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.

>SFTC Post #200!

>I must confess I don’t really have anything planned for this, the 200th post here at Shouts from the Couch. I came here today to talk about DeathSpank.

DeathSpank is a downloadable action-RPG, which sounds like it ought to be terrible. But it’s written by Ron Gilbert, of Monkey Island fame, so that’s promising. And it’s got a fascinating and unique art design, which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen outside of something like Animal Crossing. And it’s legitimately funny, and probably features the best voice acting of any game in 2010 (yes, better than Mass Effect 2 and Red Dead Redemption), and the combat is simple but not totally mindless, and there’s so much to do, and it’s so well done.

The quest is a search for The Artifact, which appears to be a piece of bacon. The side quests are mostly of the “fetch this for me,” or “kill 10 of those things” variety, but they are all very funny, and I’ve found myself doing as many quests as possible just so that I can hear more of the incredibly well-written dialogue. And sometimes there are little puzzles that go on top of these quests; they’re not terribly difficult, but they certainly make an easy side quest that much trickier, and everything is just so goddamned witty and awesome. At one point I found myself getting mobbed by tiny little Irish dudes and they all laughed and cackled and I nearly had to put the controller down, I was giggling like an idiot.

In short: highly recommended.

And I’ll promise to have something more interesting for post #250.

>The Calm Before The Ridiculousness

>It’s 9/8/09, which means that in a little over 24 hours I’m going to be in some sort of Beatles-induced catatonic stupor, and then the wheels totally fly off shortly after that in terms of the fall release calendar. This is probably a good place, then, for me to check in before I check out.

So, then, first things first – please accept my humble apologies for the lack of regular updating. Blame it on the crappy summer release schedule, which coincided perfectly with an absurd uptick in my own personal music-related endeavors.

The last few weeks, though, have yielded both some free time and some really, really good games to be played. Here’s some quick impressions:

  • Batman: Arkham Asylum

Without question, a Game of the Year candidate – notwithstanding the fact that 2009 has been a pretty shitty year in terms of quality. But the real question is why. There’s a number of things to appreciate about developer Rocksteady’s latest effort; they took the hottest comic book/movie license out there and avoided the easy cash-in opportunity. They used the animated series – which is better source material for an interactive experience, anyway – and crafted a remarkable playground in which to explore. I always felt that Sam Fisher would kick the shit out of Solid Snake – and without endless cutscenes to muck it up – but I’m pretty sure that Batman could kick the shit out of both of them, at the same time. The game features fantastic combat mechanics, but doesn’t rely on combat to pad the game’s length, to the game’s tremendous credit. The Riddler’s puzzles offer tremendous incentive to explore every nook and cranny of Arkham Island, and the 40 Achievement Points I got for solving every riddle and finding every hidden message were among the most satisfying I’ve ever accumulated.

  • Shadow Complex

I spent my free time this weekend on my 2nd playthrough, with the objective of finding every hidden item. There were only 2 or 3 that really tried my patience; I’m still not entirely sure how I was able to nab them. (They involved breaking blue boxes, in case you’re already familiar with the game and what that means.) I found myself comparing Shadow Complex with Batman:AA more than once; it’s true that I played them more or less at the same time, but the two games complement each other in pretty interesting ways, I think – mostly in terms of encouraging exploration and offering incentives for backtracking. I’ll put it up there in GOTY territory as well; certainly it’s the XBLA’s best offering this year.

  • Trials HD

I love Trials HD; I just wish I was better at it. I’ve managed to finish all the hard levels, but I’ll never get beyond a bronze medal in any of them, and my ineptitude at the ultra-hard levels is discouraging. Difficulty aside, though, the game is an absolute blast; it’s beautiful, accessible and addictive, which is really all you could ask for in a downloadable title. The game features some of the best leaderboard integration I’ve ever seen, in any game; it also features the quickest restart of any game I’ve ever played, which is a big deal since failure is constant in the higher difficulties.

  • Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

I was a big fan of the first Layton game and very much looked forward to this latest iteration. I’m a bit torn on it, though, to be quite honest, and it’s puzzling (ha!) to figure out why. The game’s puzzles are much more varied than in the first game; the puzzles even have a bit of context, which makes them feel important (unlike the first game); there’s a wonderfully-integrated scratch pad which lets you scribble notes, trace paths and quickly add up sums. So, really, the game ought to be a better experience; and yet, for some reason, I quickly found myself racing through it – sometimes using a walkthrough, which totally defeats the purpose – and the game’s ending was utterly preposterous. I’m curious as to why I had such an unfortunate experience with it, but I will say this – as quick as Trials HD is when it comes to restarting a level, Layton 2 is tediously slow when it comes to retrying a puzzle, so much so that I probably resorted to a walkthrough because I didn’t feel like waiting 10 seconds if I got something wrong. If nothing else, though, the game did offer up my favorite game-related quote in quite some time:

“As a gentleman, I feel that it is my duty to take one of these balloons.”

  • Wolfenstein

I’d forgotten this was on my Gamefly queue. And, well, what do you know – here we are a few weeks later and I’d nearly forgotten I played it for about an hour.

————

Here’s my to-do list for the rest of 2009.

*All titles 360 unless otherwise noted*

MUST PLAY:
Beatles Rock Band
Dirt 2
Scribblenauts (DS)
Mario & Luigi 2 (DS)
Brutal Legend
Uncharted 2 (PS3)
Borderlands
Modern Warfare 2
Dragon Age
L4D2

INTERESTED IN:
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Katamari Forever (PS3)
Dead Space Extraction (Wii)
Alpha Protocol
Ratchet & Clank (PS3)
Forza 3
Blur
Assassin’s Creed 2
Saboteur

DO NOT CARE
Halo ODST

>Weekend Recap: Superbowl edition

>I apologize for the lack of posts lately; the post-holiday doldrums have settled in, apparently, and I haven’t found that much blog-worthy news of late.

I’ve polished off the Anchorage DLC in Fallout 3, and I’ve decided that I’m not going to play any more Fallout until the level cap patch hits; I hit level 20 even before I started the DLC and the way I figure, I might as well get rewarded for killing things. It’s odd – for the entire course of the game, I was always struggling with money, but now I’m suddenly rolling in cash.

Finished The Maw; it’s a cute, fun, better-than-expected XBLA title, but I’m not sure I’m ever going to touch it again. I think I mentioned this the other day – I like my XBLA titles to be the sorts of things that I can continually play over and over again, be it something arcade-y like Geometry Wars or something puzzle-y like Puzzle Quest or Bejeweled 2.

Speaking of which, there’s a Bejeweled mini-app on Facebook that I’d been getting obsessed with during my less-busy hours at work, and so I fired up my XBLA version over the weekend. Is there any other game in the 360’s library with tougher Achievements? My God.

Finally, I had a friend over yesterday before the Superbowl who’d never played Left 4 Dead before, so we sat down and did the airport level from top to bottom. I think I’m still buzzing from the experience; it was absolutely thrilling and we could not stop high-fiving each other for the rest of the day. I keep forgetting how absolutely incredible that game is; I need to be playing it more often, especially in this dry release period. Maybe we’ll put a SFTC L4D night together or something.

>Weekend Recap: Fallout 3, The Maw, RE5 demo

>So I accidentally finished Fallout 3 over the weekend. That’s a problem, of course, because when you finish the last quest, the game is over; the credits roll, and that’s it, and I still had a bunch of stuff I never finished doing, as well as a bunch of other stuff I never saw. I (fortunately) had a save point right before the last mission, and so I’ve taken advantage of this rip in the space-time continuum in order to keep playing and exploring. This also means that I can start messing around with the DLC and still be super-powered.

Fallout 3 is a very impressive game, on many levels, but it’s also problematic. After all the hours I’ve put into it, the combat still hasn’t ever really felt totally satisfying – come to think of it, I had the same problem with Mass Effect. My favorite thing in the game, ultimately, is simply exploring and finding new points on the map, and yet this is also a little bit of a bummer because everything kinda looks the same. Still – the amount of content and the level of detail is absolutely staggering, and Bethesda did a really great job revitalizing this franchise. I’m going to be keeping this game in my rotation for quite some time to come; I’ve got a few more Achievements to score, of course, but really there’s just so much more in the world that I’ve yet to see.

