I like Brothers (the game; my actual brother is a jerk). In fact, I am pretty sure I loved it. But I am also pretty sure there were a lot of times playing through it when I was absolutely not enjoying myself. So here I sit and I am trying to figure out if it is just the euphoria of the ending that is making me look back on the whole thing more fondly than I should, or if the entire journey was more than the sum of its parts.
I suppose feeling like that isn’t really surprising. There is very little about Brothers that is conventional, and most of that unusualness stems from how the game plays and controls. It’s a story of two brothers (I will not spoil any more than that) and you control them both at the same time. The right stick controls the younger of the two and the left stick controls the older. The corresponding triggers are used as the action buttons. No other buttons are used and there is no on-screen HUD. It’s stripped down, simple, and at the same time, really convoluted.
It’s like a co-op game that you are playing by yourself with a single controller.
In an odd sort of way, it’s like a co-op game that you are playing by yourself with a single controller, another element being that both brothers have different abilities. While it takes some getting used to, the control scheme itself does not make the game hard or unplayable. It’s difficult to come to grips with it (pun intended) but the game doesn’t really require any dexterous or precise use of controls. And that becomes a double edged sword. On one hand, despite the odd control scheme, the game never feels frustrating, but on the other hand, since the game is trying to be as accommodating as possible, the entire gameplay aspect consists mostly of puzzle solving.
There is certainly nothing wrong with the concept of puzzles being the centrepiece of the gameplay. Games like Braid and Portal have shown that if you do it right, just solving puzzles without any specific use of reflexes can be incredibly satisfying. The problem with Brothers is that it never really reaches the levels of genius design that those games have. Almost all scenarios the game puts you in are incredibly obvious right from the get-go. And unsurprisingly, it starts to feel tedious at times.
Visually, Brothers is probably one of my favourite games of recent times.
What rescues the game from that tediousness is the sublime art direction and the atmosphere. Visually, Brothers is probably one of my favourite games of recent times. It absolutely nails the fairytale, fable-ish style it’s going for and time and time again the game will just make you sit and stare. It consistently reminds me of Trine, another game that’s rescued from somewhat tedious gameplay by its visuals.
It also seems to be strongly influenced by Ico. Well, I suppose if you have played Ico this should be rather obvious very early on. No HUD, young protagonists, strange fairy tale land where everyone speaks an alien language, and a journey through darkness and danger. Like Ico, Brothers’ greatest strength is the relationship it develops, wordlessly, between the two characters.
Every encounter with someone is memorable and unique.
Both brothers have different personalities and people (or creatures) you meet along the way react differently to them. That also extends to everyone you meet along the journey. Every encounter with someone is memorable and unique. And without spoiling anything, the ending is quite amazing. It’s like the entire gameplay aspect of controlling both the brothers at once was just the setup for a wonderfully poignant moment at the end.
And that’s what I keep coming back to – the phenomenal ending. One of the reasons I like writing about and discussing games is because putting words to how a game made you feel gives it a sense of posterity, if only for yourself. But it doesn’t always work. About 600 words in, I still can’t figure out if it’s just the ending’s euphoria coloring my outlook or if I genuinely believe the game is exceptionally good. Despite all of that though, I feel no hesitation in recommending it.