Even in the grand annals of puzzle game history, some of the best games the genre has ever produced have only come about in recent years. The success of major hits like Portal and Portal 2 and deeply mature titles like Catherine have allowed for a sort of second coming in the puzzle genre, a cultural zeitgeist that allowed a game like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons to debut at the perfect time to hit it big.
Following two brothers (surprise!), Brothers focuses on the titular siblings journey to find a mythical cure for their ailing father. Together they leave the safety of their village to traverse the land, engaging in fantastical adventures in the process. Battling wolves in a forest, aiding lovelorn trolls, and hang-gliding through cliffs and mountains are only the beginning of the vast wonders that players will experience here.
However, there is a darker undertone to this whimsical tale. The aforementioned trolls are slaves to a more brutish tribe of soldier trolls and must be freed from their chains in order to escape their torment. When the brothers first enter a dark woodland, they are greeted by three hanging bodies with no explanation of who they are or why they were executed. Demons, monsters, predators, and the most unsavory post-battle graveyard ever witnessed only further cement the black underbelly of this fascinating world.
On the gameplay front, Brothers puts you in control of both protagonists simultaneously, with each brother’s movement mapped to one of the two analog sticks (Brothers requires a controller to play, even on PC). While initially daunting, this mechanic quickly becomes second nature, allowing you to accomplish absurdly complicated tasks as the game progresses. Leveraging the strength of the older brother to move objects and utilizing the small size of the younger brother to fit through gaps are only the first of a wide arsenal of tricks you must learn in order to succeed in your quest.
Strangely, though, the main quest often feels secondary to what is occurring on the way there. Much like the most epic fantasies of all time, stories like The Iliad, The Aeneid, or The Lord of the Rings, its easy to get so wrapped up in the grandiosity of each portion of the story that you actually forget that there’s a point to all of this. Memorable scenes like stopping a man from committing suicide or being chased by an invisible giant easily trump the central reason for the journey, making the road itself the centerpiece, rather than where the path is actually taking you. This is especially prevalent as the game reaches ever closer to its finale. In fact you’re never actually sure that you’re coming up on the end of the story until it’s already happening.
Even at a mere four hours in length, Brothers manages to pack in an insane amount of content, yet never overstays its welcome. The intensely emotional ending is the payoff for your hours of hardship, but it’s ultimately a bittersweet conclusion, dripping with heartache and gravitas.
On the one hand Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is one of the most intuitive and satisfying puzzle games ever created, on the other, it is also a thoroughly challenging and intensely effective tale of hope and loss, as seen through the eyes of its young heroes. Put these two elements together, and what you’re left with is an instant classic, and easily one of the best indie titles ever released.