Indie games are not always famous or well known among the many AAA games released by big publisher yearly. Neither are many of them delivering great playing experience. However, one stood out in terms of gameplay, characters and, to a lesser extent, the story. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is created by a filmmaker, Josef Fares, and he brings his filmmaking experience to the world of games with a twist.
(this review is written with excessive care to avoid revealing spoilers, but some minor spoilers may still appear in order to review this game fully)
Two brothers, Naia and Naiee, goes on a journey to find a healing water from a mysterious tree in the far land to treat their father’s illness. Along the way, they have to overcome obstacles together and meet with inhabitants from different lands.
The story is a simple tale of finding a medicine in a faraway land to save loved ones, which in this case is the brothers’ father. However, the execution is what sets this game apart from other similar games.
This is probably where I’m going to list the gameplay first, as I feel that it plays a bigger role in the game. Josef Fares has thought of a way that has been implemented in past game for a local multiplayer using the same keyboard. Remember the good old days of playing online fighting/cooperative games with friends using WASD and the arrow keys? That’s the basic movement set for how we are going to control the brothers duo. There’s additional ‘interaction’ buttons SPACE for Naia and LEFT SHIFT for Naiee. You will have to press and hold them to interact with nearby objects or NPCs.
With the gameplay explained, we can finally move on to the story. It is not an original story and TBH it’s quite a cliche. So you have a mother who has died due to the younger brother Naiee’s incident, and then years later their father suffered from a terrible disease. The disease is either so rare or strong that the brothers are assigned to find the Mysterious Tree Elixir in the far away land. Along the way, the brothers interact with many objects and NPCs to get past obstacles which involve many puzzle solving or reaction time.
There are also some side-quests that can be played to unlock achievements in-game. Usually, the player has to look for it, but normally it’s not far from the main route. The side-quests provide subtle hints at events that have occurred recently in the game and also shows us that this game world has issues as real as ours.
The graphics are simple yet beautiful. All of the landscapes and sceneries are rendered cartoony yet it imbues a sense of warmth and majesty. Players can control the camera or sit on one of the scattered benches to witness a wide landscape that is filled with details. You can look far ahead to see your next destination and be amazed at how it all links, and how much further the brothers have to travel to reach the Tree.
Check the screenshots below to appreciate how much the creators have poured in their effort to create a believable world of the brothers. I dare say that the graphics even surpass other indie games that take pride in their visual. As you can see, the landscape is very diverse, from a high mountain covered with foggy clouds to a river blanketed with pure white ice and snow. They exude a sense of a journey and freedom in an otherwise limited streamlined game. There are a couple of times I stop just to admire the sceneries and imagine myself living in this world.
With such a limited gameplay mechanics and a basic storyline, the game puts the two brothers as the standout. You are playing the game because of them. Every puzzle requires you to control them simultaneously. It is in these scenarios that you are shown their brotherhood and trust are put to test. Some of the puzzles will have the brothers holding onto a rope and switching around as one jumps to the next grab-able point. The others will have the brothers separated to reach some levers to open a gate.
Naiee and Naia have different weaknesses and strengths, which gives them characters. As the big brother, Naia is able to pull down big levers but yet is unable to pass through jail bars. Then we have Naiee, the younger one, who is able to creep past small entrances and yet is unable to swim. The brothers cover up each others’ weaknesses very well, and it further amplifies the fact that these two need to work together to stay alive.
Throughout the game, there will be basic actions such as rowing boats that require you to time the brothers carefully. Interaction with NPCs wise, each of them will display different actions or reactions, subtly revealing their personalities to the player. As the game uses fictional language for all of the characters, all of the emotion and dialogue are represented through actions and body languages or the pitch of the tone. This is The example of ‘showing and not telling’ wisdom that Josef Fares brought from his filmmaking experience, and he did it splendidly. I fell in love with the brothers without even understanding what they are saying.
The music for this indie game is well crafted and perhaps is the second most important in keeping the atmosphere alive. They seem to be heavily inspired by Nordic songs which when coupled with great sceneries and landscapes, amplify the latter two to a greater height. You will feel loneliness when there are only two brothers walking in a foreign land with only the wind howling, and the flute playing the soundtrack. Then you will feel the tension during a dangerous situation which makes you care for the brothers as they escape. Lastly, you will feed the sadness from how the story begins till it foreshadows a certain event and the music captured them perfectly. I can’t believe that they sound even better than big-budget soundtrack in some similar adventure games, and I applaud the creators for putting in as much effort into the soundtracks.