fantasy

Ash Princess, Spellbound’s Book of the Month

I feel a little stuck while starting this, as it’s been years since I’ve written any sort of review or book report. But with the addition of the Spellbound podcast to my life, I feel compelled to discuss all of the fantasy that I absorb. Therefore: a book of the month is born! For January, I’ve selected Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian.

I almost read fantasy exclusively, from the beautiful and familiar, to the irreverent and whimsical, to the brash and violent worlds it can produce. I can’t imagine I will be hard-up for content, but as my life is absolutely jam packed, I will do my best to bring you consistent book recommendations.

Before I dive deep into the review, I will always let you know if the book was read or listened to and the benefits or drawbacks of both. I promise that, even if the book isn’t for you, the books I recommend will always be good. Fantasy can often be formulaic junk that is slapped with a catchy title and mass produced in hopes of big blockbuster dreams. I do my best to weed through those and will not recommend them. And unlike the Spellbound podcast (listen every Friday), I won’t be diving into spoilers because I would rather you read the books too!

The Book:

Ash Princess  by Laura Sebastian

Image result for Ash Prince novel cover

Release: 2018

Official Blurb*:

Theodosia was six when her country was invaded and her mother, the Queen of Flame and Fury, was murdered before her eyes. Ten years later, Theo has learned to survive under the relentless abuse of the Kaiser and his court as the ridiculed Ash Princess.

When the Kaiser forces her to execute her last hope of rescue, Theo can’t ignore her feelings and memories any longer. She vows revenge, throwing herself into a plot to seduce and murder the Kaiser’s warrior son with the help of a group of magically gifted and volatile rebels. But Theo doesn’t expect to develop feelings for the Prinz.

Forced to make impossible choices and unable to trust even those who are on her side, Theo will have to decide how far she’s willing to go to save her people and how much of herself she’s willing to sacrifice to become Queen.

(*this is the official publisher-written blurb and not my own words)

Response to the blurb:

Personally, I think this summary leaves the reader feeling a bit underwhelmed. It sounds too stereotypical, too cookie cutter, which is absolutely unfair to this novel. While the blurb is technically accurate, these pages have so much more to them.

Downfalls:

Audio book versus paper

Don’t be surprised that a YA novel isn’t perfect. It suffers from the tragic heroine in love triangle trope (more on that later). Listening to the audio book means I didn’t actually see the words on the page and just reading the word “Prinz” now annoys me. His title is always pronounced “prince” by the narrator and I never would have thought otherwise. This also presents an issue when trying to understand the fantasy languages.

The Drama

The novel gets off to a heartless start and it is imperative that you push through. This isn’t ideal. You’re not invested and it comes off callous of the main character, Theodosia/Thora. However, the drama pays off, and the traumatic actions she is forced to take in the first few chapters lingers with her and you for the entirety of the book.

Spirit What Now?

I do take some issues with the way that magic is presented in the book. Some of the people possess abilities to control/use the elements and they are enhanced with spirit gems found in mines. While this itself could be the premise of a book, it’s not focused on as much as you’d think. Maybe that’s because it’s not a spirit gem book, but a Theodosia book. Maybe it’ll be explored more in the two sequels. It’s just an interesting component of the world that’s too brief for me.

Cookie Cutter Cover Art

Lastly, the name and the cover image is completely off-putting to me as a reader. I get that these kinds of titles and designs are almost required for modern fantasy but I truly miss the days of fantasy novels looking like ancient tomes that you’ve been questing for years to find. In fact, the title was so distracting that it took me almost a year to download it. I’d listen to a book, and it would pop up in my recommended titles, then I would ignore it and start another book. It was recommended so many times, that I finally gave in (art has the tendency to wear me down more than people do). If this is also an issue for you, it does not remain one for long.

The Good Stuff:

The Ash Princess

Theodosia is the type of believable heroine that I love. Her choices are well thought out, even when they are reckless, which is almost impossible to do. Her faults are understandable and connect with the audience. At times, she is too kind or too trusting to the dangerous characters that surround her, but when you realize that a lot of it is done out of self-preservation, it is easy to forgive her. The author doesn’t take it easy on her, either. The character goes through multiple ordeals that should change a person to their core, and while no one moment is pivotal to her change from survival to rebel, all of them slowly change her over time.

