I picked up Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons on Xbox 360 for free courtesy of Games with Gold and found it to be quite an interesting game and I can see myself writing more than one article on it.
Today I’d like to ramble on out about the most obviously interesting and unique aspect – controlling two characters at the same time. It isn’t something that I’ve seen in a 3D game before and it seems rather daunting. However before discussing whether it works or not, I’d like to look at the idea.
Often in games with multiple characters you have to switch between the two characters, which can halt and interrupt the gameplay flow so being able to move both at the same time makes sense. In games like the LEGO titles and several others with multiple characters you don’t actually need to use both thumbsticks therefore it is a logical thing to use one per character.
The difficulty would usually be in the other controls to jump, perform actions and so forth but what Brothers quite cleverly does it that it only uses the one button for pretty much everything. The game is designed and structured in a way so that you don’t ever have conflicts over trying to do two things at once with the same character. You might not even realise how clever and well thought out the design has been to ensure that you can use even fewer controls than your average game to control two characters simultaneously.
The dual control system does have its flaws though. The biggest is when the two characters overlap and I found that myself got all in a muddle controlling the characters and ended up having them both going completely the wrong way. It was a bit much for my poor little brain! However the game was nice and forgiving here. It rarely had places where you could get yourself killed so at worst you’d be running into a wall for 5-10 seconds before you sort yourself out. It could be frustrating to play and was disruptive to the gameplay. I imagine a large part of this is because I’m simply not used to this form of controls. Perhaps a little like people’s first few attempts with FPS games where they spend the best part of an hour staring at the floor.
Performing actions was a lot more frustrating when doing things simultaneously, especially when your wires are crossed. When planning on dropping the player to the right I found my natural instinct wanting to release the right trigger. The other issue was during long climbing sequences I needed to leave one brother hanging on whilst I did the jumping or other actions for the other. This became rather sore, particularly during the hill climbing sequence. If there wasn’t a button to lock a player in position, there should have been.
Additionally when wanting to concentrate on one character it really would have been nice to just focus on that one character. Whilst switching characters can be a jarring and frustrating experience, there are benefits to having to concentrate on one player at a time – particularly tricky jumping sequences. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to sacrifice the dual controls in Brothers as it was very interesting and made some of the challenges more fun, as well as the interaction, but the ability to focus on one at a time at points wouldn’t have gone a miss.
The one other gripe I have is when it came to co-op, or lack of it. The game is perfectly poised to allow for co-op gameplay and also switching between single player and co-op without being disruptive. Whilst not a flaw in the game, it seems like a missed opportunity. I’ve played so many games that can easily be played co-op or single player and this seemed the perfect game for that. I’m just surprised they never tried it!
To wrap things up I am going to ask myself a question… would I want more of this unique control mechanism? The short answer is a “probably not”. I really like what they’ve done in Brothers and for such a potentially awkward and frustrating system, they’ve done a splendid job. However other games may have more complex controls and scary level design so I think the risk of it being a pain in the backside is a bit much. That said I’ve identified a few flaws that could be improved so hey, if someone can make it easier to tackle things one at a time whilst also providing the simultaneous controls then that would be bloody awesome!