Tag Archive: summer of arcade

The game of brotherly love

Drama in games is a good thing—it has the potential to show the growth of the medium. But with a heavy emphasis on action due to the popularity of shooters and the like, it’s easy for game developers to shy away from pushing for unique plots or rich storylines as they gravitate toward what’s been proven to sell. That’s somewhat understandable, since everyone wants to collect a paycheck and have a job at the end of the day. But this makes those few games that take narrative risks truly stand out above the din of explosions and gunfire.

There’s a fine line, however, in utilizing dramatic tones. There’s a risk of going overboard. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons follows a pair of siblings on a fantastical quest to find magical water that can cure their sickly father. A simple concept, but the game’s true focus is on the relationship between the duo and how they interact with this world—and each other. Brothers looks to tell a story with the depth of character many of us long for but so rarely are given in videogames.

Unfortunately, the game finds itself on the precarious opposite end of the drama spectrum, beating players ham-fistedly over the head with a slew of moments meant to make our hearts clench. Instead, they turned me off.

A perfect example is the game’s opening cutscene. In what seemed like a tribute to Titantic, the younger brother is on a rowboat, desperately trying to hold onto his mother as she slips beneath the waves, drowning. In concept, it’s a powerful moment, but since it was the very first thing I saw, the weight of that moment was largely lost. There simply wasn’t enough context for me to care. For much of the game, all this flashback does is establish why the younger brother is afraid of water and needs to be ferried by his older sibling across rivers and streams.

I’d argue that this memory would’ve been infinitely more powerful if it came later in the game—after we’d figured out that only the older brother can swim. This would’ve given the characters room to breathe and grow, instead of being smothered by this cloud of despair right from the start. I’ll avoid spoiling some moments from later in the game, but these overly dramatic instances are frequent enough that the experience becomes less enjoyable as a whole.

That’s not to say that some segments don’t hit it out of the park. At times, the gravitas of the situation was clear, and I felt those heartstrings pulled. I’m just saying that much of the drama felt like the developers were fishing with hand grenades. It was overkill.

Besides its overt attempts at deep storytelling, Brothers also experiments with a novel control scheme. It’s possibly the simplest set of controls I’ve seen on a modern console: The shoulder buttons move the camera, the trigger buttons let a brother interact with items in the world, and the twin sticks move each character around. This gives Brothers the feeling that anyone could potentially pick it up and play it. The simplicity of the controls are a double-edged sword, however, that creates two problems.

First, it gets confusing if the brother assigned to the right stick crosses to the left side of the screen—or vice versa. It took almost the entirety of the game (it’s only a three-hour romp altogether) for my brain to get used to controlling both of them at the same time.

This isn’t nearly as problematic as the fact that the simple control scheme leads to very simple puzzles. Not once in Brothers was I hindered by anything thrown at me. Whether it was a “boss” (I use that term lightly here), a dual-action brainteaser, or a puzzle that could be handled by only one of the characters, everything from a gameplay perspective felt underdeveloped, especially as the sequences began repeating themselves towards the end of the game.

Still, Brothers does shine in some areas. The aesthetics—especially in the later levels—depict a beautifully diverse fantasy world that I wish I could’ve played around in a little more. Icy waters populated with whales, blood-drinking tribesmen, and a land ravaged by a war between giants are all aspects of the brothers’ world that made me wish I could’ve broken free from the linear path. These fleeting glimpses filled my heart with wonder—far more than the brothers’ quest ever did—and the animators should be applauded for this effort.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has a solid-but-flawed foundation. It tries to tell an intriguing and emotional story, but it feels like it’s talking down to the player more often than not—and the gameplay’s simply not deep and engaging enough to overcome this. With only three hours of content and no replayability (once the story’s told, there’s nothing to make you come back for more), it’s hard to recommend Brothers to anyone but the most voracious fantasy fans.

Developer: Starbreeze Studios • Publisher: 505 Games • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 08.07.13

While Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons occasionally succeeds in tugging at the heartstrings, there’s a heavy-handedness that runs through a good portion of the drama—and that’s off-putting. The unique controls take too long to get used to (considering this is only a three-hour experience), and the puzzles are simple and repetitive.  The aesthetics are definitely pleasing, however. In the end, Brothers doesn’t do anything terribly wrong, but it doesn’t do anything spectacularly well, either.

The Good Terrific art style; some genuine emotional moments.
The Bad A fair amount of ham-handed, unnecessary drama; simple, repetitive puzzles.
The Ugly Going cross-eyed from the twin-stick control system.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA). It will release on PC on August 28th, 2013, and PS3 (PSN) on September 3rd, 2013. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360 (XBLA).

What a wreck

Continuing on with the Xbox’s Summer of Arcade promotion is the one required Kinect title of the group: Wreckateer. Best described probably as a 3D Angry Birds clone, Wreckateer sees you play as an up and coming trainee in the lucrative world of…well…wrecking. 60 Goblin infested castles await you and your Scottish-accented trainers as you have been tasked by your king to clear the land of these green, smelly little hellspawns. And, of course, the only way to do that is to destroy the castles they now call home and send them packing.

