Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons Review

By Michelle Balsan, 3 years ago
Another year, another Summer of Arcade. This year's edition is a little different in that it features one less title than usual. It's also a little different in that many people looked at the list of titles and didn't see that one game that immediately jumped at them as a "must-have". We recently saw the launch of the first game in the promotion, Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons, and now have to address what standard this sets for the rest of our Summer XBLA gaming. The question we have is if Brothers is a sleeper must-have title, or if this Summer of Arcade is heading down a path of mediocrity we don't want to follow.

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Brothers, briefly, is the story of two children - brothers, get it? - going on a quest to find the water of life for their ailing father. His illness is a mystery and this is the last thing that can save him. In order to attain this water, the brothers (both nameless, though one is clearly younger and the other is clearly older), set off to visit locations that will require all of their skills to pass in order to reach the water's source. The brothers have distinct personalities - the older brother is polite, while the younger is a bit of a trickster - and distinct skills - the older is stronger and the younger's stature lets him get through cage bars, for example - and being aware of this distinction is imperative to enjoying the game and playing it successfully.

One of the early pieces of information we received about Brothers was that it would be a single-player experience, despite the fact that it seems like it would be clearly given to co-op. The theory behind this decision was that you wouldn't have two people tying one shoe, and the co-operative nature of the game required the brothers to act like a single unit. Starbreeze has pulled this off successfully by splitting your controller down the middle, thus having the left trigger and thumbstick control the older brother, and the right trigger and thumbstick controlling the younger brother. While the concept is interesting, it does take some getting used to, and you will often find that you have to stop what you're doing and move the brothers to the side of the screen that lines them up with your controller so that you can successfully navigate the puzzles that are presented to you. The controls are very responsive, however, they just take adjustment since you likely haven't played much else that maps the controller as Brothers does.

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The game's puzzles are simple throughout, which of course presents two sides of a coin. On one side, the easy puzzles keep the game accessible. You're not getting frustrated by being held up for hours at a choke point or questioning your need to consult a guide. It also allows you to enjoy the experience of the game and exploring the game's world without the worry that this will be the hundredth time you've seen that same cutscene. On the other hand, you don't get the satisfaction of a job well done because the job is easy to do. You don't really have those moments where the light bulb in your brain pops on and you have the "A-ha!" moment, and this may be a detriment to some people. It shouldn't be, however, as the presentation really trumps the need for that. Also, even if you should fail at a puzzle, most likely by letting go of a ledge, Brothers is very generous with checkpoints, so there's little need to worry about getting set far back.

The locales, and the look of Brothers in general, are certainly one of the game's highlights. You're pushed along a fairly linear track for the duration of your adventure, but you should stop and see the world in which you're existing. Pressing either brother's action button will allow them to interact with certain objects, from typical switches and levers, to things like piles of rocks or wells. There are also benches situated throughout your journey that allow you to stop and take in the scenery. Not only do they offer often breath taking views of the landscape, but they give you fascinating perspective on where you've been or where you're going.

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While the gameplay is solid and the presentation is gorgeous, Brothers' biggest asset comes in the form of its ability to convey its story. Though there is speech, it is not in an intelligible language. Through the use of expressions, sound, and interactions with the environment, Brothers artfully conveys a story that has moments where you feel like you're soaring through the adventure, and moments where you can completely attach to the emotional despondency of the characters. It is possible, depending on your approach to such things, that you may feel Starbreeze's portrayal of such emotions to be a little heavy-handed, but even then, they're never without a purpose, and are well woven into the game, as opposed to feeling like they exist solely for evoking a reaction.

The achievement list in Brothers is perhaps the game's biggest curiosity. It's completely possible to play the entire game without popping a single achievement. It's really not even that you'd have to do an exceptional amount to avoid them either. None of the achievements are particularly hard. In fact, several people have already completed the title and each achievement already has a solution ready to go here on site, but absolutely none of them are necessary. If you were to play the game with blinders on, only interacting with those objects that absolutely required interaction, you would make it start to finish without earning a single point.

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All of that said, the achievements are actually quite fun to earn. Each is a gift for either solving a small puzzle or interacting with an item slightly off the beaten path. If you miss achievements on your first run, you can select chapters and go for achievements you missed, or just do a second run, as the game is short enough where that wouldn't be a huge time sink.

The topic of the game's length actually sheds light on Brothers' one major negative - it's short. Really short. If you're really taking your time and exploring all the vistas, it will take you somewhere between three and five hours. The game also only has replay value based on how thorough you choose to be the first time around. This is perhaps attributable to having Josef Fares, who is the filmmaker behind Leo and Zozo, at the helm of the project. The game plays like a movie - it's compact, it takes you on a ride emotionally, it doesn't outstay its welcome. As a result, it's also a short ride, especially when compared to typical lengths of games.

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At 800 MSP, Brothers would be an absolute no-brainer to recommend. It's visually stunning, emotionally captivating, and, bottom line, an amazing gaming experience. Given its short length, 1200 MSP is a more difficult sell. With the only real downside being that the game isn't long, I'd like to encourage you to think about the game as an investment against other forms of entertainment like, say, going to a movie. If you'd pay $15 to go see something that lasts about two hours on the big screen, there's no reason to skip on Brothers, which offers an incredible experience in its brief downloadable package.

Going back to our question at the top, there are those who really felt that this looked to be a weak Summer of Arcade line-up, but if Brothers is any indication, we have another three weeks of amazing gaming to look forward to.

The reviewer spent approximately four hours on the game. This time included one complete playthrough of the game, and a replay of a couple chapters in an attempt to pick up achievements missed the first time through. The publisher provided a copy of this title for review.
Michelle Balsan
Written by Michelle Balsan
Michelle is the Assistant Manager of the Newshounds at TrueAchievements and has been a member of staff since 2010. When not contributing to gaming websites, she makes her living as a mild-mannered librarian. She can be compelled to play just about anything if there's a co-op component, and has been playing games with friends and siblings since the Atari 2600. As it's reportedly healthy to have hobbies outside of gaming, she also roots for some of the most difficult sporting franchises to root for, the New York Mets and New York Jets, but offsets that by rooting for the New Jersey Devils. She's also seen pretty much none of the movies you have, but she's working on that.