Brothers – A Tale of a Very Untimely Review
Brothers is, I suppose, one of the too rare games that actually tries to use its gameplay rather than its cutscenes to convey the creators’ deeper artistic meaning. As the player, you control the titular brothers simultaneously, with each analog stick individually guiding one of the two. The left stick controls the older brother, while the right stick moves the younger. Similarly, the left and right triggers serve as the action buttons for each character. All actions in the game are contextual to the object on which the action is being performed. At its core, Brothers is a puzzle game where you must use the brothers cooperatively to overcome obstacle and allow them to progress on their quest. Consequently, with the player guiding the brothers’ relationship, it is through this “single-player co-op” gameplay that the game’s deeper themes of the strength and bond of brotherhood are expressed.
The story of Brothers is fairly simple. Actually, I found the whole game to be almost fairy tale-like. A pair of brothers, one older, stronger and more mature and the other younger and more innocent, set off on a journey through a fantasy land to find a remedy to save their dying father. The quest is, for the most part, a non-violent trek, and the brothers must work together to overcome the obstacles they face along the way. Each brother has his own strengths to utilize. For instance, the younger, smaller brother can fit through tight spaces, while the older brother can lift the younger onto high ledges.
The game has a very “scenic” quality to it that reminds me of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. I was always very fond of the quiet awe those games were able to convey to the player. In Brothers, the way in which the player is shown the world feels very natural, for lack of a better word. You’re constantly being treated to these incredible scenic vistas, and the entire journey has a sort of lonely quality that makes you all the more humbled by your surroundings. And while a lot of games would use big, sweeping cutscenes to show off the grandeur of in-game locales, Brothers is mostly content to just let the player incidentally view the many fantastical sights the game has to show while they go about their quest.
While Brothers uses its two-stick gameplay mechanic to arguably help the player empathize with the fraternal bond of the main characters, I felt that, in the end, it didn’t go far enough with it. The game does a good job of conveying how much these characters rely on each other, which ultimately is important in the ending it sets up. But my problem was that it doesn’t go quite as far as it could have in giving us a nuanced understand of the brothers’ relationship. They help each other overcome the challenges that they face, occasionally share a funny or joyous moment, and they explode with distress when the other is threatened. But shared experiences are about as far as it gets in terms of emotional complexity. I should note at this point that the start of this game informs us that the brothers’ mother died before the game begins, and that the younger brother watched helplessly as she drowned. There’s some slight hints in a dream sequence that there are feelings of guilt, resentment, and anger between the two over her death, but it doesn’t really get developed beyond that. Maybe the developers wanted it to be left to player inference, but I felt better emphasis on this facet of their relationship could have really helped the narrative.
Ultimately, I felt I enjoyed the world of Brothers more than I enjoyed the story it had to tell. There is a very beautiful and awe-filled world that is presented here. As I mentioned, the story I felt to be a little shallow, and I thought it ended in a way that was just a bit too emotionally manipulative. It really wants you to feel strongly about the game’s resolution in a way that made me very conscious of the author’s hand in the story. Although, I will say that the final stretch of the game does use the two-stick/two-button mechanic in a way that really impressed me with how cleverly it was fit in the narrative. All-in-all, I did like the story even for all its simplicity, and I recommend Brothers as a good Steam sale game, if nothing else. It took me no longer than 3 hours to complete, and I think its brevity actually enhances its value, as it’s the kind of game that could have worn out its welcome very quickly if drawn out too long.