The Analyzing Optimist: Brothers A Tale of Two Sons

Hello everyone!
I have never submitted anything to the forums before but thought I'd finally give it a try.

It is not actually a review per se, but rather more of an analysis of the game: Brothers A Tale of Two Sons. It simply spoke to me and a burst of inspiration caused me to write about it. If it is not in the right place on the forums then just let me know and I will remove it immediately. Anyway, here it is, my first attempt at writing about games:

Brothers: The Division of One Mind

After finishing Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, I had an incredible urge to write about it, and this is the result of that urge, make of it what you will. I do not see this as a review and I will not give the game a score, but every single piece of this game spoke to me with its visuals, music, ingenuity, and most of all its gameplay. Spoilers will be brought in later on but I will announce it, up to that point I shall keep it spoiler-free for those who wish to read about my thoughts without narrative spoilers.

Being a Swede myself, I like to look out for games released in our long, slim country, and that is how Brothers first caught my eye. Developed by Starbreeze Studios, and with excellent people on the team, such as the director Josef Fares (known for a handful of Swedish movies) and Simon Viklund (who made music for Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Payday 2, etc), just to mention a few. One of the main features which intrigued me with Brothers was actually about controller "support", I do not use PS3 or Xbox controllers very often, simply because mouse and keyboard are just more accurate to me. But Brothers didn't just recommend using a controller, it was required, and this was something I had to figure out why - and did I ever...

The story is conveyed easily by following the cinematic rule of, "Show, don't tell", since there is no intelligible dialogue in the game to convey the story. The two Brothers, the younger named Naiee, the older Nyaa, begin the game by bringing their ill father to the village's doctor after visiting their mother's grave. In a flashback, we see the mother drowning in a storm while out in a boat with the younger brother, leaving Naiee afraid of swimming. The Doctor shows the brothers a map to a giant tree, and without explanation we know what must be done. However, not just any tree will save their father, we must journey to the tree of life, and so we have our story, motivation, and goal for the entire game, in one neat package. Many obstacles will stand in our way, but the first, and greatest, obstacle of all has already been encountered, and that is the controls.

As mentioned previously, the game requires a controller to be played the way it was intended, and I highly recommend it. The right stick controls the younger brother, Naiee, and the left stick controls Nyaa, and the corresponding trigger buttons are used to interact with objects, people, and each other. The older brother is taller, stronger, can swim, and interact with adults better, while the younger brother can fit through tight spaces, afraid of swimming, and better with other kids and animals. Sounds easy? Well, let me put it like this, it's like trying to control two dogs on the same leash. Especially when immersion sets in, the controller fades from view, and you realize that you've mixed up the controls again, and you're brought out of the immersion to readjust your mind. But don't be discouraged, the more you do it, the more you'll see that this is where the game actually shines the brightest.

In the beginning, the trials set before you are easy and straight-forward, a large lever is for the Nyaa, and a crawlspace is for Naiee, if a ledge is too high, Nyaa, the taller one, helps Naiee get up, etc. Each puzzle is done in turns to start with, move one brother to this position, then switch to the other one, and so on. But soon enough you need to execute actions in sync with the other brother, and suddenly it's not so easy anymore, but adaptable as we humans are, you'll soon see the cogs snap into place in this intricate machine. This is where it truly struck me, the controls are absolutely genius to me. The controls alone tell their own story about the way our own mind plays games, and of course about the sort of sibling rivalry/friendship that exist, not just in the most apparent sense of the game world, but also between the two sides of our own mind.

When it comes to motor-functions in our body, as you may probably know, the right hemisphere (brain) controls the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side. This simple fact is also translated into the game itself, with our right brain in the role as Nyaa, the older brother, and our left brain as Naiee, the younger brother. The right and left brain manifested as two siblings within this virtual world. Each one operated and controlled by different parts of our brain thanks to the controller, and each brother made to embody the characteristics of each side. Those moments when you are truly in sync with Naiee and Nyaa transcend the game, your mind is working in tandem to accomplish the task set before it, which gives a whole new level of accomplishment.

