Reviews

Lumbarjack – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

I’ve been on hiatus. Correction: I’m still on hiatus. I will forever be on hiatus until such a point as Donald Trump comes along with a toupee full of cash and pays me to run this site full-time. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been playing games, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been having opinions about games; it just means I’ve been playing games for fun, and not forcing myself to write them up constantly.

[And writing these drafts I felt as though I was rusty, so I apologise in advance.]

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons sort of slipped under my radar. It had good word of mouth, but I suspect the gamepad requirement put some people off. It certainly caused me to skip over the game initially – certainly a game that requires a gamepad is a subpar console port not worthy of your time, right?

Wrong. And I’m ashamed at myself for ever having entertained the thought considering my love for Dark Souls despite it unofficially requiring a gamepad and being – in many ways – a subpar console port.

The fact of the matter is that you couldn’t play BATTS any other way, no matter what system you’re running the game on. Each half of the gamepad controls one of the titular brothers – a stick for movement and a trigger to interact with the environment.

An alternative title for the game could have been Basic Motor Skills Simulator as the left/right split can easily become confusing when the brothers end up on opposite sides of the screen to their home on the gamepad.

Beyond any hemispherical confusion though, the controls are simple and elegant and in turn define the game as such. There is no great need for quick reflexes because the controls wouldn’t allow for it, and as such we end up with a relaxed and pleasant experience with enough challenge to keep the game interesting, but never so much that it might impede progress. BATTS is more journey than challenge, a stress-free way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.

In case the titles didn’t tip you off, in BATTS you play as two brothers, on a quest to save your ailing father by gathering some magic water the local medicine man needs to heal him. It’s a fantasy world, but don’t expect to find dragonscale armour and enchanted bastard swords – you’ll wander through simple villages, be helped up rocky cliff faces by a friendly troll, travail through and via ancient, breaking machinery, but the challenges you face are simple puzzles rather than epic battles.

Dialogue is a sing-song mumble that never needs to be properly explained because the story is visually well-told and doesn’t need to rely on words. Admittedly it’s a simple story, but so are most of the fables and fairy tales that BATTS is reminiscent of.

As you traverse the land these brothers inhabit you’ll come across people, creatures and situations that feel real, often poignant and occasionally heartbreaking. These stories help to flesh out the game world and demonstrate an understated narrative style – and even ability – that is rare in games.

I’m tempted to say BATTS would be a great game for kids, but people often assume there is a mutual exclusivity between games for children and adults. It’s a game you can play when you find yourself tired of violence and overwrought, self-important power fantasies, and it’s a game you can show to children without fearing they’ll be warped by violence, sex, swearing, or – worst of all – IAPs.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is elegantly designed, visually warm and beautiful, often touching, and a joy to experience.

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