The Love Triangle

I promised I’d mention the love triangle and I will: this is easily the best love triangle I’ve ever seen set up in a YA novel. It’s not the typical trope where the men are constantly vying for her affection. She doesn’t kiss anyone when she should be fighting. She doesn’t sacrifice herself at any point for a man. Her first suitor, the Prinz, is an odd choice for a lover considering his own background, but he becomes the obvious one when she plans to seduce him for leverage. The other man is a childhood friend who has been a slave worker for many years and has recently escaped. Neither ends the novel in a particularly stand-out position. Neither relationship is ideal. The best part of all of this is Theodosia recognizes that.

The Supporting Cast

Continuing on this theme, the rest of the characters are just as wonderful as Theodosia. You feel the multi-faceted traits that are found in real people. The vapid friend is also calculating and capable. The cruel general is also merciful. The mass of rebels vary from the angry, to the dense, to the scared, to the passionate, to the resilient. No one is simply one archetype.

The Plot Thickens

The story has some unexpected twists that only enhance the story. There’s one at the end that made my heart jump a bit! They add some thrilling components instead of hurting the plot with unnecessary subversion.

Final Thoughts:

Ultimately the book did its job. I was entertained, and now I am invested in the continuing saga. Part of me hopes that the author will expand this world, discuss other countries that have been affected by the conquering, or come up with more thrilling heroes to follow.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars!

Be sure to check out Spellbound podcast every week for in-depth looks into fantasy television!

Ash Princess, Spellbound’s Book of the Month

Carnival Row – Part 1

Step with us onto the shady streets of Carnival Row. Rae, and first time guest Jill (who just so happens to be Rae’s younger sister), take an in depth look at the magical combination of the Fae world of Tir Na Noc and the Victorian streets of The Burgue. This new series from Amazon Prime debuted August 30, 2019 and stars Orlando Bloom (Lord of the Rings) and Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad). The show has already been renewed for a second season.

This episode covers Episode 1 “Some Dark God Awakes” and Episode 2 “Aisling.”

Gotta catch up first? Binge this show on Amazon!

Not a Carnival Row fan? Join us on 11/15 for our first Avatar: The Last Airbender episode!

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Spellbound Podcast Credits for Carnival Row Episodes

A Heroes Podcast Network Production

Hosted by Rae Mayer @SirynRae

Special Guest: Jill Stewart @JJLeFaye1

Executive Producer & Editor: Derreck Mayer @TheStarTrekDude

Music by David Fesliyan

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Carnival Row – Part 1

Good Omens: Part 3

We conclude our maiden series by covering Good Omens episodes 5 & 6! Zach Story returns as we wrap-up Good Omens as a series, get all philosophical up in here, and close out the first show discussed in Spellbound!

Stop by our Patreon to see what kinds of cool perks you can get for being one of our contributors: patreon.com/HeroesPodcasts.

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Spellbound Podcast Credits

A Heroes Podcast Network Production

Hosted by Rae Stewart

Special Guest: Zach Story

Executive Producer & Editor: Derreck Mayer

Music by David Fesliyan

Links: http://linktr.ee/spellbound

iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/spellbound/id1478988496

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Good Omens: Part 2

We continue our Good Omens discussion by bring Zach Story back to break down episoes 3 & 4 from this 6-episode Amazon Prime series from Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Stop by our Patreon to see what kinds of cool perks you can get for being one of our contributors: patreon.com/HeroesPodcasts.

Not ready for that kind of commitment? No problem!

Check out our TeePublic store at bit.ly/HPNTeePublic or buy us a coffee over at ko-fi.com/heroespodcasts because every dollar truly does help.

Spellbound Podcast Credits

A Heroes Podcast Network Production

Hosted by Rae Stewart

Special Guest: Zach Story

Executive Producer & Editor: Derreck Mayer

Music by David Fesliyan

Links: http://linktr.ee/spellbound

iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/spellbound/id1478988496

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Good Omens: Part 1

Welcome to Spellbound, a fantasy TV podcast covering series both new and old, live action and animated. Zach Story joins me for our maiden episode! We start with Neil Gainman’s Good Omens, available on Amazon Prime and starring Michael Sheen & David Tennant. This is part 1 of 3, covering the show’s Episodes 1 & 2.

Stop by our Patreon to see what kinds of cool perks you can get for being one of our contributors: patreon.com/HeroesPodcasts.

Not ready for that kind of commitment? No problem!

Check out our TeePublic store at bit.ly/HPNTeePublic or buy us a coffee over at ko-fi.com/heroespodcasts because every dollar truly does help.