Since both brothers represent each side of the brain, they vary in personality, but neither of them is better than the other, with each one having their own strengths and weaknesses. For example (not really a spoiler), to proceed early on in the game, the older brother must show the map of their destination to an adult in order to cross a bridge, the simple reason why he carries the map is not just because he's the older brother, but since the right brain is responsible for holistic thinking, the big picture. Therefore he's the bearer of the journey's goal, he's concerned with the present and future. The little brother, on the other hand, is the sole center for many of the games' flashbacks (the mother drowning, for example) and lives with the burden of the past, which haunts him, and the reason he is afraid of swimming.

Now there's going to be some spoilers for later in the game, so skip the next three paragraphs if you wish to remain surprised, otherwise carry on. In the latter part of the game, the brothers come across a cult and free a young woman who is meant to be a sacrifice. The young woman leads them through an abandoned town and along the way, if you interact with her, she flirts with the older brother, while if you interact with her as the younger brother, she shuns you away and simply ignores you. This is because she only wants to deal with the right brain, the emotional side of the brain, because her feminine charms and seduction works on him. While the younger brother is oblivious to her seduction and keeps a distance from her, he tries to warn his brother as they reach her lair (spoilers: She's a spider-queen in human disguise) and enter together. It's important to note that the older brother enters the narrow passage first, the younger second, and the woman last. The unbreakable bond between the two brains will not allow one side to venture alone, the other side is simply suppressed, but always there to make them one whole.

As our journey draws to a close, we've learned how to cooperate with the controls, like two siblings (dare I say Brothers?) working together without fighting. And so, Nyaa, our right brain, has been impaled by the spider-queen and mortally wounded, left out of commission, and, Naiee, the left brain, must climb the tree of life and gather its water for our father, and his now dying brother. The climb is easy, but our left hand is limp on the controller, with no purpose anymore, half of the controls left useless. Unfortunately, despite being quick, Naiee can't save Nyaa, and is left to bury him by the tree of life. During this sequence, pressing the trigger at a moment where it has nothing to interact with will cause Naiee to cry uncontrollably, shaking the controller violently. This experience hit me, hard. An incredible representation of the fragile state of mind in someone who has just lost their literal and metaphorical other half. Like Naiee lost his brother, we didn't feel the loss in a narrative sense, but a loss in the controls, half the gameplay gone, maybe even half the game.

Naiee has not forgotten his father though, and with the help of a griffon saved previously, he makes his way back to the Doctor's house to give his father the water of life. Before the final stretch, an obstacle appears, Naiee needs to swim to get there. His mother's ghost appears, comforts him, and disappears, "now he has the courage to swim" I think, but nothing happens. He stands knee deep in the water, but pushing the trigger only causes him to look at his feet in agony. I hear a male voice echo throughout the rainy night and by instinct, the useless, limp left hand pushes the trigger, and Naiee begins to swim. Like mentioned before, the left and right brain are in an unbreakable bond and each may never leave the other's side. The two halves, separated not long ago, are now unified into one being, allowing the younger brother to embody and execute one of the strengths of his lost brother, to swim without fear.

So in the end, I didn't just follow these two different brothers on a journey through a fantastical landscape, where they encountered magical beasts and solved problems of life and death. I also realized how important cooperation truly is. Not just between two characters in a game, but between each side of my own mind. Just like each brother is more useful than the other, depending on the situation, when they work in unison, nothing can stop them. Driven completely by emotion, the older brother got lured into a deadly trap, but not thinking about the bigger picture may never have allowed the younger brother to overcome his fear. There's an equilibrium to be achieved inside each of us, and if Brothers, or even just the controls themselves, have taught me anything, it's that it isn't easy...

Also available on my good friend's website:

If you made it this far, thank you so much for taking your time to read this and I hope you enjoyed it! Please, let me know what you think, constructive criticism is always appreciated, or you may just criticise it, that works as well! :)

The Analyzing Optimist, Zwomp.


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