Review by Mark Chen, Common Sense Education | Updated October 2016
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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

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Unique cooperative adventure with lasting social and emotional impact

Subjects & skills

  • Character & SEL
  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication & Collaboration
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Pros: The control scheme is brilliantly mirrored to the game’s message.

Cons: Its mature themes can be depressing, and sometimes it’s hard to suspend disbelief for some puzzles.

Bottom Line: With good support, an extremely powerful game to build empathy.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons has such an emotional impact that teachers might want to provide support for students during and after play. The game itself uses a control scheme that's not hard to master, but its mature themes are suggested for older students.

A larger unit on mortality, grief, and strength of family and other social bonds could easily include the game as one of the “texts.” One possibility is to pair students, each controlling one of the brothers and sharing a single game controller. The story need not be experienced individually for it to be effective, and having a partner to discuss strategies to solve the different puzzles could be a great way to encourage cooperation and collaboration.

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Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is tough review. It is a relatively easy and enjoyable-to-play adventure game that has a novel control scheme. The story, however, focuses on heavy themes of family bonds and perseverance after grief and tragedy, and it lingers long after the player is done playing. Spoiler alert: The game does not end happily ever after. That said, there’s good reason why this game has been extremely well-received among the gaming press.

The player uses a single control device (a modern gamepad with twin analog thumbsticks) to move two brothers independently around a medieval fantasy world. The feeling is as if the player’s own hands are two separate actors playing a co-op game. The player controls the two brothers during a long journey to find healing water for their ailing father. Along the way, the brothers make friends with and help out various fantasy creatures, avoid nasty guard dogs, and solve many environmental puzzles. Some of these puzzles are mechanical contraptions that seem designed explicitly for two people to operate in tandem, making me wonder if the people who designed them always travel in pairs. Ultimately, the player is compelled to guide the brothers through to their journey’s end and save their father. It’s powerful and emotional.

A game with an interesting control scheme that starts as only a novel interface/mechanic but then turns out -- brilliantly -- to be a perfect metaphor for the game’s story and themes.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is the perfect example of how video games can be powerful literary stories that serve to broaden our understanding and increase empathy. It is emotional and, if properly supported, could provide deep context for mature discussions around death and grief. It offers strength and perseverance as ways of dealing with these topics by emphasizing cooperation in both its control scheme and its story. While each brother is controlled independently, both can only progress through working together on the same obstacles. The older brother can swim and move heavier objects while the younger can squeeze through tight spaces, but both of them are needed for many of the game’s well-designed and well-thought-out puzzles. In the end, the player realizes that the strength of one brother is assumed into the other even after death.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

If the dramatic opening scene doesn't intrigue players, the unique two-hero mechanic probably will. This is the sort of game that grabs players by dint of its sheer unusualness.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

The player learns to deal with mature themes by doing and experiencing, making for personally meaningful engagement.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Basic instructions are provided within the game, and gameplay is intuitive. There's no official community for support, but fans and third-party websites have created their own walkthroughs.

Common Sense Reviewer
Mark Chen Researcher

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