Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons (PC, X360, PS3) (2013)
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Review by Faididi and Co.
The ultimate bro epic
Story: Above Average
When their father falls gravely ill, two brothers set out on a quest to find the magical Water of Life to save him. The simple plot and the sappy themes of family bonds can't be any more familiar, but they don't take away from the subtler details of the game's medieval fantasy world that make it so fascinating. Seen in passing glimpses, like the aftermath of a giants' war in the valleys and the frozen remains of an invading army in the mountains, these details give tantalizing hints of the horrors hiding in the story's background.
Starbreeze Studios' Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is an action puzzler that's all about two heroes teaming up to overcome everything in their way. It easily draws comparisons to Sony's Ico at first, thanks to its pair of main protagonists and a few similarities in its aesthetics, but unlike that adventure, A Tale of Two Sons requires both of its heroes to be directly controlled at once, and its level design is also more linear and compact. As such, comparisons to CS Ware's Kurikuri Mix (The Adventures of Cookie and Cream) are more apt.
Through an unusually elaborate prologue, 7 main chapters, and then a fitting epilogue, the brothers will encounter obstacles that can be beaten only through their cooperation. They share basic moves but differ in other abilities, similar to the playable duo of Artificial Mind and Motion's Time Busters. For example, the big brother can pull heavy levers and swim, carrying his sibling along, while the little brother can squeeze through narrow spaces, allowing him to reach important switches.
What makes A Tale of Two Sons so remarkable is the way it keeps varying the puzzles, requiring the brothers to play with rail platforms inside a cavern one moment, to avoid monsters in a haunted forest the next, to anchor each other's swings at a giant castle afterward, and so forth. Although the game is relatively brief and offers its share of tried-and-true ledge-climbing challenges, it eschews generic enemies in favor of obstacles that are cleverly presented and seldom repeated, resulting in each area enjoyably standing apart from the rest.
Controls: Above Average
The controls can't be customized, but that isn't a problem, because they're very simple and responsive, and they're designed to accommodate either 1 or 2 Players. In contrast to Kurikuri Mix, A Tale of Two Sons has puzzles that are more gently paced and easier to solve for single Players unused to directly controlling a pair of heroes simultaneously. The cutscenes can't be skipped, though.
The visuals are pleasantly rendered, showing off colorfully animated characters and gorgeously illuminated environments. Despite the serious tone of the game, there's also something humorous about seeing the brothers instantly going limp and ragdolling as soon as they make a bad jump, bump into a wolf, or smack into some other hazard. At least loading back to the frequently placed checkpoints is fast.
Audio: Above Average
The music is so-so when it isn't screeching sharply against the ears. Luckily, the sound effects and especially the vocal effects are perfectly done. Like Ico, A Tale of Two Sons features characters who speak in constructed languages. However, it does so on an entirely different level, having the brothers maintain more dialogue as they exert themselves across the areas outside the cutscenes.
For a compact action puzzler, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons does pretty much everything right. Its story is simple yet filled with interesting little details, and its voice acting is exceptional even by the standards of constructed languages. Most importantly of all, its highly creative puzzle design is full of unique obstacles that make every scene a memorable one, and nothing can be more impressive than that.