Article

The Flaws of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Ico

This article contains spoilers for Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Ico.

During my playthrough of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, I was struck on more than one occasion by its similarities to Ico, on a thematic and gameplay level, to the point that I had a sense of déjà vu. Both are adventure games with puzzles and platforming, widely praised by critics for their artistic and emotional strength. They follow the journeys of the protagonists towards their ultimate goal across a fantasy setting. The player is encouraged to enjoy the beautiful vistas, and the prominence of the bench as an interactive object in both games is their way of reminding us to ‘stop and smell the flowers’. Both games take a minimalist approach: in terms of audio, the touching orchestral score is used sparingly, and for the majority of the time you only hear ambient sounds, or dead silence. The characters do not speak an intelligible language in either game, and instead meaning is conveyed through the environment, how they interact with it, and how they interact with each other. I think this approach works well for the most part, adding to the general charm and appeal of the world while giving the player enough credit to allow them to draw their own conclusions.

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This minimalism is extended to the gameplay, but with far less success. Purely from a gameplay perspective, Brothers and Ico are awful. I’ll begin with the semi-fixed top-down camera they both share, which while good for capturing the games’ grand sense of scale, made it difficult for me to gauge my character’s location or spot items or areas needed to progress, which led to many untimely deaths and wasted time. The puzzles were also poorly designed. While they were not difficult in and of themselves, their functional mechanisms were poorly communicated. This was especially problematic in Ico, where I had to resort to trial and error because the game had failed to outline a clear set of rules and parameters involved in the more convoluted puzzles. One last grievance of mine regarding the puzzles is the prolonged time taken actually carrying out a solution after working out how to use the given tools, which are remarkably generic in both games. By this I mean pushing or carrying objects, turning cranks and pulling levers; all acts that grew monotonous and were overly long.

In Brothers, controlling the brothers individually with each analogue stick was a novel idea, but it was awkward and never felt natural, all the more so when the brother on the left side of the screen was being controlled with the right stick, and vice versa. This mechanic had a small payoff in the conclusion of the story, where Naiee drew on his dead brother’s strength by using his ‘interact’ button. It certainly wasn’t worth the hours of avoidable deaths and clunky movement preceding it, though.

Ico-HD-02

As for Ico, it was basically one long, incredibly frustrating escort mission, with the poorest excuse for combat I’ve ever seen in a game. It consisted of mashing a button to repeatedly beat enemies with a stick in an attempt to stop them carrying the girl off into the void. Sometimes you had more enemies to deal with, other times you had to simultaneously solve a puzzle; it is the video game equivalent of spinning plates, and spinning plates would probably be more fun. The downtime in between bouts wasn’t much better, being spent failing at platforming sections, completing drawn out puzzles or climbing ridiculously long staircases. What results is a dull experience all round.

Gameplay is the most glaring, and most serious flaw of Brothers and Ico, but seeing as they are narrative focused games, maybe they should be cut some slack. Even if that is true, I found both their narratives to be decidedly lackluster. Brothers suffers from a disjointed story. All I saw was a series of self-contained events, completely unrelated to the overarching plot, which were included to make the player feel emotions. A case in point is the man about to hang himself. When the brothers encountered a stranger committing suicide I could have easily ignored him and continued on my merry way (a reasonable choice in my opinion), but of course that isn’t what the developers wanted. And when curiosity got the better of me and I came closer, I saw the burned down remains of a house with bodies in front of it. At this point I thought the man was the one who started the fire and was going to hang himself out of remorse, but then I realized it was the bodies of his family underneath the sheet and so I decided to save him. After this, and helping him through the mourning process, you are rewarded with an achievement, and supposedly a warm happy feeling spreading through you.

brothers2

There are other ham-fisted attempts at being dark in the game, such as the aftermath of a massacre of giants, and the creepy cult about to sacrifice someone. It was hard for me to care about any of this when these moments weren’t developed at all. I was given no context, just shown these things to provoke a desired reaction. There is a part where you release a wounded gryphon from its cage, and then it dies after flying you to the next area. This just made me laugh in disbelief; why did the brothers put the gryphon through that exertion instead of letting it recover?

