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Mood Pieces: The Cruel Faerytale of Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons

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This Mood Pieces post is about Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons, an adventure game from Starbreeze Studios and 505 Games available for Xbox 360, Windows and PlayStation 3.

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When I picked up Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, the title of the game was the only thing I knew about it, in addition to a vague impression that it might have the kind of arty flavour that appeals to me. The game had a rather dark beginning. A boy called Naiee is at his mother’s tombstone, remembering how she died by drowning, when he’s called by his big brother Nyaa to help get their sick father to the village doctor. It turns out that the only thing that can cure their father is water from the Tree of Life, which the boys set out to find.

In the first few moments I was slightly disappointed: oh, an adventure in a standard medieval fantasy world seen a thousand times? Then it dawned: it wasn’t a fantasy world at all, but a faerytale world – and let’s remember that a faerytale does not equal glittery Disney fluff. In a world like this anything can happen and  things can be beautiful and wondrous, but also bitingly cruel and disturbing.

The first leg of the trip takes the boys through farms and fields where the biggest danger can be the farmer’s dog, but the scale goes bigger and weirder pretty fast. There will be mountains, giants, ice-floes, surprisingly interesting monsters, and much more. The graphical style is pretty traditional, but beautiful, and the soundtrack ranges from epic folk to disturbing and grating classical. All the characters in the game speak a make-believe language, which is an awesome choice. A lot of the story is told with gestures, tones of voice, landscapes, milieus and actions. This adds certain magic to the game, which would’ve been much much blander with a run-of-the-mill voice acting.

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The main gameplay gimmick of Brothers is that the player controls both characters at the same time, one with each thumb and trigger. This is confusing for a the first few moments, but it grows on you really fast. There is no combat as such, but there are some puzzles, many of which depend on the boys acting together – the smaller brother managing to squeeze through tights spots and the big brother doing things that require more reach or strength. The puzzles are not forced “stand on a button so a door opens” types of deals, and they are not the main beef of the game in any case – the story and the atmosphere are. The puzzles and the co-operation between the brothers continues to feel natural and varied, and at no point do the puzzles or the milieu get repetitive.

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The story of Brothers goes through a beautiful arc that carries right to the end. There’s a lot I’d like to gush about it, but again there’s very little one can say and not spoil the story. Go and check Brothers: a Tale of Two Sons out, but not in a mood where you are looking for a light feel-good game.

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