I had to take a break from all the platforming madness that comes with the Jak and Daxter Trilogy and decided to go for a shorter, more story-driven experience. I’ve been hearing good things about Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons but I was cautions enough to avoid spoilers, believing I would find the time to play this game some day. The truth is, not much time is needed to play through Brothers but it does leave an impression, similar to titles such as Journey, which was among the top games of 2012. In Brothers, just like in Journey, not a single (understandable) word is spoken, although there is much more direct communication in form of body language and pseudo-talk. Still, the main source of entertainment, although I don’t think this is the best word to use here, comes from the visual prompts and the display of emotions by our protagonists.
The beginning, the story takes us to a world of Nordic-like mythos, where we see the younger of the titular brothers on a hill, by a tombstone, remembering his tragically departed mother. A cut-scene shows the woman drowning during a storm, her son not being able to drag her back up to the rowboat. The reminiscing is interrupted by the older brother, who needs help transporting their ill father to the village doctor. It turns out that the only way to save the only remaining parent is for the boys to go on a long and dangerous journey to a mysterious place, where they might be able to find the medicine. Not thinking twice and not looking back, the two brothers start their mission and let the player join their adventure.
The game takes a very interesting approach to controlling the two protagonists. Both of them move simultaneously, each one controlled with one of the Dualshock analog sticks and one of the triggers. It takes a couple of minutes to get used to that control scheme and it sometimes gets confusing when the brother controlled with the left stick is not walking on the left side of the screen but overall I think it was a very good idea and the execution is also excellent. It certainly feels more natural than if the player were to switch between the brothers, especially solving puzzles that require both heroes to do something. However, it would’ve been fun to be able to play the game co-op using two controllers, or even online. The story doesn’t take more than 2-3 hours, so it would’ve been possible to beat the game with a random stranger in one go.
Even though the game isn’t long it still manages to show a lot of interesting environments and allows the player to interact with other characters, sharing their happiness but also sadness. There is a constant eerie vibe that can be felt throughout the game and images of slaughtered giants and disfigured, albeit friendly, trolls only reinforce that feeling. The locations feel desolate, but not empty and dull from game design point of view. The vast mines, the giant castle and the snow-covered mountains look beautiful and always make the player feel that the two brothers are in danger and the lingering sentiment that something will go wrong is always present.
The puzzles and platforming in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons aren’t particularly difficult and apart from one section that consists of hang gliding, which I had to retry three times, I never got stuck nor did I have to endlessly attempt to beat them. It was very refreshing after hours of masochistic gameplay in Jak 2. Obviously, the premise of the games is completely different, and it wouldn’t be wise to spike the mainly story-given experience with finger exercises, which was another good call by the developers at Starbreeze Studios. Still, the tasks the boys face aren’t repetitive and the game always finds something new to test the player with. My favorite section involved the two protagonists scaling a giant castle, tied to each other with a piece of rope, allowing them to swing from place to place, using the other brother as support. Avoiding an unfriendly dog by taking turns distracting it was also fun. Overall, the cooperative nature of the puzzles is ubiquitous, which makes me wonder even more why the developers decided not to give players an option to share the gaming experience with another person.
To summarize, I honestly believe the game is worth recommending to everyone. I understand that there’s always a backlog of games to be played but a title that can be beaten in a few hours and leave a lasting impression is always welcome as a break from the 40+ hours grinds of Killzone Shadow Fall multiplayer or the vast exploration of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons may not be as beautiful as journey and it leaves less room for interpretation as far as the story goes but that’s the game I would compare it to. It’s impossible to play through the story and not think about the experience that the player was just a part of. The fact that the game allows the player to have it all in one sitting strengthens the feeling even more. It’s really hard to explain it without spoiling it for everyone but let me assure you it’s worth sticking to the end to find out how the brothers’ adventure resolves.
The game comes with 12 unlockable trophies, none of which are really story-related. They all require the player to do something extra, leave the beaten path, investigate the world and interact with its inhabitants. I will shortly go through all of them one by one, explaining how they are unlocked, so if you want to figure it out by yourself, let me thank you for reading this post and keep coming back for more. For the rest of you, let’s see what secrets the brothers can uncover on their journey.
| Take a Break
|You took a break from adventuring.|
This trophy is unlocked at the very beginning of the game, even before the adventure really begins, so I wonder what the boys are taking a break from. Anyway, before you complete the first puzzle, transporting the father to the other side of the moving bridge, head down a stone path to the waterfront. Once on the beach, you can find some stones to skip on the water by performing an action with either of the brothers. This will unlock the trophy but it also ties up nicely with one of the very final scenes of the game, which I will not spoil here.
| Wishing Well
|You threw someone’s ball down a well… Shame on you.|
This is one of the self-explanatory trophies. In a village there will be a child playing basketball. You can steal the ball and throw it down a nearby well. Why would you do it, though? That’s mean.
