Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

I said last week that it’s been at least 2 months since I turned on my 360.  As it happens, I had a brief window this past Sunday afternoon, and so I decided to download and try the demo for Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which had been getting some amazing reviews and overwhelmingly positive Twitter activity.  I figured I’d give it a quick shot, see if it was worth my time, then wait for the Steam release in a few weeks.

Instead, I finished the demo and then immediately purchased the game, and then spent the next 3 hours finishing it.   And it’s all I’ve been thinking about ever since.

I’ve been going through a weird quasi-depressive phase over the last few weeks – there’ll be a longer blog post about that later this week, hopefully – and part of the effect of this depression is that I’ve been unable to enjoy anything.   I’ll spend hours in front of my computer, looking at the 60+ games in my “Installed” library on Steam, and end up going back to Farm Heroes Saga (which is related to Candy Crush Saga and which is also getting a longer blog post in and of itself later this week) because I can’t seem to allow myself sink in to anything.

This is partly why Brothers feels like a godsend.  Because I was hooked immediately.   There was nothing to think about, nothing to get in my brain’s way; I found myself under the game’s spell as soon as the title screen blended into the game’s first moments.

The game is short – only 3-4 hours at most – but nearly every second of that time (and every inch of the game’s world) is beautiful and meaningful and emotionally resonant.  The game’s story is simple – two brothers must go on a quest to find a cure for their ailing father.  Of course, there’s a bit more to the story, but to say anything further would lessen the game’s impact.

The game’s mechanics are also elegantly simple – each brother gets its own thumbstick, and if a brother needs to interact with something, you pull their corresponding trigger.  That’s it.  Of course, this does take a bit of getting used to – even by the end of the game, I would occasionally get confused as to who was moving where – but that’s also partly the idea, and it’s a conceptually brilliant design when you think about it.  The two brothers must work together to accomplish their goal, and in order to do so you must get your left and right thumbs to work properly, in tandem and harmony with each other.

There are many things to love about this game, but the thing that rang the truest for me is how the game feels so refreshingly free of meta-ironic bullshit and hipster posturing.  The game is utterly sincere and genuine in its execution; every frame of animation is carefully crafted to feel right.  Indeed, I urge you to have the brothers interact with anything you come across – each brother will act differently, for one thing, and nearly every interaction is unique.

When I’d spoken late last year of my desire to have games move beyond the act of shooting guns and killing things, this is the sort of game I’d hoped would take its place.  It’s an incredible experience – indeed, a truly moving experience, too – and it’s one of the finest games I’ve played in a long time.

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