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Oh, Brothers

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    Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

    Rating: 1.5 – Bad

    Oh, Brothers

    Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a tale of two brothers, who both happen to be sons. The title is a very accurate representation of the game, I suppose, so at least the game has that going for it. Although if they were going for total accuracy they should have maybe considered something along the lines of Brothers: A Tale of Wait Which Button Controls The Big One Again? This is certainly an interesting game, even if it does fall in the very uninteresting genre of ¡°indie puzzle platformer starring a precocious kid that is forced to explore a scary and dangerous world¡±. I know that isn’t particularly catchy, but at the same time there have been so many of those games recently that they do deserve their own genre at this point. This separates itself from its competitors by giving you two kids to control, and I mean that quite literally. You will be controlling both at once, in what is both the game’s biggest idea and greatest failing. I suppose it wouldn’t truly be a game about brothers if you didn’t wind up having to fight with them to get them to do what you want them to do for about half the game.

    Before we dive into the actual gameplay here, it might be worth explaining what these two brothers are adventuring for. The tragedy fairy appears to have been working overtime for these two, and their life is so sad Sarah McLachlan sings ¡°In the Arms Of An Angel¡± behind them wherever they go. We get about five seconds into the game and their mom drowns right in front of the youngest boy. I’m not entirely sure why the mom, who literally lived right next the ocean, didn’t know how to swim and yet thought it was a good idea to go out on the water with only her youngest son and a death wish. And, probably because someone on staff really hated children, the game goes from that scene to present day, where their father is now dying because of ¡°really bad cough and living in a time before modern medicine¡±-itis. The town doctor luckily knows just the cure, which is some sort of sap you can get from a giant tree in the middle of the forest. Or maybe he’s just a huge maple syrup fan and he can’t be bothered to go get it himself, the game isn’t entirely clear on that point. Regardless, now the two boys must fight their way to the center of the forest and retrieve the magic healing tree sap so they can make it back in town in time to watch their beloved pet cat get ran over by a heard of feral horses.

    The story here has some potential to be mildly interesting. Well, maybe. Who knows, it is hard to tell if the plot is interesting or not because everyone speaks fluent gibberish and nothing else. This isn’t an exaggeration ¨C everyone talks like they are straight out of The Sims, making vague gestures and throwing random sounds together like they’re coming off medication from dental surgery. It’s basically like you accidentally bought a French copy of your game and you’re just sort of basing what’s going on by using context clues. I’ve seen people say they enjoy the story here, which is weird because there really isn’t anything to enjoy. Not only is the game over almost as quickly as it begins, but you can’t make out what any of the characters are saying. Sure, you can still figure out what is going on in the story because it isn’t that complex, but I wouldn’t say this is a good plot when it feels like I’ve stumbled into a foreign language film without the subtitles on. Some will say this was an artistic choice to give the essence of the story. These people are pretentious and should be shunned. What is far more likely is that meaningful dialogue is hard to write so instead they just threw in random animal sounds and left the actual dialogue up to our imagination.

    Ignoring the fact the characters all speak fakelanguaganese and are basically just pantomiming their emotions, the basic plot here isn’t all that interesting regardless of what language they’re using. The kids’ mother dies, the father is sick, and that is essentially all we learn of the family before the game throws us into a story to save him. The younger brother is more prone to joking or silliness and the older brother is serious and focused on finding the tree. That’s all the characterization we get of everyone in the game, so when they try to pull on our heartstrings at various points it just comes off as cheap. It’s like someone showed you a picture of an orange and told you he was estranged from his father, then got all confused why you weren’t sad for it. I barely know these kids, man, and you didn’t tell me anything about them. There is no dialogue here so there is no way to really develop the characters, and no backstory so you can’t empathize with their plight. They’re barely characters ¨C just doe-eyed innocent brooms someone slapped a couple of googly eyes on in an attempt to make them look cuter. There are a couple of interesting moments thematically at the very end of the game, but it doesn’t feel like a real payoff because they fail to build a real connection with either of the brothers before the climax. As it stands, you have some interesting scenes with a handful of fun creative areas, but that is really it and no part of this story really stands out in any way.

    And, in the game’s favor, the scenes and set pieces here are genuinely impressive particularly for a small indie title. Perhaps the most memorable is the aftermath of a battle between giants. Their enormous corpses litter the ground, providing barriers you need to climb over and get across. It feels like something amazing just happened, something grand and epic in scope, and your characters came along ten minutes later so they could continue on their much less interesting quest. There are a bunch of things like this, from a large abandoned castle to a lovesick troll to siege of a castle that was entirely frozen in snow. There is definitely an interesting world here, and the developers seemed to have a near endless amount of interesting fantasy scenarios they thought up in their head. It is a bit of a shame they picked the least interesting one to focus on, because there are at least four different set pieces or characters I was much more interesting in than the brother’s quest to get cough syrup from their local Walgreens. A bit more time spent on developing or explaining the world would have been great because that was really the high point of the whole game, and it is a bit of a shame it only serves as interesting window dressing to a rather uninteresting title.

    These various set pieces are occasionally fun to look at and all, but they don’t really fit that well in terms of an actual cohesive story. The aforementioned aftermath of the giant battle was certainly impressive from a visual standpoint, but, uh, are we really just going with the fact that there was a literal war between giants like twenty minutes from the brothers’ house? Because if this is the case you guys got bigger problems that your dad’s cough. There are two tribes of giants trying to kill each other within earshot. All of you morons needs to move, immediately. There are invisible ice monsters, weird tribes that worship some blood creature, and literal giants with giant swords wandering around right next to your village. Feel honored your dad is dying of a cough, because I’m pretty sure that is the first natural death to occur there within the past hundred years. It was like they had a bunch of ¡°oh, wouldn’t this be cool?¡± ideas but didn’t really pay attention to how the all fit together. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of creativity here and the set pieces are very memorable. But it feels like they’re just that, weird set pieces you’re visiting on a movie set from different movies all smashed together as awkwardly as possible. It just takes away from what little story there is where there is no real cohesion to the world around you.

    The gameplay here is unique and kind of weird, to be honest. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a game that looked at co-op games and thought to itself, ¡°hey, why does that require two players?¡± They presumably thought this right before the blood loss from the head wound caused them to pass out, but yet this idea was already cemented in their brain so that is what we have here. You play as the two brothers at the same time, and one stick and trigger controls one brother and the other stick and trigger controls the other. You will need to manipulate both of them simultaneously, and you frequently will run into a puzzle that will require the use of both brothers at the same time to solve. They’ll either need to both turn a crank, or maneuver a long object down a series of narrow halls, or swing from ledge to ledge by using a chain tied between them to generate some momentum. There are a bunch of these simple puzzles spread out throughout the course of the game, and you’ll need to move around both of the brothers by yourself if you want to get through them all.

    The gameplay is certainly unique, and I can’t think of another game where you need to control two different characters at the same time. I think this is likely for the same reason I can’t think of any game where you have to play with your feet either, and perhaps this is unique because it is such a bad idea everyone else just stayed away from it. The biggest issue is they never come up with anything particularly interesting to do with the set up. I mean, there is a button to move and a button to interact, so obviously there isn’t a tremendous amount you can do based on the limited controls. But really, this is just so basic that you’re really just sort of wandering towards the end without much to stand in your way other than boredom. All the ¡°puzzles¡± here are puzzles in the very loosest sense of the world, and they never really get more complex than moving the right brother in front of the right object and interacting with it. Three or four separate times in the game, the big brother will need to boost the little brother up so he can climb up a broken ladder and push down a rope for the big brother to climb, and this wasn’t particularly interesting the first time I did it much less when I had to do it again ten minutes later.

