Have You Played… Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Your first reaction when playing this platforming adventure is probably going to be: “Well, this is disorienting.” Your second thought is going to be: “Actually, this is quite clever.” Your final thought is going to be: “Waaaaaaaaah.”

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons makes you control two characters at once, each assigned a stick on your gamepad, essentially imbuing one of your thumbs with the playfulness of a younger brother, and your other thumb with the bossiness of the older brother. Your dad is unwell, so its up to you to go in search of a faraway plant that can cure him. It’s this way, no, wait… sorry, this way… no, left thumb, you’ve got to… listen, if you just… gah!

Aside from the intermittent puzzles presenting you with a challenge of hand-to-eye co-ordination in the most classic pat-your-head-and-rub-your-belly sort of way, it also weaves a wordless fairytale as you go, full of friendly trolls and savage dogs. Ignore the tropey spiderwomen and relish the good bits. One level sees you traversing a region where giants are having a battle, clambering over their massive corpses on your way. You never see exactly what is happening in that battle – it’s all taking place above the camera’s focus – but the aftermath is an atmospheric and memorable set piece.

I almost didn’t reach the end of Brothers, leaving it unplayed for a few days thanks to one of the less-interesting sections in a cave. But I implore anyone who has not completed it to do so, because it has a very smart ending, even if it is a melancholy one. And in this industry, that is a rarity worth reaching.

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37 Comments

  1. Eight Rooks says:

    I have played it, and I liked it a lot (the general idea, the art design, the quiet restraint and gentle playfulness for most of it), but…

    It’s a good ending, but it’s not particularly smart or very deep; other than That One Moment it’s fairly straight-ahead emotional manipulation, and the whole thing (the whole ending, not the whole game) hinges on a regrettably trope-y moment that could have been much better done. It also doesn’t stand up to repeat play very well, IMO – it never really does anything that fancy with the controls and it’s super linear (as opposed to, say, ICO or Shadow of the Colossus). It’s definitely a good game! But some of the reviews were just… a ridiculous amount of gushing feels for no real reason other than “It’s so sad!”, IMO.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      I thought the ending was very clever. It built on the link between the narrative and the control system ingeniously. It’s a shame that necessarily meant the ending was less mechanically engaging, but it still landed brilliantly.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        No, that one sequence when you actually realise what’s going on is what’s very clever. That was an “Oh jeez I get it! I see now!” moment, no argument there. But the actual ending beyond that point is just straight up “Waaaaaah I am sad because [REDACTED]”, and pretty much nothing else. The very last “Waaaaaah!” moment as the camera pulls away after the final scene had me rolling my eyes thinking “Yes, okay, I get it, you’re miserable” – sugary melodrama through and through. And the ending – I’m desperately trying to avoid spoilers here, just in case – only came about because that one character did something utterly stupid which hinged on a tired and annoying fairytale cliche with zero depth which wasn’t even illustrated in a particularly artful or compelling way – next to stuff like the giant’s graveyard or the griffon in the castle that whole sequence was mediocre at best. I was plainly supposed to think “Oh, God, no!” – all it got me to feel was “Really? That’s how you’re going to do it? Really?”

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          basilisk says:

          I’m glad I’m not the only one who found that part absolutely ridiculous. Yes, the one bit at the end that everyone says is very clever is indeed very clever, but I almost missed it for all the eye-rolling I had been doing for the previous five minutes. Even as blatant emotional manipulation it was rather cheap.

    • Kitsunin says:

      I mean, the strength of the ending is 100% in the controls. If you watched the ending it would be incredibly lukewarm, maybe given a bit of strength just by how damn marvelous the world at large is. But man, the controls, and the way they fit into the ending elevate to the point where its emotional impact is up there with the Greatest of All Time cream of the crop.

      I’m sure I’d never feel the same about it again after the first time, but seriously, seriously, the way it affects the controls truly causes you to feel the impact deep within your gut and your instincts, in a way that’s literally impossible for anything that isn’t a game to do.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      *Spoilers in the below post*

      As echoed by others the controls make the difference. I had the plot twist spoiled for me and ultimately that wasn’t an issue because of the handling of that scene.

      The controls give you that depth. After the fakeout you are required to do the unthinkable. I struggled with this. For me its a horrifying action and I put the controller down unsure whether I wanted to continue playing.

      While the controller was on the floor he just stood there. Both literally and metaphorically. If he didn’t confront and tackle this issue he’d never be able to emotionally move forward, there would be no progression for him.

