The 2013 Xbox Live Summer of Arcade kicked off with an emotional bang two weeks ago with a stirring story of two young boys trying to save their father from disease. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is short and bittersweet, with more emotional impact than you would expect from a mere three to four hours of play.
Despite its short length, Brothers is very much worth your time.
Brothers puts you in control of both the older and the younger brother simultaneously. While one is steered with the left joystick, the other moves about by using the right. The left and right bumpers are used to interact with various items and objects throughout, by the older and younger brothers respectively. That’s it. Just two buttons and two joysticks, and there’s your game. In an age where your average video game controller comes packed with no less than a dozen buttons and knobs and triggers, it is indeed refreshing to not have to remember the difference between hitting Y or X as opposed to A+B or pulling the right trigger while clicked down on the analog stick. Two characters, four controls. Boom. Easy as.
The only (debatable) issue with this set-up is that in the beginning it might take you a while to get your bearings and be able to properly move both boys around at the same time without accidentally making one backtrack or run into a tree. As you progress the process becomes much more natural, but if there’s one thing Brothers could benefit from, it would be adding the option to play co-op with a friend as well as solo on one controller.
Aside from that incredibly minor gripe, pretty much everything else about the Starbreeze Studios-developed game is aces all the way. Not the least of which is the absolutely stunning scenery showcased. And I do mean showcased. There are benches scattered throughout the world that you can pop a squat on, and just take in the breathtaking views. Mystic caverns, forested woodlands, auroras in the sky; these are just a few majesties to behold on your quest, and you might find yourself just sitting and enjoying the views for a good portion of the game.
Another high point comes in the unlikely form of achievements. The term ‘achievement’ has become somewhat of a misnomer, as in many games you are frequently rewarded with one every time you complete a chapter or hit a mandatory checkpoint. Playing a game to completion merits a bleep-bloop, but surely others unlocked for standard plot progression can not be considered noteworthy.
In Brothers every single achievement is potentially missable, only being unlocked by completing optional puzzles along your journey. They aren’t highlighted or noted for you to check out; instead they are hidden throughout, actually making you feel accomplished and a bit proud when the notification pops up saying you’ve unlocked it. Definitely the most satisfaction I have had from achievements in a long while.
As stated before, the game doesn’t have much longevity to it – there are less than 10 chapters in total, with each taking no more than half an hour if you’re running around blind. Even if you love your achievements and go back to 100% them after completing the game, it shouldn’t take you more than a few hours before you’re all done. There are no collectibles, no side-quests, and no extra content. Contrary to my tone, these are all wonderful things. A breath of fresh air, as it were.
Now I enjoy a good bit of extra content, and I love my RPGs riddled with side-quests and unlockables. But that’s not the point of Brothers. Brothers is here to let you interact with these boys – to let you see their journey. Their ups and downs, their wins and their losses. The game is hardly a game at all. Sure, you make them move and solve the riddles to progress to the end, but it ultimately feels more like a novella. Short enough to complete on your day off, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and makes you care so much about these boys whose language you can’t even comprehend (seriously; they speak in gibberish, and you pick up the story through body language and context – a marvelous touch, I might add). This is not an easy feat, but it was pulled off masterfully.
After all is said and done, there’s just one more matter to address: the price. While it’s true that if you haven’t played Brothers yet, you absolutely should, the $15 price tag is a bit much for an experience that only lasts a handful of hours. That said, it is certainly an experience that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the Xbox off. So while I, personally, wouldn’t pay $15 for Brothers when I could grab up other emotionally jarring titles that last longer for less money, it also is not completely unreasonable.
Whether you wait for a sale or not, just make you it’s on your list. This story of two sons is easily one of the top games of 2013. You owe it to yourself to experience their tale.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons was developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by 505 Games. It is the first of four Summer of Arcade titles, currently available on the Xbox Live Arcade for $14.99. This title will also be released for Steam and the PlayStation Network on August 28 and September 3, respectively.
A digital download code for this game was provided to Save/Continue by the publisher for review purposes.