Following in the wake of its epic, ambitious and often bewilderingly complex sci-fi shooter, Syndicate, it's encouraging to see Starbreeze Studios tackling something more intimate with Brothers: A Tale Of Two Sons. And in keeping the experience short, the story simple, and by using characters it's easy to identify with, the developer has created a spellbinding, deeply touching fantasy adventure that will live with you longer than its violent futuristic blaster forebear.
A straightforward story of two boys on a quest to find a cure for their ailing father, Brothers thrusts players into a fairy tale world that blends the macabre and the magical, and sees the duo tackling a series of inventive puzzles that aren't too taxing, but help create a measured, steady pace that complements the enchanting action.
Controlling the brothers requires dexterity and the ability to multitask, with each of the two joypad sticks being used to steer one of the boys, and the corresponding trigger functioning as one lad's action button. Naturally, this unusual control scheme takes some getting used to, and new players will often find themselves in a tangle and taking their finger off one stick while they bring a wayward youngster back under control. However, the dual-stick set-up soon becomes second nature and perfectly suits the synchronous action as our heroes help each other to hop across perilous platforms, distract unruly dogs, or pilot a hang glider high above the game's fanciful worlds.
Gameplay aside, Brothers is also destined to become a star of Xbox Live Arcade as it delivers a poignant story and charming characters you'll quickly come to care for. And as the game's painful, personal plot will melt even the coldest heart, it's ironic that this low-budget XBLA outing is more effective than most major releases that are cluttered with epic movie scenes, surging soundtracks and dozens of peripheral characters.
Sadly, the fun is over in a little over three hours, but even the unruly in-game camera and cliched landscapes won't stop players yearning for more. A sweetly short adventure that presses all the right emotional buttons, Brothers proves that good things really do come in small packages.
Reviewed by David McComb