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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Review

KevinS By:
GENRE Action 
PUBLISHER 505 Games 
DEVELOPER Starbreeze Studios 
T Contains Violence, Blood, Crude Humor

What do these ratings mean?

Speaking of cookies, I could really use some cake.

For those of you who might know me, you know that I'm a lover of the classics, a member of the breed that screams from the mountaintops that a game isn't made by its pixel count or visual style alone. Sure, it can help to get a player jazzed about the experience they're having, but it's just icing on the cake, and you can't just put great chocolate icing on a cake of shit and expect no one to notice. News flash: People notice when your game is pretty and shitty.

That said, this is one of the big reasons I'm happy about Brothers: It's pretty and interesting. And not in the "interesting" kind of way that leaves you scrambling and questioning every little thing Starbreeze is doing, but can actually make you rethink just what it's doing and why it's doing it.  Everything here feels intuitive—you instinctively know where to head and what to do. It's remarkable just how intuitive things are, and while it makes the few puzzles littered throughout extremely easy to solve, there's a sense of satisfaction that comes with overcoming each one. It's the beauty and (occasional) brilliance of Portal, but the difficulty curve of Kirby's Adventure.

Throughout the adventure there are just as many moments of intensity and reflex as there are contemplation and observation; similarly, the characters are not only comprised of the actual moving figures, but the backdrops and environments as well. The world in Brothers is simply breathtaking. I know "breathtaking" is an overused word at this point in game reviews, but there's a reason I haven't used it in any of my review or previews up until this point… there are very few games I feel wowed by for the view, and this is right up there with any of them. Which is perfect, since there are literally benches throughout the landscape. That you can sit on. Like they're friggin' parks or somethin'. It would be weird, but the views are worth seeing.

You might have noticed I didn't talk much about the actual plot of the game. To that end, it's straightforward: The main goal is to save your father, who somehow has become poisoned and is on the brink of death. The task of the two brothers is to find a specific tree that holds the key to healing him from whatever it is that's killing him in the first place. I honestly don't want to say too much more than that as I feel I'd be doing you, fellow player, a disservice. This is one game that fully embodies the spirit of the journey and not the destination, the development of these two gibberish-speaking siblings as they work together to travel toward their inevitable conclusion.

There is a caveat, however. Both boys are controlled by a separate half of the controller: the left half for the older brother, the right for the younger. They're led around by their respective analog stick (which can be annoying in certain areas) and their action button being the respective trigger button.  It sounds simple enough, but with the boys having slightly different speeds with which they do their specialized actions, it can lead to a moment here or there where they get caught around a corner and you have to manipulate the appropriate digit consciously to sync the two together again.

The most amazing part is that the story deals with every emotional moment and intense situation without a single coherent word being spoken, which is impressive on the developer's part. Sure, there have been meaningful characters and stories told through interactive entertainment before, but this one is unique. I may not know the formal names of the "big brother" and the "little brother," or of any of the friends or enemies they make along the way, or even anything about the world they live in, but I do know it's just like my world: occasionally gorgeous, occasionally morbid, but always engaging.  Bloody, colorful, and the occasional fart joke. (They're kids, after all.)

You know that feeling when you pull away from the last page and feel as though you've experienced something nobody else has? If you're paying attention, that will happen with Brothers. Sure, it doesn't take long to complete the whole experience and see everything there is to see, but the story is told in such a way that it takes just as long as it needs, taken directly out of Portal's script-writing playbook. On that same note, this too is an experience people should be touting as a beautiful demonstration of video games as art. If you don't know if you'll be moved by a video game, try some of the cake. It's as delectable as it is pretty.
Review based on Xbox 360 version. Code provided by publisher. Will be available on PS3 and Steam.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
  • Truly gorgeous, the water effects being TOP-notch
  • Puzzles, although easy, are incredibly intuitive
  • Ambience is well-integrated and totally fitting
  • Short but complete experience
  • Unique controls take getting used to
  • Video games as art? Proof. Right here.
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