In Two Brothers, game over isn't the end. Not even close.
Designed to look and play like a Game Boy title, this is an adventure in the vein of classics like Link's Awakening but with a truly bizarre world to call its own. It tells the story of scientist Roy Guarder, who dies alongside his wife in the opening moments only to be brought into what he believes is the afterlife. It's here that he sees wondrous new colors, the likes of which are indescribable to a scientific community he so desperately wants to convince.
Roy is mysteriously able to return from the heavens to his monochromatic world. The only problem is that no one -- well, almost no one -- will believe him. Not without proof. With the help of his brother, Roy sets out to find answers, collect evidence of color, and possibly bring back his beloved wife in a journey that will take him to faraway lands and beyond.
Two Brothers (PC)
Developer: Ackk Studios
Publisher: Ackk Studios
Released: December 3, 2013
It takes a while to get used to the unique world of Two Brothers and I say that as a huge compliment. At first, it's the "buildings" that stand out -- they are, more often than not, animals. Giant, living creatures with doors you can enter, rooms you can explore. It's trippy. And then there are the fourth-wall-breaking moments. The intentional "glitches." The references to game tropes that are incorporated into the story in such a way that they don't feel like halfhearted shout-outs built on nostalgia and nothing more. Long-time gamers will get a kick out of these sequences.
Combat in Two Brothers, regrettably, isn't quite so memorable. You're able to perform a primary attack and a ranged secondary move (and a third charge move, though it's unnecessary), which isn't inherently problematic. Simple can be good. But not when there's no real incentive to change weapons, significant ability-granting items or equipment are practically nonexistent, and enemy hit detection is noticeably off. Thankfully, this is not a punishing game -- death will send you to the afterlife, but you're almost immediately able to return where you left off with full health.
While the average enemy will sometimes just stand there and allow you to hack away at it -- or simply allow you to run past with minimal effort on your part -- bosses are an improvement. They're varied in look and feel and while the trick to beating them usually isn't too interesting, especially not compared to this genre's best battles, there are a few notable exceptions.
It wouldn't be an action-adventure title without puzzle-filled dungeons and Two Brothers is no outlier. While I quite liked the design of the game's dungeons, the same cannot be said for its puzzles. They never get much more complex than hitting switches in a specific order or shooting an arrow at a certain type of object to swap positions with it. Not exactly head-scratchers. It's figuring out who in town to speak with and where to go that most require problem-solving skills.
These are all real issues, don't get me wrong -- and they do begin to add up -- but they're largely worth putting up with in order to dig deeper into the narrative. The soundtrack is also deserving of praise; at times, it's exceptional. There's a substantial amount of music in Two brothers as this is a fairly substantial game, and while it's of course not all going to be great, it does a tremendous job of bringing such a low-fi aesthetic to life.
For all the good it does, there are a number of bugs which do their absolute best to bring down Two Brothers. The most troubling one I encountered was undoubtedly an issue that, partway through my adventure, resulted in some -- but not all -- chests to lock up my character, requiring a restart. After a point, I just stopped opening chests, not willing to gamble for extra money or health, neither of which are particularly important in this game.
From the sound of it, some players have it much worse, though I do feel obligated to mention that Two Brothers autosaves when you enter a room, so lost progress isn't as much of a concern as you might expect. These technical problems and a few too many grammatical errors for me to let slide are representative of a general lack of polish, however.
Two Brothers is ambitious to a fault and I can't help but wonder what a little streamlining could have done to improve its flow and reduce bloat. Having a grand, open world to explore is great if players generally know where to go. But we aren't mind readers. In more than one instance, I found myself walking from one end of the map to the other, stopping to travel through the same repetitious roadblocks with only the vaguest of ideas about where I was supposed to head next.
Then there's the final dungeon, a series of rooms pieced together with little regard for logic or intuition and a painful objective: find seven beings. That sure did kill any and all momentum I had going for me. The first six were annoying to seek out, but that seventh? I don't even want to say how long it took me. The solution ended up being something I had overlooked because of the way the game's camera works and could have been easily avoided.
By that point, I was too exhausted from playing and replaying the same slice of gameplay to even be upset. It's a shame, because I should have been enjoying myself: this specific dungeon embraces a beautiful full-color, 16-bit look for story-related reasons, something I wish Two Brothers would have been willing to utilize more frequently. The Game Boy aesthetic gets old.
Despite these frustrations, I stuck with the game. I kept at it, compelled to see where and how my journey would conclude. Two Brothers is tough to recommend, but not impossible.
It's very much the type of game you play for the story, which has flashes of brilliance that can only be effectively realized in an interactive medium such as this. Unfortunately, it's tied to lackluster mechanics, technical problems, and a disappointing lack of polish. Two Brothers may not be an overall success, but its best moments are worth experiencing first-hand.
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