Here’s an analogy for you: If Skyrim is your favorite Pixar film, then Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons ($15, Xbox Live Arcade) is the animated short before that film. It’s the experience that, while short-lived, sticks with you long after credits of the main feature have rolled. I don’t think I’m too far off the mark by calling Brothers one of the most emotionally rich and meaningful games of 2013. The story is simple: you and your brother must find a live-saving cure for your father, who has fallen ill. Because he is your only living parent, saving his life is all the more important. This leads the two sons on an adventure through a danger-ridden fantasy world.
This review will be short. Not because I don’t have a lot to say about Brothers, but because the simple act of writing about the story would ruin it for you. Think of it like this: how angry would you be if I went to see a movie you’d been eagerly anticipating for the past year, and then rattled off some of the major plot points? You’d be kinda pissed, right? Every scenario in Brothers is something you must experience for yourself to truly appreciate. There are few games I can think of in which the minute-to-minute events are so special.
[ad#longpost]Even the gameplay itself is something unique. You control two brothers, one older and one younger, guiding them independently with each analog stick. If that sounds complicated, you’d be correct…sort of. The right stick controls the younger, blonde-haired brother, and the left stick is assigned to the older, brown-haired brother. The trigger buttons are also assigned accordingly, and perform actions whenever each brother is close to a point of interaction. The tricky parts come when you must control each brother at the same time to navigate environmental puzzles. For example, some puzzles require one brother to stay in place and turn a crank, while the other dangles from a chain that the crank is moving. Depending on how your brain works, it may take some getting used to, or you may take to the control scheme naturally. It’s hard to say. I eventually discovered that keeping the younger brother on the right side of the screen and the older brother on the left kept things flowing smoothly, although I often had to “reset” my brain and thumbs whenever they accidentally crossed paths. It would be interesting to use this game in a study of how men’s brains work as opposed to women’s brains, with the whole “right brain, left brain” and whatnot.
Brothers isn’t a challenging game, nor is it preoccupied with bombast and big-budget action sequences. It’s not a long game, either (you’ll finish it in a few hours). In fact, it barely passes muster as a video game, in the traditional sense. Think of it as an interactive fairy tale with themes of loss, family, and the ability to overcome fear. It will show you sights that will take your breath away, and put you through moments that will shake you to your core. For crying out loud, developer Starbreeze even found a way to make the controls (you’ll know it when it happens) utterly heartbreaking in the final minutes. If that doesn’t convince you that Brothers is worth $15, I don’t think anything will. Grab this with no hesitation.