BEWARE! VERY LATE SPOILERS FOR BROTHERS: A TALE OF TWO SONS AHEAD!
There’s a moment in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons that stands out as one of the most beautiful interactions I’ve had with a video game to date. Not only is its story heartfelt, adventurous and paired with a gorgeous art style, but the way in which the game is played is quite unique.
In Brothers, the player simultaneously controls two siblings, the youngest Naiee and the eldest Naia, by using each half of the controller to move around the brothers. Each sibling has a specific button allocated to them which allows them to interact with objects and people that they come across on their journey. It’s also used when they want to interact with each other, often when Naia has to carry Naiee on his back or shoulders in puzzle sections.
These interactions do a great job of conveying the brothers’ personality types as well. Naia tends to be serious and reserved when approaching something new, while Naiee will have a more childlike, playful nature around NPC’s. A lot of these in-game interactions are optional but it’s interesting to see how they both connect with their environment.
During the game the player becomes accustomed to this control scheme, learning how to navigate each space without getting too confused. That’s why, when the eldest brother Naia sadly passes away towards the end of the game, it almost becomes a little jarring when traditional controls are brought back. There’s a slight shift in your brain when realising every puzzle section has to be solved with only one brother instead of two. As the game progresses you almost forget that there was any need for the other half of the controller in the first place.
One very important narrative element to the game is Naiee’s fear of swimming. To progress through water sections, Naiee has to jump on his older brothers back and have him swim both of them to the end. This had its frustrations, but it was understood why this mechanic was put in place. It’s especially prevalent towards the end of the game, when Naiee comes face-to-face with an open body of water alone.
I remember feeling stumped at this point, having pressed every button I could think of that would work and staring at this ocean confused as to how I was going to progress. A couple of minutes passed and I realised that I’d only been using Naiee’s half of the controller since Naia had passed away. I felt no need to even try any of the other buttons as I didn’t think they would do anything. Then I pressed L2 and the most incredible thing happened.
The button that was used to control Naia was what got Naiee to the end. He swam on his own while Naia’s voice echoed in the background and it was beautiful. This scene was able to conjure up emotion through the quite literal press of a button.
There’s a certain amount of trust from developers when creating moments like this in a game like Brothers. Players already have their own expectations for the games that they play so pushing technical boundaries in this way shows there is an understanding that players are able to appreciate the moment in its entirety.
When mechanics are utilised like this in video games it makes an experience so much more memorable. It’s even shown in smaller moments when control is taken away from the player, such as when a character is injured and forced to walk slower and are unable to be sped up, it emphasises a moment that would otherwise be less powerful.
Video games are an amazing medium for storytelling and Brothers is just one example of how that story can be enhanced through gameplay mechanics. When gameplay and narrative are thought of as one entity rather than two separate hurdles, developers have the power to make their games all the more immersive.
Having just had E3, everyone at GameRVW is eager to see what games come out in the future that give us similar experiences to this. I get more and more excited every year to see what the gaming industry brings and how player experiences can be heightened, so it will be interesting to see how these features will be presented in upcoming games!