Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons review for XBLA

If you hear the game Ico mentioned any time Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is talked about, it’s a comparison that’s well-deserved. It seems pretty clear that developer Starbreeze took some inspiration from the beloved PS2 cult-classic, and really put that inspiration to good use here. It’s also a hell of a way to kick off Summer of Arcade for XBLA this year, and really sets the bar pretty high for digital downloads for the rest of 2013 in or out of the promotion.

The overall tale told by Brothers is pretty simple, but remarkably ends up as one of the bigger emotional experiences I’ve had with a video game this year. There’s no text to read through, and the spoken dialogue sounds like something pulled from The Sims more than any known language. But there’s enough conveyed through the action and animations of each character to not only sell you on the fantasy infused world the titular brothers live in, but to really drive home the all-important and often elusive connection with players that few games manage to make.

brothers 001There’s not much else I can say about the story without ruining that end response, but trust me when I say it’s well worth checking out. Thankfully the gameplay manages to match up nicely, opting to focus on exploration and puzzle solving rather than simple and repetitive combat. If you’ve grown tired of shooting dudes in the face or beating bodily fluids out of everyone, you’ll enjoy the break that Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons gives you from a bit of the old ultra-violence.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons makes use of a pretty unique control feature that puts you in direct control of both brothers at once, by using each analogue stick on the controller for simultaneous movement. The left stick controls the eldest brother, while the right controls the youngest. Context sensitive actions are controlled by a single action button for each brother, and while the thought of controlling two independent characters via one controller sounds daunting, I thought it ended up as something surprisingly intuitive. I’d go off the rails a bit here and there, but there’s not much in Brothers that punishes you for mistakes.

brothers 002My only real complaint is that I’d like a bit more challenge out of the short experience that Brothers delivers. The puzzle aspects of the adventure never really get off the ground until the tail end of the game, and even then you’ll hardly find yourself stuck. It’s great for the pacing, since you’ll hardly pause for long in one spot, but makes for a pretty fleeting experience overall. I certainly appreciate the emphasis on the environment and unique scenarios found throughout though, and while this might not be the most visually impressive game out there, it has an incredibly charming art style that helps sell the world really well.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a game better experienced than talked about however, and I’d urge you to do so as soon as possible. It’s a really unique entry on Xbox Live Arcade, which is saying something considering that the platform is already filled with unique experiences. If you’ve grown tired of the same old stuff filling store shelves and hard drive space, then you should really consider Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons for a more unique, emotional ride than you’re likely to see all year.

Grade: A