      The same with the water section afterwards. You aren’t just helping the characters progress to their goal, its an emotional obstacle you help them overcome.

      It’s also in the little details. In the tutorial section you can go rock skipping. You can do that in the epilogue too. There’s a few of the puzzles from the tutorial in the epilogue. They are there unaltered. It’s those little details rather than the big “twist” that I feel add that emotional impact.

    • cheesyboy says:

      I feel like I need to play it again, because I just don’t know what The Big Moment was :/

      I enjoyed the game, and remember the conclusion, but utterly failed to be moved by That Bit (whatever it was).

      Feel like I’m missing out.

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    Ben King says:

    The caged griffin’s short grim side story and the Giant’s battlefield were really unlike almost anything else I’ve seen in a game. I’ve got a collection of Brothers Grimm stories and the volume of horror and bloodshed that are in there masquerading as children’s morality tales meshes up really well with the worldview in Brothers. It’s a beautiful clever world full of amazing things but all of those amazing things are also completely horrifying. I liked seeing the different environments and background stories the Brothers witnessed more than I actually enjoyed playing the game and solving the puzzles.

    • Turkey says:

      I haven’t read any interviews with the developers or anything, but I suspect the game was hugely influenced by Astrid Lindgren’s children’s books. Particularly “The Brothers Lionheart”

      Her books and movie adaptations are a big part of growing up in Sweden, where the lead developer comes from.

  3. malkav11 says:

    It’s such a beautiful game in every respect. I highly encourage everyone to play it.

  4. xyzzy frobozz says:

    One of the best games that I’ve played in the last few years.

  5. kaal says:

    The most underwhelming game ive played the last 5 years. If it werent for the hype i wouldnt feel so insulted i guess but how desperate game journalists were, atleast in 2013 to convince theirselvs their medium is mature and can handle storytelling just as well as any other soured the game for me immensly. It uses the medium video games to tell a story shockingly bad while it pretends to be a artsy game about telling a story with the medium. Id highly recommend FEZ if you enjoy atmospheric exploring. And play dwarf fortress / X-com (94) and dark souls to enjoy video games as a art form.

    • criskywalker says:

      You’re entitled to your opinion, but I have to say that I feel sorry that you couldn’t appreciate the beautiful game. It’s one of the experiences that I enjoyed the most in gaming and it doesn’t have the same flaws most of games have like boring spoken dialogue, filler content and bad ending.

      Maybe you should give it another try?

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    caff says:

    I remember picking this up after looking at the top rated PC games on the god-awful Metacritic site, and being pleasantly surprised that it was as good as everyone there said it would be.

  7. w0bbl3r says:

    Bloody great game.
    That giant’s battleground level was so smart, but also very touching and quite intimate. How you had to get over and around these fallen behemoths, seeing the injuries on them that took them down, it was just so well done.

    The story was nice, nice ending, which was even a little bit unexpected, especially for a videogame story (which are usually a bit crap even at the best of times), and the final scene was so touching I actually almost cried a little. And that’s something I think I have only done maybe twice before in a game.

    Anyone who hasn’t played this, go get it. You can pick it up extremely cheap now when it’s on sale. Like £2 or something, maybe even in a humble bundle or something, well worth it for the few hours story you will play through.

    Two or three weak sections, but you are soon through them and they aren’t so weak that they put you off the whole game, because the rest is just such a joy to play through

  8. LennyLeonardo says:

    Did anybody else find that bit where you have to paint a black rabbit white so its white peers will accept it a bit politically… weird?

    • Ashabel says:

      You don’t actually have to do it. It nets you an achievement, but all the achievements in the game are from optional activities. As for the meaning of it…

      On the one hand, sometimes a fairy tale is just a fairy tale.

      On the other hand, I’ve heard so many anecdotes from my friends from mixed race families about how they and their sibling would be treated completely differently in the same social environment because one of them looks “white” and the other doesn’t, that the most that scene got out of me was a tired sigh.

      • Xerophyte says:

        The game’s director is Josef Fares, and he arrived in Sweden as a refugee from Lebanon when he was 10. He’s made a number of movies about the immigrant experience (mostly farcical comedies, except the autobiographical Zozo). References to the difficulty of fitting in as a nonwhite are not likely to be accidental.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Not really. If you take it as an isolated event then you can make that interpretation but it thematically fits in with with everything else.