| Black Sheep
|Every family’s got one.|
| Bunny Buddies
|You made the bunnies play nice.|
Both those trophies require the player to put two clean, well relatively, white animals into a burned out fire in order to change their color. You will need one sheep, which you need to carry across a drawbridge and also the white bunny which is picked on by its black companions. Just pick them up with either brother using the action button and dump them into the soot to unlock the trophies.
| A sad tune
|You made someone feel better.|
This trophy is accompanied with a scene in the game that really shocked me and caught me off-guard, even though I already wrote that an eerie atmosphere can be felt all the time while exploring the game’s world. In the fourth chapter, the brothers walk down the road, which splits in two. In order to continue the journey they should take the left road but it’s impossible not to notice a man… trying to hang himself from a tree down the right road. Save the man by holding him with the older brother while the younger one climbs the tree and cuts the rope.
Go further down the road to see a burned down house which you can reach walking on a ledge of the cliff. Inside the house you will find a music box which you need to return to the man. The only remaining memory of what is left of his house and family will restore the man’s will to live. The brothers then help the man to bury his wife and child, unlocking the trophy.
It really surprised me to see such a delicate matter shown as a side-scene, not having anything to do with the main story, but still disturbing enough so that it’s impossible to walk away from it.
| Love Birds
|You re-united the two love birds.|
This is a two-part trophy. First, in chapter one, you need to use the little brother to release a bird from its cage. The bird can be found again in chapter four, near the inventor’s place, where you will also find a telescope. Use it and point it to the right until you see a bird sitting on a branch. The scope will auto center on the bird once you’re relatively close to its location. After a while, the previously released bird will join the one sitting there in a scene of reunion and love. The birds will fly away together and the trophy will unlock.
|You made the inventor dance.|
Go back from the telescope, before you use the hang glider to fly across to the tower. Up some stairs there will be a windpipe instrument which you need to adjust so that it produces a melody. Make sure that the upper and the lower parts are aligned and watch the inventor lose himself in dance for a minute.
| Call of the giants
|You sounded a giant horn.|
The giant horn can be found in chapter 5 while moving across what looks like a battlefield, where many giants were killed. Before you use the crossbow to clear you path by shooting an already dead giant, there will be a giant horn to the right, which can only be sounded by the big brother.
The battlefield is another location in the game that gives out an eerie vibe. If the giants weren’t able to stand up for themselves and were apparently defeated in battle, what hope is there for our heroes and their village? I’m not sure if this scene references some particular part of mythology but it certainly was disturbing in a way.
| Behind the Curtain
|You found a secret.|
After you escape the savages who were about to sacrifice the girl you rescue, you will find yourself in a boat. When you reach a fork in the water, turn left, towards what I can only call a bloodfall. There is a small opening between the stone pillars where you can fit the boat. Behind the curtain you will witness another ceremony. Again, I’m sure this has something to do with the mythology but I wasn’t able to find what it was about. If anyone knows, please share it in the comments below the post.
| Turtle Soup
|You helped the turtles to the sea.|
This trophy can be unlocked be completing another side-puzzle which requires the brothers to help three stranded turtles find their way back to their family. The turtles aren’t particularly hidden so a short exploration of the area to the right of the turtles in the water will reveal all three of them. Simply slide them down a path and into the water one by one and they will happily swim away and leave you with another trophy.
| Whale Song
|You practised singing.|
By now, you probably figured out that performing actions on the benches placed all around the game environment will make the camera move and show you the beauty of the brother’s world. Nothing else usually happens. However, in chapter six, near the place where you find the saw, if you climb up and sit down on a bench overlooking the water, after a while, whales will start jumping out of the water and singing. The same animals that came close to killing you just minutes earlier, are now the source of yet another trophy.
| Falling star
|Make a wish.|
This trophy is a bit tricky because it doesn’t keep the chronology of the game. It can be unlocked in the cemetery stage of chapter 3. Thankfully, the game allows the player to select chapters, so it’s not a big deal to go back to it. In the cemetery, to the right, there is a statue of an angel with candles around it. If you interact with it with the younger brother, and keep holding the action button for several seconds, the falling star will appear and the trophy will unlock.
I believe that this scene was put at the end of the list on purpose and due to this fact, it can be interpreted in one of two ways. The shooting star either symbolizes the brothers’ late mother or is a sign of things to come, which, again, I will not go into, for fear of spoiling the twist in the story.
However, if you want to discuss the symbolic meaning of this scene, or any other in the game, feel free to post your reflections in the comments below the post. I really enjoyed the game and the story but I’m sure it would leave an even greater impression, if all the mythology references were understood. If you can help me with that or you think that you at least have some ideas about what certain things meant, share your thoughts here.