Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a walking around simulator. A cute, sometimes pleasant, sometimes touching, walking around simulator. You control two brothers on a quest to get some medicine for their father. Along the way you encounter nothing even slightly resembling a challenge. In fact you barely encounter anything resembling a game. The brothers move along a predetermined path of, admittedly beautiful, scenery. Sometimes the brothers have to climb a wall or pull a switch. Climbing or pulling a switch is about as challenging as the game ever gets though and it’s the most the game ever asks of the player in terms of input. I’m quite sure Brothers would have been just as happy to forgo that player input altogether and be a series of animated scenes. In fact I’m certain of this after having to endure many of the game’s self-indulgent, long-winded cut-scenes. The worst of these (in the game’s closing moments) intersperses cut scenes with brief moments of player control. When you finally wrest control of the character from the cut-scenes, you find the brother you control is now plodding around at a glacial pace. There is nothing worse than having to endure cut-scene atop cut-scene of what, presumably someone thought to be, heart wrenching moments and then having control of an artificially slowed character. There was an assumption by the game that I should be forced to slow down and take in the gravity of the drama in front of me. If I’m playing a game I not only want to have control of the action at all times, I never want arbitrarily enforced breaks in game play because the game thinks I need things pointed out to me. Nothing screams “PADDING and FILLER” like a character being forced to move slowly because they are sad. If I find something moving, touching, or upsetting I will decide how to react in my own time. I don’t need a game telling me when to apply the correct amount of grief to a virtual scene of drama.
The one point of difference stopping Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons being anything more than a virtual walking tour is the concurrent control it gives the player of the titular brothers. Each brother is controlled by a separate analogue stick and a separate shoulder button for interaction. I admire the streamlined control scheme, it seems an elegant way for players to jump straight into the game and interact with the world. Unfortunately there’s barely interaction to be had outside of the most shallow and obvious things you see around you. The world of Brothers is little more than a virtual sound and animation board. Walk up to something and press interact to see a funny picture or hear a funny noise. There’s no depth, strategy, or consequence to anything you do.
While initially I was intrigued by the concept of concurrent character control, I don’t think it’s a concept that will catch on. It’s a fundamentally confusing thing to do, like rubbing your stomach while patting your head. You will often have the brothers veer off in random directions as your brain skips a beat and forgets which stick is controlling which brother. Thankfully, and also disappointingly, the concurrent character control is never used in any overly challenging puzzles or situations. Get one brother to pull a lever and extend a bridge while the other runs across. Throw a cog from one brother to the next over a gap. Swing one brother on a rope while the other holds it. There’s nothing in the game that will take longer than a minute or two to work out. The control scheme similarly isn’t used to induce any hand-eye coordination challenges, nothing that requires you to learn and practice the way the game is inherently different from others. At best the control scheme adds some extra artificial padding (to a game already overflowing with it). For example; climb one brother up a wall and then repeat the exact same process with the other brother, repeat ad nauseam for every section of the game. This lack of challenge and almost negligence to the game’s one innovation is a real shame.
For all of its lack of a game, the world Brother’s send you on a tour of is rather charming. It’s a world I wouldn’t mind seeing a game with a little more substance set in. You wander past fantastically crafted scenery that gives a sense of history and magic to the world. The brother’s tour passes things that hint at a world ripe with fantasy and whimsy. There’s amazing things happening (or have just happened) that are intriguing and captivating. It’s such a shame that all of these scenes are only experienced in passing. There’s no scope to dig deeper, to explore your own path or to decide which way you want to the Brother’s story to go. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons boils down to a player pressing the forward button as scenes slide past on-screen. At times even that small element of control is taken away, and you’re not allowed to decide how fast you wish to see the scenes. It’s a beautifully created world, unfortunately almost completely lacking a game. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is getting 2/5 siblings.