      The only unhappy people/things in the game are those separated from their loved ones. The young boy and his mum, the boys and their father, the giants, the love birds and the suicidal man.

      Apart from the mother they are all made happy via their reconnection. The black bunny is unhappy because he’s separated from his family/friends and is happy once he’s reunited with them.

  9. theirongiant says:

    I really liked the fact that there were place where you could look back on where you’d come from. Did a really good job of making it feel like a coherent world and not just a series of levels.

  10. LTK says:

    Wait, the giants’ battle was ongoing? I never saw anything that suggested this, it looked to me like the battle happened in the recent past. Recent enough that their bodies haven’t started decomposing, but long enough that they’re all very much dead.

    • UmungoBungo says:

      I thought the same thing after reading the article! But now that I think back, there may have been clanking of armour and shouts in the distance during that scene

  11. Cropduster says:

    Didn’t like it much at first, but it definitely grew on me. I tend to immeidiately ignore anything that wants to rub up my heartstrings.

    But in the end I just loved how the scenery kept changing and kept one-upping itself. At it’s best it was like an illustration from a Moomins book.

  12. Wagrid says:

    Brothers was for me squarely in the category of things that I liked that everybody else loved (also in this category: The Witcher 3, Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket). This is not a dig at Brothers; it just didn’t resonate with me the way it did with a lot of other folks. I still think it’s very good and would happily recommend it to just about anybody interested in storytelling in games.

  13. kwyjibo says:

    It’s a cretinous ending to a pleasant enough game.

    The moral of the story is to never try, because it’s all ultimately pointless. Spoiler alert, you will die multiple times on a playthrough, you will fall down chasms, be frozen by invisible giants, gored by spider demons. And each time you respawn and retry, which establishes that you can’t die, and it’s just a pleasant adventure. But spot the difference – being gored by a spider is permadeath. Why’s that, where’s the logical difference between spiders and giants? There is none, and so the game reminds you that yes it is a linear game with no logic other than whatever the writer wants.

    When Bioshock revealed it’s “would you kindly”, it told you it was a game but it was clever about it. Brothers tells you it’s a game and it’s stupid and you are stupid, and now it’s time for emotion, you cretin.

  14. icarussc says:

    One of my best game experiences ever. I played it with my three- and five-year-olds sitting on my lap, just as though we were reading a fairy tale book together. At that point, I think the emotional impact is pretty legit.

    • VisibleMachine says:

      I played it with my four-year old up until the forest with all the hanging bodies, seemed a bit too grim at that point.

  15. davec1 says:

    I really enjoyed this game and the control scheme actually inspired me to create my own arcade game based around the challenge of controlling two characters at the same time. You can check it out at http://www.modsork.com , aiming for Early Access early next year.

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      caff says:

      Looks cool, if you can make it work with keyboard too I’ll be interested. Strange name though :)

      • davec1 says:

        Thanks! I am looking into kb/m controls, but to be honest I am not sure yet if I can make it work in a satisfying way, as it’s currently really tailored for the dual 360° of freedom, as well as being able to control how fast you move depending on how hard you push a thumbstick. But I’ll definitely try to figure it out.

        The name…yeah…what can I say, at least it’s at the top of the search result list if you google it…. ;)

  16. EkoAzarak says:

    One of the greatest games I have ever played. Truly sublime. An almost perfect marriage of story and interface. I played it on PC with a usb game controller. It is highly recommended that you do the same. You’ll know why once you play it. Truly wonderful game.

  17. Sunjammer says:

    I still don’t get why so many got up in arms about the girl being a spider demon thing.

    • pepperfez says:

      I may be misremembering, but aren’t the only two female characters in the game tragically-dead mother and literally-monstrous seductress? Belief in the real-life truth of that dichotomy is a common justification for extremely misogynist ideas, so I can understand being testy about its appearance in a game that’s lauded for its emotional sensitivity.

  18. Unsheep says:

    It just doesn’t seem interesting or fun to me. Granted, when it comes to “stick-games” I’m more of a shoot ’em up kind of guy, and this is a platformer, so …

    I did see a playthrough of the game though. To me the game is not long enough to build an attachment to the characters. I felt the same way watching a Journey playthrough.

  19. criskywalker says:

    Brilliant control method. Brilliant unique storytelling without Hollywood crappy dialogue. No filler BS. It is a short, lovely story with something that you don’t see often in games: a good freaking ending!

    One of the best experiences I ever had in gaming.

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