I confess that as much as I’ve liked the puzzle games that I’ve bought, I usually think twice before I buy one. This is because they tend to have significant learning curves and they’re so dissimilar one from another that it’s hard to predict whether or not you’ll like it. For this reason I held off buying Brothers when it came out on Steam even though I thought it looked beautiful and I liked the premise. I was wrong on this count. Brothers is a game that is easy to pick up and learn. More importantly, it is an absolutely fantastic experience.
- The game unusually warns you in advance that it requires a controller and it’s right to do so. It’s this game’s main point of originality I think, in that you need to control both brothers at the same time, using a stick each for movement and a button each for interaction with each other, other people and the environment. I think it would be pretty much impossible to do this rub-your-tummy-pat-your-head trick on a keyboard. I did well enough on a gamepad but I confess that I sometimes still felt confused.
- I love the graphics here. It is seriously one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. I couldn’t stop gushing to my wife about it. There’s an organic, naturalistic feel to it that really appeals to me. I also love how alive the whole world feels. There are bits and pieces in the environment that you can interact with and each brother has a different animation for them. When you encounter a harpist by the river for example, the big brother will clumsily sweep his fingers across the harp, creating a cacophony of sound. The little brother can strum it gently, creating a sweet melody that earns applause from the harpist. Each of these little interactive bits are purely optional of course and don’t serve to advance the game in any way, but I always grin like crazy whenever I find one.
- These little interactions and the puzzles and obstacles in the way of the two brothers are all that are needed to tell the story. There’s no text here and the characters talk in gibberish, conveying information to the player through their tone and body language alone. Yet it makes for a far more gripping, emotionally engaging story than say Kingdom of Amalur which seems to think that writing hundreds of pages of text means creating a good story. The need for the two brothers to cooperate, whether by having the big brother boosting the little brother to a high ledge or having the little brother squeeze through iron bars to reach a lever, cements in our mind the depth of their relationship. It’s the “show, don’t tell” rule in full effect.
- There’s no real challenge in this game and it’s so short that you could probably finish it in three hours or so. There are some puzzles and platforming sections but they are all rather easy. Think of it as being a game that you experience rather than a challenge to overcome. I really like the outdoor areas where the designers integrated natural environmental features into puzzles. I’m less fond of the underground section, which looks suspiciously like dwarven ruins, and all the mechanical levers, moving platforms and contraptions that we’ve seen so often before.
- You might be tempted to argue that it might as well be a minimally interactive adventure game instead of a puzzle / platform game but I think Brother demonstrates why providing the player with agency allows you to identify with the characters much more strongly than would be otherwise possible. There is one specific moment that completely blew me away. I won’t spoil it here but you’ll know it when you see it. For me, it proved that interactive games can tell a story in a unique way that is unavailable to films and novels because it involves the player personally realizing something and acting on it. The emotional impact of this moment for me can not be exaggerated.
By film standards, I have to admit that the story presented here is merely adequate. By videogame standards however, it is a towering achievement. This really one of the best games I’ve played this year and I recommend it to everyone with zero reservation.