Similarly, Ico failed at being emotional. Ico’s intention was for the player to share in the bond that was forged between Ico and Yorda over the course of the game and care about them. I found this to be impossible because Yorda was a mute, helpless character who despite looking older than Ico seemed incapable of the most basic actions. She literally had to get dragged around everywhere by Ico, could not move away from enemies or defend herself, and climbed ladders and objects infuriatingly slowly if at all. She is a burden for the entirety of the game except in cutscenes at the end and when she is a human key to open doors with.

None of the main female characters come off well in both games, excluding the mother in Brothers, although she is merely an ethereal vision whose only noticeable contribution to the story is dying in the opening scene. It is not so much the fact that these games have male protagonists and female antagonists that I have a problem with, as the fact that the female characters are so poorly portrayed. The villains are just plain evil with no depth and we have no idea of their motivations whatsoever. The spider girl in Brothers was especially insulting. Why would this girl go to such great lengths to help out the brothers, and keep them alive, after they saved her from being murdered by the cult, only to betray them and prey on them? That’s low even for a monster. Her then killing one of the brothers at the end of the boss fight just added insult to injury. It all seemed like another predictable attempt by the creators at being dark. The gender bias exhibited by these games is worrying, and I’m saying this as someone not pushing a SJW agenda.

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If everything I have written so far can be construed as an argument against abstract, narrative focused games with simplistic stories, that is not true. Journey is a game I thoroughly enjoyed, because for me it succeeded where Ico and Brothers failed. Gameplay was limited to one button to jump and another to call out, but even this primitive communication carried weight when you knew there was another real person who could hear it. The innovative multiplayer aspect improved the experience drastically, because it made Journey’s emotional moments feel natural rather than forced down your throat. When the other player came back to check on me after I had been knocked down, when we both succumbed to the weather, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of emotion. The sense of progress never felt forced by arbitrary obstacles, it felt like I was on an authentic journey ascending a mountain. Movement was never clunky, the character floated gracefully across the beautiful environments, and that helped me stay immersed in the experience.

There’s no denying that Ico and Brothers are aesthetically beautiful games. But in every other department they leave a lot to be desired. Their flaws should not be overlooked, and ultimately these games are undeserving of the critical acclaim they have been lavished with.

 68 thoughts on “The Flaws of Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons and Ico
  1. “This game is bad, because I’m bad at it.”

    Consider a job at IGN.

    Also, I suppose you think every emotional scene in every book and film is a ham-fisted attempt that making you feel an emotion. After all, they never give you the opportunity to bypass the scene altogether, nor did they substitute the characters with random nobodies from the Playstation Network.

  2. fish.heads on said:

    Oh boy, where does one begin.

    First off, combat in Ico is a) not the focus of the game and b) very very simple and easy. Should one of the enemies grab Yorda, it is quite easy to smack them off of her, and even if they do drag her into a portal, the player is given ample opportunity to drag her back out of it. Adding to that, enemies can be easily herded away from Yorda do to the fact that they flail away from Ico when hit. It seems like you’re saying “it was hard for me therefor it was bad”.

    Puzzles are, likewise, not particularly difficult. The scripted camera is designed to guide the player through the environments, and the few amount of elements used throughout are representative of Ico’s goal of doing more with less. The game introduces elements such as switches, chains, ladders, bombs, and so on early on and then uses them in more complex ways later in the game. Again, I’m getting an impression of “I’m bad at this and can’t read environmental cues, therefor it is bad”.

    I find the criticisms of the games story and overall structure to be the most laughable, in particular calling it a “frustrating escort mission”. As I mentioned before, combat is easy, and the player is given ample opportunity to rescue Yorda from enemies. Most issues with escort missions come from irritation with having to conserve the well-being of an AI partner, and while Yorda’s AI is not particularly complex by modern standards, again, keeping her from being dragged away is very easy. I’m interested to hear what your idea of a good AI controlled partner is – please don’t tell me that it’s the likes of Bioshock Infinite or Last of Us, where enemies ignore the AI partner, completely dodging the issue of having a vulnerable companion altogether.

