Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons released to much critical acclaim around two years ago. Celebrated for its unique control scheme and touching narrative, it was a hit, and fans to this day hold it in very high regard, among peers such as Journey and Ico. Fortunately for those of you who missed it the first time around, publisher 505 Games has seen fit to re-release the jaunt for the PlayStation 3's younger, more powerful sibling.
We're glad that it did, because whether you've played it before or not, this is a game with a story well worth re-telling. Brothers begins as the younger sibling kneels before his mother's grave, remembering the fateful night in which, despite his efforts to save her, she was taken away by strong waters. The trauma now haunts the young boy; he feels real guilt and sadness. To make matters worse, the father of the two boys is gravely ill. The pair must embark on a quest to find the cure to save their remaining parent's life. An emotional start to an emotional game.
However, it isn't all doom and gloom – the title has real charm, with a simple, colourful aesthetic that holds up well on the PlayStation 4. As we've said, the original was released almost two years ago on the PS3, so it's safe to say that this isn't pushing the new-gen system's limits in any way. But while it may not blow you away, it's certainly a pretty game, with some beautiful backdrops and environments full of character.
The main hook of the release is in how you explore and traverse the world. You're given control over both brothers simultaneously; the older is controlled by the left stick and L2, and the younger is the opposite. That's it, in terms of buttons: two sticks, two triggers. While it sounds simple enough on paper, it's well documented that controlling these two boys can be very fiddly, and we'll restate that here.
Manoeuvring two characters at once does work surprisingly well for the majority of the time, but with the game focusing on traversal and overcoming obstacles, it can melt your brain pretty quickly. The game is never difficult, but the controls can get frustrating at times. Another way to put it is that, sometimes, the environmental puzzles are far easier than simply moving the boys into the right place.
Interacting with people and items found in the world does fare better, and while some of it's entirely incidental and optional, it's worth taking the time to explore. The Trophies for Brothers don't focus on story progression, they unlock when you complete small tasks that are barely hidden. The developer wants you to find these, and we echo this; there are some great moments in these asides – even discovering each sibling's various reactions to creatures and objects is reason enough to explore this Nordic fairytale land. For example, early on, a woman is knelt down with her cat, and if you approach as the younger boy and squeeze R2, he will ask to hold her pet, the cat happily letting him pet its fur. However, trying to interact as the older boy doesn't go quite as well, as the cat wriggles and struggles to get away.
There are moments like this scattered generously throughout the game's short span (about three hours), and that describes the game fairly well: it's a game of moments. Some of them will be gleeful and heartwarming, while others will be haunting and sorrowful. The title's innocent vibe quickly descends into far darker territory, and it does this with no warning. You'll guide the two sons through dark woods, across the remains of a battle between giants, and over icy lakes, with a reserved soundtrack and superb use of sound heightening the tension as you go.
Arguably one of the game's greatest strengths is in its storytelling, which is done without a single word of English – or any other language for that matter. All of the characters speak in gibberish, and the story is told through the interactions between them and through the environments. It's surprisingly effective, and we were emotionally engaged with the brothers for the duration.
None of this will be news to those among you who tried it on the PS3, however. So, is there anything new to see in this version? Well, there are some extras, including a gallery of concept art and developer commentary, as well as the ability to listen to the game's wonderful soundtrack as you like. Whether these things are enough to entice you to buy again, we're not sure, but they are nice additions in any case.
Ultimately, this is the same tale of the same two sons that released a couple of years back, but that's not to say that the game is to be ignored – far from it. If you've already played Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, it's still very worthy of your time, but there's not much new to see beyond some concept art and commentary. If you're yet to play it, though, you now have no excuse. A well-told and engaging story awaits for those of you willing to forgive the slightly awkward controls. Enchanting and unique, this is a very welcome new member of the PS4 family.