We all have a back catalogue, right? Call it a list of shame if you like, whether it’s through lack of time or just plain reluctance, we all have those games that take us an age to get around to playing. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is just such a game for me. I originally picked it up on Xbox Live in the ‘Games with Gold’ program costing me the grand total of absolutely nothing and since then it has been living in my so called ‘back catalogue’ waiting for its day to shine. Well it just so happens that day arrived and I never expected what I received.
I hadn’t really heard much about ‘A Tale of Two Sons’ beforehand, my only knowledge of the game was that you controlled each of the brothers on an individual thumb stick. Perhaps that was the reason I put off playing it for such a long time as I felt the control scheme would be a little too quirky for me and it wouldn’t really translate well in the gameplay, and to be honest, that preconceived notion seemed justified, for a while.
Using each of the thumb sticks for different characters on screen, at first, does something rather strange to your brain. One second you will have full control of your characters and the next they will be wandering in the opposite direction even though you’re absolutely sure you are pressing the correct way. Now I say ‘at first’ for a reason, a little while into the game something miraculous happens, you start to get the hang of it and find little tricks that help you work around your control issues. For instance, I found keeping the brother assigned to the left stick on the left hand side of the screen and vice versa helped immensely. However, this isn’t a fool proof fix. As you advance through the game the brothers are deliberately placed on opposite sides of the screen in a bid to keep the gameplay mechanics fresh but also to make sure you’re keeping your brain engaged and it works. These little changes mean the gameplay never becomes stagnant or predictable and it also keeps you on your toes, …or thumbs.
The puzzles are all, of course, centered around the games unique control scheme and thus bring gameplay I have never really experienced anywhere else. Your thumbs are required to work in cooperation whilst performing their own task and this has a rather amazing effect, not only on how you play but also on the story as a whole which you will discover later on in the game. The one puzzle that stands out to me most is when you are attached to your brother by a rope and you have to swing each other across from hand grip to hand grip. In the process of this the brothers cross one another from one side of the screen to the other and this is where your brain really starts to get confused. I often found myself pausing for a moment to try and figure out which brother was where in relation to my thumbs. As you progress through this section you start to get into the swing of things (pun intended) again and as the difficulty of the climb increases the better you get until your thumbs are directing their own symphony of movement. When it clicks you find yourself almost in a trance, as not to over-think what you are doing, and it feels great. The puzzles themselves, although fun, are never truly complicated instead they rely on the difficulty of the controls rather than the difficulty of the puzzle. I found this worked very well in this instance though as it never takes you out of the story that is playing out in front of you.
Before reading on please be aware that I am going to be spoiling the end of the game. With that out of the way, WOW. As I said previously I knew nothing of this game beforehand and whilst playing I thought I was just experiencing a great puzzle game with the prerequisite of collecting a potion for my ill father. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a blubbering wreck at the end just staring at my controller wishing my left thumb stick was with me again. Yes I admit it, I cried. What triggered this emotion from me wasn’t the actual death of the brother but what the game does superbly following that. Of course I’m talking about the burial. As I pulled the body of my brother across the ground and laid him in his final resting place I felt the loss, but what tipped me over the edge was dumping the dirt onto his now still body knowing I wouldn’t see him again. The way the developers piled the dirt into individual heaps was genius because as you knock one pile of dirt onto the corpse you have time to reflect on the gravity of the situation before moving onto the next.
Seeing someone slowly disappear under the earth, especially when you feel empathy for the sobbing brother, rips your heart out and I can honestly say I had to pause for a second and gather myself. This was the crescendo the game was building up to and I never saw it coming, because of that it hit like a ton of bricks. After I had gathered my thoughts I continued with the game. I found myself able to play with one hand using the right thumb stick to control the younger brother whilst using my other hand to rest my head. Then the moment came that put a smile back on my face. You come across a small lake that you need to swim across in order to reach home and give your father a health potion. Throughout the game you have relied on sitting on your older brothers back to get across lakes because the younger brother has a fear of water due to witnessing his mother drown. Now of course you have no older brother and so arrives your predicament. As you move towards the water your character shakes his head and refuses to swim but then comes another moment of genius. I held down the left trigger which was once the action button for my older brother and the once frightened younger brother dives into the water and swims across. At that moment I felt fulfilled in my journey and the brothers had become one. Not only had I just experienced a great technical game but I had been a part of a truly moving story.
There is so much more I want to say about this game but through fear of never stopping I will quickly mention the fantastic art and beautiful, unique level design. Each area offering something different visually and mechanically. My favourite being the land of giants. There were also side characters who interacted with the gameplay, whether it be a troll flinging you across a gaping ravine or a flying griffin type creature who gives its last bit of life (or does it) to fly you to your destination. At 2-3 hours this game is short but it’s the perfect length for the story it tells and I feel it’s an experience that is not to be missed.
Buy this game if you can, support the developers and share the love. Having received this game for free I am now going to be supporting this developer in their future ventures just for the experience they gave me with Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. Moral of the story? Make sure you play that back catalogue. You don’t know what experiences await you.