    Your comments about the narrative are odd as well. It seems like you got too hung up on being annoyed by the “frustrating escort mission” and were perhaps paying too much attention to it building their relationship during cutscenes rather than when it builds it out of cutscenes, just through their act of exploring and escaping the castle together (spoiler: it’s mostly done through the latter). The complaint about the queen is also strange: the queen, like many other aspects of Ico, is ambiguous. I feel that making her ambiguous motives and backstory make her a far more mysterious, threatening presence then if she had gotten the Metal Gear Solid treatment, with her backstory explained at length.

    Lastly, there is this line: “The gender bias exhibited by these games is worrying, and I’m saying this as someone not pushing a SJW agenda.”

    Why? Why did this need to be said at all? It was enough to say that the villains were simple and one-dimensional, not that their depiction is “worrying”.

    As for Brothers, I haven’t played it, so I don’t know if your criticisms of that are equally empty. Maybe someone who has can clear that up.

    • Richie King on said:

      The problem is having to repeatedly leave Yorda behind (not that she is capable of fast movement anyway) to activate some object away from you, while having to protect both of you from enemies. Enemies have too much health turning fights into a slog, and when Ico takes a hit he has a very long recovery animation. So I did see some game over screens, but I never felt it was because of my lack of skill.

      • fish.heads on said:

        The player is rarely required to leave Yorda behind. Even then, shadows will only appear if the player takes quite a lot of time to get back to her. Also, I wouldn’t say that enemies have too much health – take a look at this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-nr_hw0oQg&t=12m51s

        Even the large enemies take a small number of hits (compare to games notorious for throwing damage spunges at you, like the Bioshock series or various Bethesda RPGs). As I mentioned before, Yorda can also be kept safe by herding enemies away from her.

      • Leaving Yorda in order to solve a puzzle is a means of introducing challenge to the game. It also makes you conscious of your feelings towards Yorda, as most players will experience some anxiety when leaving her behind. It’s a way of strengthening the bond between Yorda and Ico, as well as between Yorda and the player.

        The combat is tedious because you are a young boy with no fighting experience, and you spend most of the game wielding a stick. You are meant to feel weak and as though Yorda could be scooped up at any moment. The castle is large, foreboding, and intimidating. You are stuck in a hostile environment and fighting alien enemies for reasons you reasons you don’t fully understand. It wouldn’t make sense if Ico could tear through enemies like a ninja super hero.

        • Richie King on said:

          I don’t think those reasons justify the implementation of tedious combat.

          • fish.heads on said:

            What would you propose to improve it?

          • Then it’s not for you. You are clearly looking for a completely different style of game with entirely different goals and intentions. This review seems to imply that this game is bad because it does not conform to your narrow ideas of what a video game should be. I have no idea why you would even complete a game that does not cater to your specific tastes, much less review it.

          • Richie King on said:

            I’d propose some stealth based gameplay focusing on evading enemies. It would be in keeping with the game’s tone.

            @Ivan I politely direct you to the comments section of my Walking Dead review.

          • fish.heads on said:

            Stealth gameplay would have required many areas to be redesigned with it in mind. On top of that, it would be stealth in a game that is not focused on stealth, which never works out. There is also the issue of what happens if you fail and enemies spot you – either the combat that you had so much issue with is initiated, combat which is too easy to make taking the time to sneak by enemies worth it, or enemies are made much stronger, and are given the ability to quickly annihilate the player, something I have a feeling would be much worse than just simple combat.

  3. Kyle Lawrence on said:

    personally, I enjoyed Brothers. It utilized a limited control scheme extensively and had a nice story attached. The griffin was an asspull, but everything else was great.

  4. Brothers wasn’t good and ICO was.

    You should contemplate killing yourself, or preferably never writing something other people can read.

  5. fish.heads on said:

    Tough crowd tonight Richie.

    Lets see if we can hit 50+ comments like your Walking Dead review did.

