There is something magical about a fairy tale, and it is clear that Starbreeze understands that. The world of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons could just as easily have been crafted by the Brothers Grimm: it’s lush,it’s full of life, it’s inhabited by strange (and sometimes terrible) creatures and it doesn’t pull any punches.
Brothers opens with a death, and doesn’t get any lighter from there. Throughout their short journey, the brothers will deal with a fear of water, hungry wolves and an angry ogre, among other dangers. And like all good fairy-tale setbacks, the brothers overcome theirs with brains rather than brawn. Neither boy could complete their task alone, and watching them works together really endears the duo to the player.
From a narrative and investment standpoint, controlling both brothers works especially well, as they help one another up high ledges, team carry a large iron bar to jam up some machinery and open up paths so that both can progress. Throughout their adventure, I cared about making sure the boys were successful in both the long term and the immediate.
Mechanically, it works less well though. The left stick and trigger are for moving the older boy and allowing him to interact with the world while the right stick and trigger are for the younger boy. On paper this scheme works just fine. There are buttons to spare, and every action that needs to be done has a dedicated input. I let the system down. I could only handle moving both characters simultaneously about 50% of the time. Specifically, whenever the brothers needed to do different things or got separated, I needed to leave one alone and control the other solo until they met back up.
In stark contrast to the rich and vibrant aesthetic, the sound design is very sparse, and what little voice acting Brothers contains is presented in a make-believe language which strongly evokes the PS2 classic Ico. Instead of controlling only one and alternately dragging and protecting the other, each character in Brothers clearly cares deeply for the other, and goes out of his way to protect his kin.
Starbreeze brought characters to life in a way that few other developers are able to do, and putting aside my own failing with the controls, the largest negative is that the brothers’ journey is over sooner than you’d like. I wanted to spend more time in their world than Starbreeze was able to give me, and I’m not sure I can give them any higher praise than that.
Pros: Rich world full of great characters and creatures, emotional journey that doesn’t hit you over the head with it
Cons: Difficult-to-master controls, lasts only about 3 hours