Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons review

One gamepad (or keyboard), two simultaneously playable characters. It sounds like a recipe for hapless chaos or arch experimentation, but gentle, gorgeous puzzle-adventure Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons feels effortless and intuitive in practice. Ultimately, it's unusually moving too, even though not a word of English has been spoken.

You're in control of the titular brothers, on a quest through a Middle Ages Scandinavian land to find the rare medicine which will cure their gravely ill father. Neither speak outside of simple, Pingu-like sounds which thanks to careful use of animation and environments are more than enough to explain their predicament and challenges, but both are clearly utterly devoted to each other. 

One's older, taller and stronger, the other's younger, shorter and more nimble, which means they're capable of different things in their adventure through picturesque towns, cascading waterfalls, arduous mountains and any number of hand-cranked lifts, rickety rooftops and bridges guarded by cackling bullies. 

Brothers uses absolute simplicity to control both boys at once - one using the left thumbstick to move and left trigger to interact, and the other the respective righthand controls. There is an element of patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, especially if the 'left' brother winds up on the right-hand side of the screen, but for the most part it feels entirely natural to be making two strong-but-silent Scandi-lads charge off in different directions.

Perhaps it's a little too dialled back at times - only the one context-sensitive button for each character's actions means the game can turn into a simple hunt for the lone interactive item in each new area, with little scope to actually affect the delightfully soft-lit world around you and no option to go off the beaten path.

On the other hand, Brothers wrings smartly abstract ideas from such simplicity, and almost never gives hints about what to do. For instance, you'll see a crank with two handles, and quickly establish by yourself that you need to position a brother near each one, hit the left and right triggers then wind the thumbsticks in a circular motion. That's one of the earlier and more obvious ones, but throughout you'll be devising slick, clever solutions without prompting - and thus feeling proud of your own achievements.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Outside of the puzzles proper, there are incidental discoveries to be made - the differing outcomes when each brother attempts to play with a passing kitten, for instance, or simply having both of them take a load of their feet and admire the beautiful view from a convenient bench. It's a lovely-looking game - the characters might be a little bit CBeebies, but you can't knock the scenery and the lighting.

Older gamers will probably be recalling The Lost Vikings at this stage, a 90s game from the company that went on to become Warcraft-makers Blizzard, and which similarly revolved around one player making multiple characters work together to progress. 

True, it's not a novel idea, but crucially it does require simultaneous control, and the occasional hand-eye-coordination pratfalls which result, and perhaps more importantly it's basically violence-free. Which is something of a surprise, given it hails from the studio behind the ultra-violent Chronicles of Riddick game and the recent, woeful Syndicate remake. 

Brothers is big on charm and ingenuity, and low on nastiness. The pair do encounter darker fare, but for the most part all they need to do is gentle and, at times, repetitive. The balance is a little too far towards clambering on to things and not quite enough towards co-ordinating both boys into something thoughtful and challenging, and there are definitely sections where it feels as though the game is marking time.

It's all building up to something that must not be spoiled here, and which very much justifies any of the small sins of over-simplicity made on the all-too-brief journey to it. The game's absolutely worth seeking out and completing - purely to know what we're on about there. 


Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons: Specs

  • Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. PC system requirements: OS: Windows XP SP3 Processor: 2.4 GHz Dual Core Processor Memory: 2 GB RAM Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 8600 /ATI Radeon HD 2600 DirectX: Version 9.0 Hard Drive: 2 GB available space
  • Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. PC system requirements: OS: Windows XP SP3 Processor: 2.4 GHz Dual Core Processor Memory: 2 GB RAM Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 8600 /ATI Radeon HD 2600 DirectX: Version 9.0 Hard Drive: 2 GB available space


It's guilty of some repetition and over-simplicity, but Brothers is a good-natured, heart string-plucking gem that ignores commercial cynicism and emerges triumphant as a result.