Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Developer: Starbreeze Studios | Released: 2013 | Genre: Adventure, 3D

This was a cute and easy adventure climbing/puzzle game I wish I could have completed.

UPDATE: This game was so endearing that I actually went out and bought a gamepad so I could complete it. And it was worth it. It had unique fantasy settings and a strong emotional impact. I’ve expanded the blog post.

The premise was quite unusual – a single player coop game. Now how did that work? Well, I controlled two brothers simultaneously, with each there own set of direction-and-action keys. Sometimes they had to help each other, like the big brother giving little brother a hand to reach an edge, or they had to cooperate, like moving something that required them both pushing the same pole.

The game had easy coop puzzles that I could usually figure out on the spot, which was lovingly relaxing. The story was also simple. An adult (probably their dad) was ill and the doctor sent the two boys on a journey to fetch the remedy. This took place in a fantasy world not entirely unlike that of the Fable series. We went through a village, fields, farms, dungeons, rivers, castles, and much more.

The game had a strong caveat from the developer that a gamepad was required. If you know my gaming habits from previous blog posts, you’ll know that I never used a gamepad. Always keyboard and mouse. I’ve completed a few games that were notorious for being neigh impossible without a gamepad, just to prove that it could be done after all – for example, ABZÛ.

However, after about a little more than an hour, I decided to bite the bullet.

It wasn’t even because the complexity of controlling both at the same time with keys was all that difficult. I actually did well crawling, alternating and assisting on that account. It wasn’t impossible in theory.

But where I had to admit that it was borderline impossible was regarding the complexity of holding down so many keys at once. Sometimes I had to hold e.g. two direction keys down for a direction plus one action key to hold on to something, while also doing the same thing with the other brother.

As said, figuring out when to alternate and release these keys was not difficult for me, but I could sense that the keyboard had problems allowing for these very uncommon key combinations. In the beginning the tasks were easy enough that I could just switch forth and back, but in the later cave with machinery, more situations arose that required simultaneous coop action. I started feeling certain keys no longer registering until I figured out what other keys I could let go of without risking a restart of the checkpoint.

So as I reached the point in the cave with a giant in a cage, I decided to abandon the game at first. Leave on my own terms before a situation occurred where the keyboard made it impossible to continue.

But the thing is, I’ve never actually had anything against gamepads. I’ve just always been perfectly content using a keyboard and mouse for all these years. At the same time, the game was really enticing. Everybody talked about the amazing set pieces occurring later. So I bought a white Xbox One gamepad. My five year old PC didn’t have Bluetooth, but luckily I had a cable for it that worked.

If you’re in the same spot I was, don’t hesitate. This game is so worth it. Originally I gave it 7 out of 10 after stopping in the cave with gears – but after completing it with a gamepad, I raised it to 9 out of 10.

Particulars

The mouse was not used in keyboard mode. The game used an isometric view, rotating it as needed. After switching to a gamepad I could use two shoulder buttons to rotate the view, but it was rarely needed.

Both brothers could do almost all of the climbing and crawling required, but they did have their pros and cons. The big brother was stronger, could swim, and also lend a hand when the little brother needed to reach an edge. The little brother was afraid of water and needed to climb onto the back of big brother, but he could also squeeze through tight spots, like gates with vertical bars.

It also had auto jump across gaps as well as auto climbing of smaller platforms – and it was impossible to fall down from an edge because of fumbling. These are modern precautions I’m always happy exists.

The speech from the brother and all NPC was just some sort of nonsense language.

I think there were opportunities for all sorts of Easter Eggs and achievements. For example, I found a harp that the big brother couldn’t play, but the little brother sure could. Later the big brother merely whistled at a bird in a cage, but the little brother actually let it out.

Spoiler: Click

The most common platform actions were things like e.g. jumping upwards on ledges, maneuvering edges or ropes, pulling levers, or pushing/pulling something. But the brothers were also…

  • Letting a dog out to scare off the bully in town.
  • Climbing haystacks to avoid a big dog and then whistle to get its attention.
  • Putting a sheep in a treadmill so it could lower a bridge for us.
  • Getting help from a sad giant that threw us up on ledges or reached out for us to climb across him.
  • Navigating a sofa pole through tight corners and then use it to block gears in a big machine.
  • Sliding on a ceiling monorail by holding onto chains attached to it.
  • Stealing a key while not stepping on bones to warn the guard.
  • Luring the guard into a cage with the little brother escaping through the bars.
  • Swinging a torch to scare away hungry wolves.
  • Luring another boss into a big hole then stepping on its fingers. Buh bye.
  • Passing a wall of wood witches with big brother holding a branch the other one was holding onto.
  • Riding a rocky path on a couple of goats. Fast.
  • Flying a glider, tilting it to the sides by relocating their weight on it.
  • Swinging together with a rope between them, one brother at a time. Think pendulum.
  • Using a big saw to cut down two trees.
  • Triggering a catapult to throw the girl and one brother over a town wall.
  • Temporarily hiding behind snow men to avoid getting pummeled by an invisible giant.

We freed a female giant and the earlier giant was happy to finally be together with her again. They were hugging each other and even went out of the cave holding hands. Aww.

There was a slightly disturbing dream sequence with a giant girl resting her head on a rocky plateau.

We also prevented a guy from hanging himself. His house was burned down and his family dead as the result of it. I guess I could have done more here for an achievement?

I blew a big horn and got the only achievement in the game, but I never saw any outcome of this.

I was stuck a little bit where a gear had to be thrown across gaps in a boardwalk. I first thought they could just hand it over to each other. It was a bit small for not being able to jump while holding it…

I failed the glider ride three times before I got it right. Land on the first island, perhaps? Uh, no, that was clearly not what I was supposed to do. Crash!

I loved the set piece with the dead giants bleeding after a giant battle. Quite unique. I can’t recall having seen anything quite like this in any other fantasy game.

The puzzles with the brothers swinging together with a rope between them was damn ingenious.

Both brothers sitting on a bench together reminded me of ICO. The enormous castle where we did the rope swinging also reminded me of this game.

Inside the castle we freed a wounded gryphon. It barely managed to fly us to the other side before it died.

A girl was freed from a ritual and we fled together with her for a while, her remaining a self-controlled NPC. We ran down to a row boat and left the cave in it. Killer whales tried to smash up through our row boat and sometimes succeeded too. The girl then morphed into a giant spider in a cave.

It was a genuine surprise I didn’t see coming. Nice setup.

This gave way to a cute boss fight with the little brother encased in a web ball, bumping the spider upside down on impact. Whenever the spider was incapacitated like this, the big brother tore off one of its legs.

The spider boss fight ended with the big brother getting impaled through his stomach. Little brother helped him out of the arena and set him aside nearby the big tree that was the goal of their big journey. While the little brother climbed the tree and obtained the healing water, the big brother died. It was a sad moment as the little brother returned and dug a grave for him. He was devastated and the music was perfect.

This is perhaps the saddest moment I have ever witnessed in a game. 😥

Now little brother was on his own. A helpful gryphon landed and flew him home. I had to climb a bit and even swim to reach the house with the dad and the doctor. Here I could press the big brother action button for him to gain extra strength and do those things he normally couldn’t. That was a nice touch too.

It took me 3½ hours to get through it. I’m really glad I went back and completed it.

9/10

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