Cooperative games aren’t new. But co-op games that don’t actually involve a second player are pretty much unheard of. Yet that is exactly what Starbreeze Studios’ Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is.
A beautiful world unfolds as two brothers, Big and Little, travel from their home village in search of a cure for their ailing father. The catch of course is that both brothers are controlled by a single player. At the same time. On one controller. Big bro is controlled with the left stick and left trigger, Little bro with the right stick and right trigger.
Wrapping your brain around this control scheme sounds like it would be difficult, but trust me, it works beautifully. When compared to ibb and obb, another recent non-violent co-op puzzler with its own option for solo play, Brothers just feels right. Sure there are some moments when I would have to stop myself and rearrange where Big and Little were on the screen, but I found myself doing this so that the synchronous movement with both sticks complemented where each brother was on screen. After a bit of free play early in the game, the controls become second nature and as puzzles are presented very little time is wasted on trying to figure out both the puzzle in the environment and then how to accomplish the solution using one controller.
As you might have guessed, Big is the older, stronger, more mature young man, whereas Little is young, small, full of wonder and at times a bit of a mischievous boy. Having both age ranges allows for a lot of different interactions within the environment, which offers nice subtle touches to really develop both characters while never once hitting players over the head with deep exposition. Showing versus telling is the key to how Brothers conveys the story of two boys who clearly love their father and will do anything to save him.
Throughout the environment there are various objects to interact with. A potted flower for instance offers Big a chance to walk up and appreciate the floral scent. Little on the other hand smashes the pot. Other objects require both brothers to work together. A two-man saw requires Big and Little to both grab on at either end, and then by synchronously moving the sticks back and forth they will cut down a tree. Some puzzles require one brother to hold on to an object (lever or rock ledge) via the trigger while the other brother performs a task which is only allowed while the other brother continues to hold such object. These puzzles are smartly designed and offer intuitive solutions via camera presentation and subtle art designs that don’t sparkle or glow.
Traveling away from their small village, the brothers encounter many fantastical new locations. Because the game is so concise I would be a horrible person to reveal all of the truly wonderful locations that unfold throughout the journey. Suffice it to say, each location is brought to life with stunning beauty (even though some locations are gruesome). There are even benches throughout the world that allow players to sit Big and Little down to stop and just enjoy the gorgeous vistas.
Overall the world created by Starbreeze somewhat reminds me of Shadow of the Colossus. Hints of a bygone era are scattered through the game, while an obvious threat has also ravaged the world. Journeying through such landscapes in search of the cure provides a counterbalance for how both boys view the world. Big isn’t nearly as wonder struck by so many fantastical mysteries, while Little is forced to learn that not everything is as rosy as his young life in the small village has led him to believe.
Brothers truly is a fantastic game. Starbreeze has crafted a stunning visual narrative that weaves in a unique control scheme forcing one player to control two characters at the same time. This dual control connection proves to be a powerful, emotional plot device by the end. (If you’ve played the game and don’t know what I’m referring to then I assume you are not human.) After a brief period of exclusivity on Xbox Live Arcade, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons today makes its debut on PSN and Steam. Whichever platform you game on, this is an experience you don’t want to miss.
+ Powerful story told through non-verbal interactions
+ Unique co-op puzzle solving designed for a single player
+ Gorgeous visuals
- Not much replay value (aside from going back for missed achievements/trophies)
Platform: PSN, Steam, Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Release Date: XBLA – 8/7/2013, PSN/Steam – 9/3/2013
Genre: Top-down puzzle / action / adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Source: Review code provided by publisher