Team Joystiq is barging into 2014 with a celebration of last year's best games. Keep reading throughout the week to see our assembly of ingenious indies and triple-A triumphs.Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons isn't a particularly novel game. It offers an emotional rollercoaster of an adventure without the need for actual dialog. Big deal, right? Journey was a clear favorite last year, Limbo before that, and both had some stylistic similarities. And yet, Brothers is a true rarity, as it places the gravity of its compact story right in your hands.
Brothers places you at the feet of a journey in which two boys set out to retrieve a cure for their father's illness from a mystical tree. The game never bothers you with trivial details like names of the characters, the town, or just where the hell you're going the whole while. That information, often window dressing used to bring some sense of reality and purpose to any story, is discarded in favor of the game's stripped-down, puzzle-platformer design: See obstacle, get through it. More specifically, get through it together.
The team at Starbreeze Studios took this simple premise and split both brothers' actions between the controller's joysticks and triggers on either side. It's natural to take that concept for granted in the first few hours of the adventure, as lifting one brother to a high ledge – so he can let down a rope – or pushing and pulling levers together to solve puzzles is only so enthralling. During the bulk of the game, you can enjoy Brothers' colorful and varied environments, sitting both boys down at a bench together to relax between encounters with fantastic creatures in unbelievable locales. After some time, the lack of dialog becomes completely unnoticeable, yet every interaction between characters is clear in its intent.
The latter half of the game's moments pull you in close to discover what the controls themselves evoke as a connective device between the two siblings. There are rare instances in which you are forced to consider the same challenges as just one of the two boys, and are immediately confronted with the reality of life without your other half. The resulting feeling is one practically unfelt in a game before, in which one hand on your controller feels helplessly erased after hours of programming your mind to associate one half of the game pad with a character. Trust me when I note that there are even more impactful moments in Brothers I'm purposely leaving out here, each one a shining example of ways developers can drive home a meaningful, targeted concept through as few methods as purely possible.
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons sports a clunky but appropriate title. These two boys are individual sons, but they are bound as brothers, a term reserved for very near and dear people in any one person's life. These are the people you turn to for immediate, unquestionable love and support to overcome the tougher moments in life. Conveying the bonds between siblings and the struggles they work through is nigh impossible to do in any medium, let alone video games, but damn if Starbreeze didn't do the best job of it.
Joystiq is highlighting its 10 favorite games of 2013 throughout the week. Keep reading for more top selections and every writer's personal picks in Best of the Rest roundups. The list so far: