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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Score: 100%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure/ Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

"It's like nothing I've ever experienced." How many times in your life have you been able to say that about something? If you choose to play Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, you'll be able to say it yet again. This story-driven adventure is an incredible achievement: an innovative, ambitious interactive fairytale that aims for your heart and your mind, and strikes true on both counts.

The world of Brothers is rich with color and life. Strangely enough, there's no technical or artistic gimmick at work. It's simply a well-realized depiction of a Nordic-inspired fantasy world. What makes it so fascinating is the contrast between the picturesque beauty of the world and the quest of the two brothers, which is suffused with melancholy and near-despair. It's so enticing that you'll want to just soak it all up. The game seems to know it, too; benches are littered around the world, and having both brothers sit in them for a spell rewards you with a truly lovely view.

For me, wordless storytelling is the best kind of storytelling. Many of my favorite games and short films thrive on this tactic. Journey is a particularly great example: that final, glorious ascent up to the top of the mountain is enough to fill your heart with joy until it bursts. And who among us hasn't been touched to the core by the "Married Life" montage from Up? The yarn spun in Brothers is an excellent example of wordless storytelling. Everyone in this world vocalizes, but it's all unintelligible. Note that I did not mistake it for gibberish: all of these vocal expressions have meaning, and you can tell in the voice acting. And it only gets better with a flourishing, rich soundtrack that is every bit as capable of playing your emotions like a piano.


Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a fairytale in the truest sense of the term. This isn't the modern, bowdlerized fairytale, where beautiful people fall in love, lessons are learned, good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people. True fairytales are notable for their fantastical settings that belie their devotion to the harshest and most brutal truths, and Brothers follows suit. The eponymous brothers are having a particularly rough time of it. Their mother has tragically drowned, and their father is struggling to fight off a mysterious, life-threatening illness. The local doctor has no idea how to cure it, but he shows them a picture of the mystical Tree of Life, which implies that the water underneath it will cure his affliction. So the brothers, being dutiful sons, leave their quiet home in a desperate bid to save their father.

It doesn't prove to be an easy journey for the brothers; their obstacles start at neighborhood bullies and pesky guard dogs, but the further from home they get, the more sinister each threat becomes. Soon, they are matching their wits against the brawn of an evil troll in a bid to save a friendly troll's mate from captivity. Things take an extremely dark turn as the brothers progress; you'll witness some truly wonderful and horrifying sights (often both at the same time). There's something alien about this world, but it's rooted in some form of reality, which keeps you grounded. As the stakes are raised, you feel more and more for these two poor kids, and all of this tension peaks during the deeply-affecting endgame. I have to admit: when I discovered the solution to the final series of navigation puzzles, a lump formed in my throat. It's a transcendent, triumphant moment for the medium; never before has the act of gameplay delivered such an emotional impact.


There's really only one way forward in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. On top of that, there is only one way in which the brothers can interact with the world around them. There is no combat, and there is no backtracking. You arrive in an area and must figure out how to get both brothers through it. This gives rise to some truly wonderful puzzles; though none of them are particularly challenging. The joy is in watching the world react to the brothers.

Despite the relative simplicity of the puzzles contained in Brothers, struggles with the controls are all but inevitable. You are controlling two people at the same time, and since both of them at any given moment can be doing something completely different, it's a hurdle you're required to get your brain over. You may not feel completely comfortable with the controls by the end (it's a very short adventure), but you'll have definitely made progress.

Brothers invites a second and possibly a third playthrough; you will not unlock any of the Achievements by simply going through the game. Rather, you will have to study the descriptions carefully and keep your eyes open for situations that match.

Game Mechanics:

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons can be (and probably is) touted as a single player cooperative experience. Despite your misgivings about the term, rest assured that it is completely accurate. In this game, you simultaneously control two characters; big brother is controlled with the left stick and interacts with the left trigger, while little brother is controlled with the right stick and interacts with the right trigger. It's a perfectly symmetrical control scheme that makes total sense, yet requires some serious getting used to. Both of the brothers have certain skills and special traits that make them specifically suited for certain tasks. Many of these are emphasized for the sake of the story, and the payoff is an emotional high I haven't experienced since Journey. To go any further would be to risk spoiling the game's many delightful surprises, so I won't.

Never have I played a game where the mechanics were so unbelievably simple, yet fundamentally mindblowing. The only game that comes close is a quirky PlayStation 2 title called The Adventures of Cookie & Cream, but even still, that game played it far too safe with the idea. From its sophisticated and elegantly-delivered narrative to its novel challenge of player dexterity, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a must-play, and by far one of the finest games of 2013. My only criticism of this game is that it's a tad overpriced for how short it is; as far as the actual game goes, it's perfect.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Related Links:

Sony PlayStation 3 Tales of Xillia Microsoft Xbox 360 DuckTales: Remastered

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