  6. At least a new article, I am not sure if there is any truth to this pair or controvercial opinions because I haven’t played either, sadly, but I want to thank Richie for actually writing something

  7. Anonymous on said:

    I thought the hanging sequence was meant to be perceived slightly differently: my first though was that I was in a position to save this man and so ran in and did so, but after seeing what lay down the path just out of sight, I left feeling I’d interrupted something I shouldn’t have. Maybe the devs were going for what you described but I came off feeling like an arse for not giving him the chance to be with his wife and kid(s) (as I assume he is/they are(/were) all simple folk who believe in such things). As for the game itself I enjoyed it for what it was, a colourful walking simulator with a couple of puzzles, and only had one real gripe involving the spider: [spoiler]you’re not given the option to just walk out when she stops attacking you. It was so fucking obvious with the forced emotional ass-pulls the game had already thrown out what was coming next, and yet when given what seems to be the option to show mercy, you can’t progress unless you go in for the kill, knowing, as the player, that one of the brothers is going to pay for it.[/spoiler] Also I hope spoiler tags work.

    • Anonymous on said:

      Nope, okay, article is full of them already anyway so whatever.

    • Anonymous on said:

      I know I’m just talking to myself here but I’d like to add that I was wrong about my interpretation of the hanged man as I just noticed myself the conditions of the achievement involved.

  8. >”The gender bias exhibited by these games is worrying, and I’m saying this as someone not pushing a SJW agenda”

    1. Based on your description, I see no gender bias here. I see badly-written characters, sure, but the fact that these particular examples are all females seems coincidental to me.

    2. Even if there was gender bias, why is that worrying? In what way would gender bias by these game developers pose any threat or concern to anyone, ever? How does it affect and/or reflect real-world issues, apart from the artists’ (supposed) chauvinistic point of view? This kind of saying has no room in an article reviewing video games. If you feel like commenting on social issues, it’s best if you do it separately, preferably on a more appropriate stage.

  9. Freakydemon on said:

    Sometimes less isn’t more, this is the case for Ico and Brothers.

  10. goombagore on said:

    This is the problem I have with people who over-prioritize gameplay mechanics at the cost of everything else. I get it. You have to play the game, so the controls better be responsive, or intuitive, or “good”. But reviews like this fail to take into account how controls, and narrative, and environment design could be woven together and interact with each other, inform each other, so that the way the game is presented and the way it is played reinforce one another. Instead, there’s just lazy “well, it plays like shit because it doesn’t play like game ‘X’, and the story is gay because it wasn’t like awesome game ‘Y’”, and those type of value judgments do nothing to actually examine the game at hand.

    I was talking about Ico, I should say. I have no clue how AToTS is.

  11. >seeing as they are narrative focused games, maybe they should be cut some slack

    No, absolutely fucking not. If all you are competent with is narrative and fail at constructing a game with satisfying mechanics then you should get the fuck out of this business and get into screenwriting, animating, directing or even just stick to being a self published novelist if that’s all you’re good for.

    • “Every video game ever made needs to cater to my exact tastes, else it shouldn’t exist.”

      - You, 2014

      • “I just came off of /v/ into mature conversation and have no idea what a strawman is and why shitposting is inappropriate outside of anonymous imageboards.”

        - You, just now.

        You haven’t addressed his argument at all. Instead you put words in his mouth to make his (perfectly valid) opinion, that games should be judged by gameplay first and flavor text second, extreme and easy to dismiss. Stop gargling those testicles and try again.

        • “mature conversation”

          HAAH WAAW

        • but he is acting as if a survival horror game has to be as satisfying (and in the same way) as a fighting or hack and slash game. By that I mean that one kind of gameplay can be terrible in this setting and story and perfect in another.

  12. A game called Brothers and it’s not about black people?

    Fuck, I wanted to play something about robbing liqour stores not some handholding shit. Waste some motherfuckers BLAT BLAT you know what am I saying?

  13. GYP please fire and rehire

  14. A Feral Jew on said:

    Tough crowd tonight. This was a nice read and it is enjoyable(at least for me) to see such a reaction from the community. Good show.

    • fish.heads on said:

      Normally I think posting a link to a video to prove a point is lazy, but in this case I would actually recommend the writer of this article to check it out. Not necessarily because it will change his mind, but just because it might give a different perspective on Ico.