The controls for the game are simple, and as proven with many Kinect titles in the past, the more simple the controls for the sensor to pick up, the better. All you have to do with Wreckateer is walk a step forward to grab your ballista launcher, step backwards to ready it, turn to aim, and spread your arms out to let go and let buck shot fly, hopefully demolishing all in the shot’s path. And so yes, the controls for Wreckateer actually work and don’t require constant recalibration like some other motion control games, and their simple appeal make them perfect for gamers of all ages.

The only other motion you have to worry about is raising your arms above your head to activate the special abilities of some of the shots you can use. With six special shots in all ranging from the lift shot, which you can boost in mid-air up to three times, to the split shot, which breaks up into four smaller pieces and scatters its chaos across the screen, the game has a bit of strategy to it in that looking ahead and saving certain shots for certain targets is critical to reaching the best score possible. And only by medaling with at least a bronze high score, can you advance to the next castle.

Unfortunately, even with the controls of the game being as solid and as responsive as they are (for a Kinect game anyway), the game play itself loses its appeal rather quickly. I love blowing stuff to kingdom come as much as the next guy, but 60 castles was a bit much to be standing in front of my TV for and most of them really just seemed like excuses to try to bloat the game into a slightly longer experience.

My other major problem with the game is the hit detection. Often I would smash these massive, sprawling towers at their base, and when they came crashing down onto other parts of the castle, as I stood by proudly, like a mighty lumberjack after felling a redwood, much of the still standing castle wouldn’t see nary a brick crack after being pummeled by the concrete I brought raining down upon it. This proved frustrating as I longed to see towers and castle walls topple like dominos. And this is when the towers actually decided to fall. There were several instances where it looked like a single brick was holding towers up that should have fallen, again adding to my frustration as I fell just short of the computer generated high score due to the game blatantly ignoring several laws of science.

When all was said and done though, I reminded myself that at $10 (800 MSP) Wreckateer is the cheapest of the Summer of Arcade titles and even if it became dull or frustrating after a while, there was indeed some fun had, at least early on, and I could see this easily winning over a pre-teen audience.. And should it’s arcade-like game play, high score targets, and online leaderboards be your cup of tea, then this might prove worthwhile to a larger audience. The rest of us know however that it’s probably just a lot simpler to download Angry Birds for an even cheaper price tag and we won’t need to move around as much either.

SUMMARY: Entertaining at first, the repetitive grind of 60 cookie-cutter levels wears on you quickly in this Angry Birds clone.

  • THE GOOD: Simple controls that respond relatively well to the Kinect
  • THE BAD: Dull, repetitive game play becomes boring after short amount of time
  • THE UGLY: Having to listen to Scottish narrators for 60 levels

SCORE: 5.0

Wreckateer is a XBLA exclusive (Kinect required).

Originally Published: August 2, 2011, on EGMNOW.COM

Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Shadow Planet Productions
Platforms: XBLA

Release: 08.03.11

The Good: Old school exploration and backtracking similar to Metroid
The Bad: Constantly referring back to your map and weapon wheel breaks pace of game play
The Ugly: Monstrous, screen-filling shadow creatures bent on your destruction

Cut from the mold of old-school action games like Metroid, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet proves that fun, simple, yet engrossing game play can trump all the special effects and cut scenes of other games most any day of the week. In fact, the story of Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet can be summed up thusly: You’re an alien with a spaceship. Your home world has been invaded by a plague like shadow creature. Kill it.

And that’s all you really need as you pilot your way through a maze-like massive world with varying climates and themes and you blast away at parasitic creatures spawned from the master shadow monster. And blast away at these creatures you shall as you’ll earn an assortment of various weapons from standard missiles, blasters, and scanners, to more unique weapons like buzz saws and barrier shields. Of course, each new weapon will only make you want to explore even more as each will not only help you take down certain foes, but also open up new door ways that were once blocked off to you. Rewards ranging from concept art and more of the game’s back-story to armor and blaster power-ups await you if you choose to explore the entire map available.

The only downside that comes from having a large assortment of weapons and a map of where to explore is that you find yourself constantly referring back to the map to see where to go next, or even with four assignable hot keys, needing to go to the weapon wheel to change weapons. This tends to break the pace of game play and will slow down the experience for all the completionists out there.

Despite this minor complaint, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is a wonderfully addicting old-school romp that uses simple, tried and tested techniques to pull off a winner. The limited color palette works perfectly for the theme of the game and it helps put your sensory emphasis on the mood-setting music as you blast away in classic underdog style with your tiny ship against an entire world. Throw in an actually compelling 2-4 player co-op/versus mode called “Lantern Run” where you and up to three friends must work together to solve puzzles and escape the encroaching Lantern Monster, all the while competing for the high score, and Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet is another more than worthy entry into Xbox’s Summer of Arcade.

Score: 9.5/10