Set to launch this summer, Starbreeze Studios’ Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a very unusual prospect. Not just in that it’s a new IP with fresh ideas launching at the tail end of a console generation – though it could very well be labelled as such – but in that aside from a handful of mini-games and half-baked touchscreen titles, you’re unlikely to ever have played a videogame like this before.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is the story of siblings searching for a cure to save their dying father. More context will likely be added before release, but on truth there is no more that is needed. Everything on the world of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is deigned to be taken at face value, be it obstacles to be overcome, characters to meet or even the videogame’s control system. Taking control of both brothers simultaneously may seem like a daunting task – and initially it is – but after only a few challenges you will quickly adapt to the idea that, though they may control independently, the two are really equal parts of a cohesive whole.
The preview build available to Electronic Theatre stated that it took place around twenty minutes into the videogame and offered the simplest tutorial imaginable: LT controls the big brother, RT little brother, no open the gate. Immediately two core principles have been established: triggers act as the interaction buttons and the brothers must work together in order to overcome the many challenges that lie ahead. Beyond this introduction players will learn that the left analogue stick is used for movement of the big brother and the right stick controls the little brother, but that’s where the lone is drawn; move and interact, there is no need for any further controls.
Pursuing the least complicated design imaginable, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons features no on-screen furniture or HUD of any sort, no health bars and no experience points. That which you have upon beginning the adventure is the same as that which you will have upon arriving at your destination (though, with any luck, you will also have the cure for your father). In the first area of the demo version you can meet some local villagers, borrow a little girl’s ball (and be particularly nasty to her, if you so wish) mess up a flower bed, tease an old man and ask a lady for directions, all with the simple movement and interaction controls.
Beyond this Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons starts to throw a few shirt challenges your way, both mental and dexterity tests. Items that can be interacted with are not signposted, players will need to analyse the world and interject real world knowledge, such as when attempting to distract an angry dog with one brother so that the other may cross a field. Along the oath are a number of elevated hay bales and ledges which the two must use to make it from one side of the field to the other. However, spending too long on ground level will see you come to a nasty end. As such, you must use one brother to ensure that the dog is unaware of the other’s progress. This can be done by simply running and tempting the dog to follow you, however it’s much safer to climb to the handily provided higher ground and press that interaction button: the contextual implementation of the interaction button means that the trigger will know exactly what you hope to achieve in any given situation, and here it’s to shout and clap in order to draw the dog over to the brother currently standing safely out of his reach.
The big brother is tall and strong, while the little brother is fast and cheeky. This information is relevant to your adventure in more ways than one, and simply knowing this is a piece of the puzzle already in your hand when encountering each new challenge. During the short preview build this and other universal information could be applied to discover the solution to many challenges, and open the way forward. From giving the little brother a leg-up to reach a ledge or carrying a sheep across a bridge, the big brother has a number of abilities that come from the fact that he is, as is immediately recognisable, bigger.
This investment in real world rules for Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons’ fantasy world certainly works in the videogame’s favour, with those ‘eureka!’ moments that come from puzzle solving being based on your perception rather than following some awkward developer logic that isn’t entirely coherent with previous puzzles. If Starbreeze Studios can maintain this intuitive design for the full duration of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons’ adventure then it’ll surely become a landmark title for more than it’s chosen release date and control system.