Every once in a while, a game comes along that deliveres a beautiful experience, not just through the storyline, but through the game mechanics.  Brothers is a very simple game: you control two brothers who are searching for medicine to cure their father.  That’s all the game involves, and the game involves ALL of that.  Much like Braid, PB Winterbottom, or Portal, Brothers gives you a simple premise and then squeezes everything it can out of that premise.

The difficulty in reviewing puzzle games (though I question whether it is a puzzle game. See below) is trying to explain circumstances without spoiling the puzzle.  The example for this game that I have heard in various podcasts was a point in the game where the two characters lift an object and moving it around like a couch.  Now, the moment you, the reader, read that statement, it planted the seed into your mind. Whether you’ve played the game or not, you’ve already started working it out.  This hasn’t spoiled the puzzle per se, but has started the juices flowing.

I’m not sure that this is a bad thing.  I knew the fundamental premise of Braid long before I had ever played the game, so when I sat down to play I was primed for it.  I think this helped me to get through the game relatively quickly because it put me in the appropriate mindset.

The interesting point of discussion, then, is the distinction between a primer – a good thing that prepares the pallet for the game – and a spoiler – a bad thing that ruins the experience.  Where is the line drawn?  I don’t know the answer, and it might be worth exploring in future discussions and future blogs.

As I wrote above, I question the characterization of Brothers as a “Puzzle Game.”  I haven’t quite worked out exactly why or where the line is drawn, but when I think of puzzle games, I tend to think of games that have “stages,” and the objective of the game is to beat the puzzle to complete the stage.  I didn’t feel that in Brothers.  Instead, I just felt like I had two characters – or possibly a single character with two heads – with special abilities, and I had to use those abilities to complete the adventure.  Brothers has things that you have to do at certain points that require you to execute on what you already know.  These aren’t necessarily puzzles; they’re just obstacles.  Based on this description, it is as much like God of War or Kingdom Hearts as it is like a puzzle game; it just lacks the combat.

An interesting note: there was one point in the game where I had forgotten about one of the brothers’ abilities (that’s all I’ll say about it), so I was struggling to figure out what I had to do.  This lasted until I used the ability by accident, and I quickly “solved” the problem.  Again, this didn’t feel as much like a puzzle as it did just the completion of a task.

Thematically, the experience that I had with the game may have stemmed from the fact that I am the youngest son with three older brothers.  I had one brother that I was probably closest to growing up (by virtue of our closeness in age), so the relationship between the brothers really drew me into the game.

This game is similar to To the Moon in that, emotionally, the player is run through the full gamut of emotions.  You experience fear, loss, joy, playful silliness, compassion, and betrayal.  Unlike To the Moon, however, you aren’t just clicking on objects to progress through the story.  Instead, Brothers asks you to trade a complex storyline for a simple one, and in return givens you interesting and thought inspiring tasks to complete.

There’s not much more I can say about the game without spoiling it.  I hope that these reflections serve as an adequate primer without giving anything away.

I think the thing that I will take away from Brothers is food for thought on game definitions. It could be that further defining “puzzle game” might be a worthwhile topic for a future blog entry, but I’ll need more time to work it out.