    The game reeks of lazy puzzle design, and there isn’t one noteworthy obstacle in the entire game. There will be little stretches of nothing, followed by one or two things you can interact with. If one brother can’t do it, try the other. Roll credits. That is essentially the entire game and other than stopping to look at some of the pretty scenery I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of this all was. There is a little bit of exploration here, but again it doesn’t really seem to tie into anything. For example, at one point in the game you can go down a little side path and reunite a mother turtle with her three baby turtles. What effect does this have on the game as a whole? Absolutely none. Saving turtles is its own reward, you fool. It doesn’t add to the story, or build upon the lore, or give you any benefit of any sort at all, it is just sort of there. Like they were making the game and decided there wasn’t enough to it, so they threw in some random turtles because one guy on staff liked turtles. There are a handful of examples like this, little things to do outside the main quest with no real incentive to do any of them. The game as a whole just feels confused, a malformed little nugget of an idea that never knew what it wanted to be. There is basic exploration with no purpose and a series of puzzles with no challenge. The majority of the game is spent watching a couple of people slowly walking around, and if I wanted to watch that I’d go to the mall in the morning and stare at all the elderly people that got left behind by their families. The whole ¡°control two characters at once thing¡± is an interesting concept, but it isn’t particularly well executed here.

    Although, to be honest, I’m not sure there is a good way to execute this concept, actually short of taking it out behind the shed and beating it to death with a rusty shovel. You may think controlling two people at the same time with one controller sounds awkward, and congrats! You’re right and have a better sense of game design than the people that made this game. At its best, it is clumsy and awkward, and because you are forced to control two characters at once the game can’t really make you do anything interesting. There is no way to put in a complex puzzle or interesting action sequence, because it would be near impossible to beat it with the control scheme the game uses. Even with the simple tasks the game wants you to complete here, you’re going to mix up which button controls which character and which character on the screen is which fairly frequently. This feels like the video game equivalent of rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time, only somehow even less fun and interesting. And this is why the game is so bloody simple ¨C any tasks more complex with these controls would be unbelievably frustrating and awkward. So to compensate for the originality of the concept, they sacrificed actual interesting gameplay and the final product here is even more unsatisfying because of it.

    It is weird to find a game where the best part of it is the backdrops, but somehow Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is perhaps the first title I’ve played to earn that very dubious moniker. Don’t get me wrong, some of the imagery here is amazing and the aftermath of the giant battle in particular is one of the most visually striking scenes I’ve encountered in recent memory. But this isn’t enough to make a good game, and really the content in this title is better suited to make a screensaver than a video game. The unique gameplay element here is flawed from the beginning, and controlling two characters at once is neither interesting nor challenging. The story is forgettable, partially as a result of the choice to remove any meaningful dialogue and replace it with drunken seal noises. And the puzzles here are woefully basic and completely uninspired. Basically, this is not a very good game. It gets some points for the creativity of its design, but then loses all those points and then some for the insipidness of everything else. It might be best to put these two brothers up for adoption and try again.

    Brotherly Love (THE GOOD):
    +An impressive level of imagination when it comes to the scenery and the backdrops
    +The basic concept for the gameplay here is certainly innovative and controlling two characters at the same time is interesting at least
    +Couple of cool moments near the end in terms of story or character development

    Sibling Rivalry (THE BAD):
    -Replacing words with gibberish in the dialogue makes it hard to connect with the characters or their plight
    -Story is fairly dull and no one is really developed in any way, making the ¡°emotional¡± moments feel cheap and unearned
    -Scenes don’t always seem well connected to the world as a whole ¨C it feels like the developers thought of all the cool imagery they could and then just stuck it all together as sloppily as they could
    -At its absolute best, the gameplay can be described as awkward and there is a reason no one else has tried the ¡°control two characters at once¡± gimmick before
    -Puzzles are as simple as possible and rarely get beyond the ¡°move character to object and interact¡± level of puzzle design
    -So short the entire experience is unlikely to last more than a single day
    -Awkward controls make things slower than they need to be and even positioning the brothers can get confusing at times

    Cain and Abel (THE UGLY): The trophy list here is kind of interesting because nothing here is really unlocked for progressing in the story, and instead every single trophy is awarded after completing some minor unnecessary task. Unfortunately, a lot of the tasks here make the brothers seem kind of like jerks. One trophy pops after stealing the ball from a little girl and throwing it down a well. It literally unlocks the moment she starts crying. That’s some dark stuff, right there. I think I figured out why these kids parents keep meeting tragic ends, and the doctor might want to check these kids’ pockets and see if he has any antidote for the poison they’re so obviously carrying.

    THE VERDICT: 3.00/10.00

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