Let me just straight of the bat say that I thought this was a great game! Hugely satisfying to play and I can only recommend you guys to give it a try if you haven’t already played it. The game is of such a difficulty level that most people will be able to play it, whether they be experienced or relatively inexperienced.
If you want to see what this game is like, then check out my gameplay video, with the rest of the game on YouTube!
Warning! The following analysis of the game will contain spoilers, so if this is an issue, I recommend you play the game first, and then return to read my post ;)
The basis for this analysis: This game is generally really good, and in order to identify what makes this game so good I will look at how the games graphics, narrative and music score come together in the game (under one term, its aesthetics). I will hold these elements up against evolutionary psychology in order to identify some possible explanations for why certain elements may affect the player in specific ways.
First impressions: Now my initial approach and first impressions will be based on Robin Hunicke, Marc LeBlanc, Robert Zubek’s article from 2004. In the article they introduce the MDA approach to games (Mechanics, Dynamics and Aesthetics).
So as shows in the illustration above, we, as a player, will approach a game by first noticing its aesthetics (definition), then interact with its dynamics and lastly figure out its mechanics. This is precisely how I will approach a description of my first impression. It is also worth noting that this approach is also evident in my YouTube gameplay video, and these first impressions were given without any awareness of the MDA approach. Also I just want to mention that when talking about aesthetics in video games, it is used as a way of describing the desired emotional responses that the game can evoke.
Now, the first two things we notice in this game are the graphics and the soundscape, and how these come together in creating an aesthetically pleasing impression.
After a short introduction where we learn that the brothers’ mother is dead, the game begins. The fathers is now ill, and it is the brothers’ task to get him to the apothecary. Despite the serious situation, the initial atmosphere is very nice and calming. The colours are, as can be seen above, bright but still in natural nuances. Even though this is obviously a game, it has a kind of tactile feel about it. Supporting these the aesthetic features of the graphics we have the audio, with diegetic sounds of bird song and creaks from the wagon, and also a subtle music score underlining the fact that we are placed in rural setting around what we could assume to be the early middle ages. I instantly felt quite at ease in these surroundings, despite the situation, and this I ascribe as being down to these core sensational responses.
Now following this initial response I began paying attention to the dynamics. The dynamics in this game as it turns out are quite unique. You know those challenges where you have to rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time? Well, that is basically how it is to play this game. The player has to control both brothers at the same time! This is difficult, and to be fair, I found it challenging all the way through the game. This game mechanic kept me very focussed and engaged all the way through, because as soon as there was a lapse in concentration, it would instantly be evident in my ability to control the brothers.
The mechanics of the game are simply put built up around puzzles. This is essentially a puzzle game, with a great aesthetic expression to keep us engaged. The difficulty level of the game does essentially not rise very much through progression. This is probably my one beef with this game. It never really becomes hugely challenging. If not for the strong story and aesthetical elements, this game would not have been a very good play.
The narrative: This is something I have been looking forward to talking about, because I feel like this is such a huge part of the game. An interesting detail worth noting, is that the characters do not speak English. More along the lines of some gibberish that sounds like a language, but isn’t. So we have not dialogue of which we understand, at least not through language that is. Because we do understand exactly what is going on, all the time, but all this information is conveyed through body language, facial expression and tones of voice. This highlights how accomplished humans are at reading multiple impressions and place them in a context in order to understand meaning – this entire game seems to take advantage of exactly this human strength.
The narrative takes us on an emotional journey. The game begins in a calming and pleasing atmosphere. This atmosphere changes slowly but steadily throughout the game.
The underlying story is of course the two brothers wanting to save their dad, who is lying on his deathbed. We are predisposition to take care of our family. This predisposition more than likely stems from a long evolutionary process, with the goal being to preserve the family genes for the future, and this is in very basic terms a part of why we create such emotional bonds to our family. So wanting to save a family member from dying is something most of us will be able to relate too. In addition the fact that this particular story is about two young boys makes us even more empathetic towards their cause.
Like I said we steadily enter a darker narrative in the game. I particularly found the episode, from which the picture below is from, sad.
Notice the fact that the “bird” has an owl’s head and wings, whilst having a cat’s torso, and some strange tail. There is also blood on the surface. It would look like our little bird here has been the victim of some experiment. I immediately felt sorry for the poor thing, being what I assume an innocent creature. The bird has large owl eyes, something I identified as a neotenous feature, which just made me feel even more for it.
As I continued my travels things turned increasingly bleak. Our brothers find themselves in the midst of a battlefield from a recently concluded fight. The twist is that the victims are all giants. So I find myself directing the two brothers through a maze of giant bodies, soaking them with blood, moving legs and chopping of arms along the way. The brothers exclaim sounds of disgust in the process, a feeling I can only agree with.
As they travel further north it becomes colder and snow appears. Our surroundings seem more derelict and I got the feeling that we were coming close to the end of the game. I won’t reveal the ending of the game, in case any of you still want to play the game. But if you are curious then check out my YouTube videos to find out more!
One last note on the games aesthetics. The actual elements of the game are largely built up from round shapes. People tend to find round shapes more pleasing and friendly, which means that despite the increasingly dark atmosphere of the game, I always felt fairly calm and at ease throughout the game. In general Brothers: A tale of two sons takes very good care of its players, offering a challenge where the learning curve is not too steep, and a narrative where many details as to how the player is affected are taken into account.
All in all I enjoyed the game a lot. And I believe this to be a really good example of how a game can make very good use of its aesthetics to take the player on a journey that affects them immensely.
If you have played the game, then please drop a comment below and let me know what you thought of it. If you haven’t played the game, then do yourself a favour and try it, even if you are not a gamer normally.
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