your thumbs to advance. The story (impressively told through a gibberish-based language, mannerisms, and the environment), at times, will rip your heart from your chest, and puree it in a blender. It will, then, however, mold it back together with some rubber cement, warm it in the oven, and place it back in your chest before the scene is over. The visuals are outstanding, and the overall presentation is wonderful, even if it is a bit short.