|Release Date||November 11, 2013|
In case you hadn’t noticed, excitement for Ackk Studios’ debut title, Two Brothers, has been pretty high here at oprainfall. After plenty of news coverage, previews and interviews, many among the staff were ready to give the full game a shot. The game suffered a bit of a setback after a game-breaking bug was discovered that ended up pushing the release back about a month, but eager fans finally got their hands on the game on November 11. I tried to avoid the pre-release hype, as I didn’t want it to paint an early picture of the game before I even got a chance to try it. So, does the final product live up to the hype?
Unfortunately, it is my sad duty to report that this initial PC release of Two Brothers is… OK at best. The game features a memorable story, a great soundtrack and some amazing sprite art, but it is also plagued with bugs and glitches that made pushing through the game difficult or, at times, impossible. It has some great ideas behind it, and, when it works, it works beautifully. Sadly, a confusing interface, lackluster combat and frustrating glitches made it difficult to enjoy the game in any lasting way. But maybe I’m not giving Two Brothers a fair shake here. Let’s delve a little deeper and see if we can’t figure out just went wrong.
Two Brothers tells the story of siblings Roy and Bivare Guarder, who are on a journey to find color. It may not sound like a very exciting prospect from our more vibrant perspective, but it becomes a bit more substantial when you discover that the regular spectrum of the world of Two Brothers consists of the rather bland palette of green and yellow from the original Game Boy era. After a tragic event during the game’s opening that left his wife, Jane, dead, with him following shortly after, Roy finds himself in the afterlife, where the full spectrum (or, at least, the 16-bit equivalent) of color is revealed to him. Roy is then informed that it is not yet his time to cross over, and is sent back to the world of the living. The story jumps ahead one year, where Roy has thrown himself into his study of colors after his otherworldly experience, but also as a way to cope with his wife’s death. A letter from Bivare about some possible new developments sends Roy on a journey all across the continent in search of Spectrum Shards, which seem to hold the secrets to not only the colors he seeks, but also life itself.
From a gameplay standpoint, Two Brothers plays very much like classic Zelda games, with a top-down perspective as players speak to NPCs, fight monsters and explore dungeons. Players spend most of the game controlling Roy, though Bivare is also controlled during a couple of story segments. Roy will also amass a sizeable collection of weapons on his journey, which generally boil down to swinging-type weapons (swords, whips) and stabbing-type weapons (spears). I preferred the stabbing weapons (my favorite being the Trident), since they didn’t have the wind-up period before attacking like swords did, and seemed to have a better range, as well. It made fighting the hordes of enemies a bit easier.
Difficulty here, though, is a bit of an illusion. While you do have a health bar to speak of, there isn’t any discernible penalty for dying. If and when you run out of health, you undergo a brief death cutscene, after which point you find yourself in the afterlife once again. While it isn’t a huge area to explore, it is quite colorful, and there are a few NPCs with whom you can converse. Most of them are inconsequential, but a few give some interesting dialogue or items. Once you’re ready to return to the game proper, you can speak to your celestial Guide, and he’ll send you hurtling back to Earth. You will then respawn at the beginning of the area where you died, with your health fully restored. In this way, death is not so much a threat as it is an annoyance. The only time death can really become an issue is during boss battles, as the battle is reset, negating any progress you made previously.
Aside from this, the combat, while simple, left a lot to be desired. Roy has three main attacks- a melee attack, a ranged arrow attack and a more powerful melee move that is activated by pushing the A and B buttons at once. It doesn’t sound like there should be much of a problem with it, but I usually tried to avoid fighting for two key reasons. First, there’s almost no point in doing so. In the entire playthrough, not a single enemy dropped any kind of item- healing, money or otherwise. There were a select few mobs that would leave a corpse after dying, from which Roy could take the heart and eat (in a cute, yet morbid fashion) for a bit of health. But even these enemies were fairly uncommon, making combat almost wholly unnecessary.
Second, and more dire as I see it, is that the combat could definitely use some tweaks. As I stated before, there is a bit of a windup on swords, which leaves Roy open for a short time. Not only that, but the range of these weapons is pretty short- enemies basically have to be directly in front of Roy to be hit, provided that they don’t block the attack. More often than not, I found myself taking at least a couple hits (if my temporary invincibility wasn’t ignored) for every enemy I fought, especially the sword-wielding skeletons that populated most of the game’s dungeons. It was pretty annoying to take so much damage in these fights. Coupled with the fact that I wasn’t really being rewarded for it in any discernible way, I eventually decided it was best to just avoid fighting whenever possible. Even cutting grass, which years of Zelda games have taught me is always profitable, did little more than yield the odd heart for a bit of health.
What Two Brothers does do well, however, is tell a great story. Roy’s tale of loss, and his search for evidence of a higher power takes him to many strange and interesting places. In many of the locales which Roy visits, people live inside the bodies of giant animals. They fashion doors and windows right in these bodies, yet they look like perfectly normal houses on the inside. You’d think this means that the animals would be dead, but when entering these structures, the animal will often welcome you, or acknowledge you in some other way. You’ll also come across a number of episodic situations throughout your adventure. They don’t tend to have anything to do with the main story, but they do often yield some nice loot, usually in the form of more weapons. Roy is also hounded the entire game by a nameless goat man who seems to be responsible for not only the death of his loving wife, but also pretty much all of the troubles that he comes across on his journey. Aside from just being generally creepy, the “Nameless One” also seems to cause the game (or reality, whichever you prefer) to glitch out whenever he is present. It’s an interesting feature, and does a good job of creating a pretty unsettling mood whenever that damn goat shows up.
The art and music in Two Brothers are fantastic, as well. As you can probably tell from the images I’ve already included, the sprite art is some of the most detailed and beautiful I’ve ever seen in any game of this format. It’s obvious a lot of hard work went into the art direction of the game. While I eventually got tired of constantly visiting the afterlife (as strange as that sounds), I was always excited to see what each new town might bring. Seeing the incredibly detailed sprites of giant animals, as well as artwork of forests, skies and canyons helped keep things interesting as I traveled. The music, too, helped set the mood beautifully. I was particularly impressed with the Overworld music, as it evolved the farther you got into the game. As the story grew more dramatic, and the stakes became greater, so too did this music to reflect that ever-changing mood. It was a great way to keep me immersed in the game. Unfortunately, for everything that helped with that immersion, there always seemed to be something to pull me out.
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