Played a bit of The Maw, which is one of the better XBLA titles to hit in some time. It’s pretty simple but very enjoyable, although I’m not sure there’s a lot of replay value. (I tend to prefer my XBLA games – as well as my handhelds – to be either puzzles or just straight-up arcade titles, as they don’t get too repetitive.)

Speaking of which, I actually fired up my PSP this weekend and tried to play the latest Star Ocean title. Unfortunately, I stopped giving a shit about 10 minutes in; endless, unskippable cutscenes plagued the pacing and I’m a little tired of cookie-cutter JRPGs. I would regret buying a PSP more if I remembered I still had it. I came very close to trading it (and all my games for it) towards Wii Fit this weekend, except (of course) Wii Fit was sold out everywhere.

Finally, I fired up the Resident Evil 5 demo this morning before I left for work. Not ideal circumstances for trying highly anticipated titles, but whatever. I saw what I needed to see, and what I saw is that it’s basically a hi-def RE4 with slightly less clumsy controls. I’m hoping to try it tonight via online co-op; maybe that’ll make the experience less disappointing.

>DN3D; Sonic DS; SH:H

>It’s been even longer since my last post than that one was in relation to the one preceding it, so I won’t bother apologizing. Suffice it to say, I’ve been pretty busy lately and there hasn’t been a whole lot of gaming going on, and that particular trend looks to continue for the next few weeks; considering the bevy of big titles that are about to be released (Fable 2, Fallout 3, and LittleBigPlanet, to name but 3), I am more than a little curious how I’m going to be able to do anything at all.

So, then, let me get to it:

Duke Nukem 3D is one of my all-time favorites, and I am ever-so-pleased to see that after all this time, it still holds up. Obviously the graphics are dated, but whatever – the level design is still fresh, the carnage is still, er, carnal, the weapons are still awesome and the one-liners still put smiles on my face. There’s a lot to be said for the retro-irony factor of playing old games again on new systems, but here’s the thing – DN3D is actually still fun. And I’m not even talking about multiplayer, which is something I never did back then nor am I doing now – the single-player campaign is fucking AWESOME. I’ll say this right now – if DNF was simply a remodelling of DN3D in the Unreal Engine, it would probably still be better than whatever it is they’ve been working on for the last 12 years, and it would also probably be one of the most fun FPSs going.

Sonic Chronicles: Dark Brotherhood is something I picked up on Friday, the day before a weekend trip to Columbus, Ohio for a wedding. I had originally intended to rent it, and then I read the IGN review which kinda tore it apart somewhat convincingly, and I removed it from my Gamefly queue; then I read some other reviews which were a bit more upbeat, and since I was in a state of post-anxiety relief and release (I’d bought a suit for this wedding, and in the week between buying it and actually picking it up I’d somehow remembered it as being this gaudy, tacky monstrosity, and when I finally picked it up it instead turned out to be a rather nice suit), I figured, well, why the hell not. ANYWAY. I’ve put a few hours into it, most of my party is around level 6 or 7 (I think) and I’ve pretty much gotten the hang of how the mechanics work, and I have to say – it’s pretty fun. It’s somewhat easy, which is fine, and the story is pretty simplistic for a BioWare game – but, again, this is a Sonic game – who the hell cares? The battle system is engaging and utilizes the DS touchscreen quite nicely. There’s not a tremendous amount of exploration to be done, but what’s there is fine. A solid, engaging title that will certainly keep you occupied on a plane.

I’ve only put maybe 20 minutes into Silent Hill: Homecoming which had arrived in the mail while we were away, so I’m not really ready to talk about it. Having only actually played Silent Hill 4 (which was kinda meh), I’m not a fanboy; indeed, I only decided to pick it up because a friend of mine at work has been talking about wanting to play it for the last month or so, and I figured I’d give it a shot. It is creepy, but not scary, and to be honest, some of the attempts at creepiness are a little lame and cliched; solitary ghost children drawing pictures in delapidated, monster-infested buildings is something that’s been around in the genre FOREVER. The game just kinda throws you into the story without explaining who you are and why you’re there; maybe if I were more knowledgeable about the franchise it would mean something more to me, because right now I’m just a dude with a flashlight in an abandoned mental hospital taking orders from some whiny brat.