      • Rickie on said:

        I actually agree with you about how posting a video can be lazy, although sometimes you have to realize that someone else might explain a point better than you can. Plus, I felt that most of the comments previously posted already addressed what I would have said anyways. But you’re right. I posted that to give a different perspective and also for him to hear someone say it instead of just reading a comment.

    • Rickie on said:

      Actually, on a completely different note, have you guys ever considered recruiting Matthewmatosis for GYP? I would imagine that he would really help bolster the site’s viewership.

  15. Quality Content™ as expected, this is so good that it could almost be an article on my favorite gaming site, Kotaku™!

    • Jimbles on said:

      Oh me oh my you have done a dew, Mr. Rex.

    • Was going full retard on youtube not enough for you?

      [Link Removed]

      go to bed

      • Jimbles on said:

        shut up barney you cunt

      • I took down my shit channel for personal reasons, so I don’t mind the mirror to be honest. Also, making it private was pretty moronic if you’re planning on using it as leverage or something. Really, though, do you think anyone really, really cares? The second someone told me that video was posted on /v/, I knew it had something to do with this place, I mean, come on. Also also, let’s be honest, for all your attempts at super secret anonymouse behavior, it’s probably you, Chris, or some other person I’ve spoken to from here with a still-sore rear end. Apologies that my opinions are so hot and controversial and my shit jokes are so bad that you actually care, it’s a shame.

      • Rickie on said:

        I feel like GYP or anyone vaguely related to it (even if not an actually member of) has just turned this community into shitposting. Not all the time. There is certainly a good amount of serious content, but if you look behind the scenes, it gets really ugly…

        • I feel like much of this community was built on the idea of legitimizing popular /v/ opinions, and not so much as a place of genuine game discussion and analysis with a more intimate user-base. The thing is, for as much as this place is cited as “honest” “journalism,” it does little of either (neither do game “journalists” but that’s beside the point). Most of its works are subjective editorials (honesty prides itself in being objective and the vast majority of arguments regarding art are relativistic), which are far better suited to the realms of “commentary,” or “academics” if we’re getting pedantic. GYP has always come off as a place with an identity crisis, which is one of the many reasons why I lost interest in contributing very quickly. The great, insightful articles (of which there are many) are most often ignored, the dedicated video contributors are far bigger on YouTube and probably get no real exposure from here, and articles such as this breed a whole bunch of valueless shitposting, like the kind I regrettably added to the pre-existing barrage of it here.

          • fish.heads on said:

            Dammit Alvin, how come whenever Richie’s articles get a shitton of comments you’re somehow involved.

            Anyway though, it seems foolish to assume it was someone associated with the site posted that mirror of your video. Chris, as far as I know, has put the big fight the two of you had last summer out of mind, and (until now) I thought you had as well. I can’t think of anyone else on the site who would have any reason to. Also, why have you brought this up in the comments of an unrelated article, instead of maybe talking with GYP contributors on twitter or something?

          • It’s not foolish, as the video posted in the /v/ thread was the original, on my personal incinerator channel. This person here took their time and effort to make a private YouTube account, download, and mirror my video. Then, after seeing I was in this comment section, they posted it.

            When I clicked the link, I noted it was posted on the 27th yet it had four views. Come on, I don’t even know who you are on Twitter, but you’re the foolish one here if you don’t think it’s someone from here with a personal problem. Maybe it isn’t Chris, but he’s the first who comes to mind as we’ve certainly spoken since summer, but saying anything else would be tactless. Either way, if you want to talk to me, my Skype is always open: theallosaurusrex

          • Anonymous on said:

            Do you have a persecution complex?

            Nevermind it was a rhetorical question.

          • Yes everyone hates me.

          • Rickie on said:

            You almost hit the nail on what I was getting at. I agree with you about everything but the honesty thing. Opinion isn’t a bad thing. It certainly has its place, but I think the main reason that “opinion” is often seen with such a negative connotation is that so many people post their opinion without giving context/evidence. That’s when shitposting starts to happen, like this article. I posted a link to a matthewmatosis video earlier, which certainly has its opinions, but he also backs up everything he says with something objective. What’s more, he doesn’t think in terms of whether he enjoyed the game or not. He writes his reviews based on what he believes the developers were trying to accomplish, and then judges the game’s success accordingly.

            In fact, I actually take back my comment about recruiting matthewmatosis to the site, because this site has certainly gained a reputation. I get the feeling that it isn’t growing nor shrinking. It’s built a community that just rants on whatever non stop. Yes, there are good articles posted, but as you sorta said, they live in the shadow of all the crap. I think it was when Rob posted his max overdrive supreme (http://www.gatheryourparty.com/videos/2013/09/19/max-overdrive-supreme-sunset-showdown-extreme-gameshow-pilot/) that I realized that GYP is just a personal blog for whoever wants to post random crap.

          • Rob Welch on said:

            Thanks for the useless comment, Rickie. In response, I would like to direct you to all of the random crap that GYP definitely didn’t have a week after it was founded.

          • I don’t think that comment was useless at all, actually, it’s fairly constructive criticism, then again, since I was IP-banned and this comment will most likely be censored, what does my opinion matter? What has it mattered to begin with?

            Words to meditate upon, children.

          • Stop posting. Really, just… just stop, learn when to stop embarrassing yourself. If I cringe any harder I’ll break my chair.

          • Okay, sockpuppet. I’d sing you all a song or something to make the cringe last, but I think I’ve already caused enough trouble here. Glad you didn’t censor that comment, actually, maybe whoever watching is finally learning something. Ultimately, though, I just find all of this funny. It’s brought me some quality laughs and I’m grateful. Oh, and sorry to the people I actually made upset, that really wasn’t intentional.

  16. Anonymous on said:

    Why is it no one is allowed to criticize ICO without people flinging shit around? It’s not a good game, get over it.

    • Freakydemon on said:

      It’s one of the games people cling onto because they feel as if it has a greater value through its minimalist design. It’s an interesting game, but I wouldn’t really call it good.

    • I know, right? Why is it that people can’t just accept the objective truth of our views on totally-not-subjective topics such as the quality of video games.

      • Anonymous on said:

        So when you wrote your first comment it was just rusing and in fact you think you are right, Richie is wrong, and its not subjective opinion?

        God you people are full of shit, at least stay fucking consistent.

        If you claim subjectivity on the topic then stop shitposting against an opinion, its not more or less valid than yours.

        Otherwise fuck off and stop pretending you know how to conduct a conversation without looking like a complete moron.

    • Kyle Lawrence on said:

      I personally don’t like ICO either. The puzzles are simplistic, dealing with Yorda is more a chore than a challenge, and the combat is slow and mindless. You’re really just pressing square the whole time. I would’ve appreciated maybe a block or some heavy attacks to use during an opening to make battles more dynamic. I think ICO is so praised because it was pretty impressive for its time, but now the whole game just feels really slow. The presentation still holds up though.

  17. I enjoyed ICO, but I thoroughly enjoyed this read.

  18. Triceratops Flex on said:

    Commission is complete, Richie!

    [Link Removed]

  19. Now after this whole mess of shitflinging I want to say that I really like the fact that someone tried doing an in depth analysis of a video game, I haven’t actually seen this one in a while.
    Having not played this one, I can’t tell if you succeeded, Rickie, maybe the next time you attack a game with cult status you should put some disclaimer in front of it “contains subjective opinions and analysis”

  20. Ready4Games on said:

    I can’t stand this new trend of sarcastic reviews.

    If everyone reviews with a sarcastic edge how is anyone ever to know what to take seriously?

  21. “I’m saying this as someone not pushing a SJW agenda.”

    That’s funny, considering it’s a standard SJW line and you have retweets of FemFreq on your twitter.

  22. All i can say is that after i finished ICO i had no motivation to back and do it again. Replay value is a biggie for me on whether a game is good or not. And this game just doesn’t have any of it for me.

  23. Dookyman on said:

    so stupid u should kill urself in the butt fah rellz

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