Spellbound Podcast Credits

A Heroes Podcast Network Production

Hosted by Rae Stewart

Special Guest: Zach Story

Executive Producer & Editor: Derreck Mayer

Music by David Fesliyan

Links: http://linktr.ee/spellbound

iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/spellbound/id1478988496

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/1pwoRr309ylWatm2dbVPiW

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Social Media: @Spellboundcast

Zweihänder and Daniel Fox Interview

We’ve got a special episode for you with returning old Gamer Heroes host, Derreck! Derreck is here is introduce an exciting interview between the Heroes Podcast Network’s resident tabletop expert and Daniel Fox, the man behind Zweihänder, a grim dark fantasy RPG from Grim & Perilous! We hope you enjoy this interview. If you’ve checked out Zweihänder, let us know! Got questions to ask the hosts? 

Interested in getting your hands on Zweihänder? No problem! Check out the links right here:

Hit us up on twitter (@GamerHeroesPod) and we could talk about it on the show! Feel free to give us some love on our socials! You could even just forget we’re playing on your phone all day while your headphones are plugged in at work.  That’s cool too, we won’t mind.

Don’t forget to subscribe! We’re available on iTunes Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker, Google Play, or you can use our RSS Feed to plug into any podcast app. Links are below!

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Podcast Credits

A Heroes Podcast Network Production

Produced by GGKC

Guest Hosts Jon Hall & Derreck Mayer \

Hosts Kam Konek & Thomas Egan

Special Guest Daniel Fox

Editor Kam Konek

Executive Producer Derreck Mayer

Music by Flying Killing Robots

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Zweihänder and Daniel Fox Interview

SteamWorld Quest: A Review

SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is the fifth game in the SteamWorld universe starting back with 2010’s SteamWorld Tower Defense for the 3DS. Since then, we’ve seen two digging platformers in the form of SteamWorld Dig (2013) and SteamWorld Dig 2 (2017), as well as a turn-based RPG in SteamWorld Heist (2015). You can click on the hyperlinks to see my thoughts on some of those games. With that said, SteamWorld Quest is a almost completely different beast. My review here will be primarily spoiler-free but I will note some points and share some images and video from the first 4 chapters of the game.

So let’s begin. SteamWorld Quest is an RPG, that much can be sure. Per Image & Form Games’s press information:

SteamWorld Quest is the roleplaying card game you’ve been waiting for! Lead a party of aspiring heroes through a beautiful hand-drawn world and intense battles using only your wits and a handful of cards. Take on whatever threat comes your way by crafting your own deck choosing from over 100 unique punch-cards!

What awaits you is a luscious treasure chest filled with gold, dragons, vivid worlds, magic, knights in shining armor as well as XP, turn-based battles and all that good RPG stuff! The game’s humorous mix of traditional fantasy and steampunk robots makes for an unforgettable experience with lots of laughs.

Now, let’s shake some of this out. The game is a straight up fantasy RPG with a steampunk style. The steampunk style is in line with the previous SteamWorld games and has come to be one of my favorite video game aesthetics. The animation is lively, bright, unique, and a joy to view. Our three main characters, Armilly, Copernica, and Galleo each fill a relatively standard RPG role. Armilly is our hero though. She is cliche but in a tongue-in-cheek nature.

In fact, the whole game is very self-aware of RPG cliche and that’s just fine. Armilly is essentially our fighter warrior. She has a sword and can increase her strength in battle. Copernica, on the other hand, is our magic barer. She can cast spells of ice, fire, shielding, and more. Finally, Galleo is our tank but reminds me a bit of Overwatch’s Brigitte in that he can provide additional armor and healing while being able to soak up damage.SteamWorld Quest Journey 1

The battle mechanics are really where the game finds its footing, however. As the description says, the battles are turn-based and card-based. Now, when this was initially announced during a Nintendo Direct, I was concerned. Recently, card-based games where you can collect and craft cards have seemed like money pits, pay to win, freemium games. Hearthstone, for example, while a joy to play and really well done, it’s pretty difficult to be competitive without spending a lot of money or playing literally every day. So I was worried this would be similar. Would we be buying individual cards? Blind card packs? Purchasing some kind of dust or in-game currency to craft?

Actually, we don’t do any of that. Not one bit. There aren’t any microtransactions to date. I was shocked but in the best way possible.

SteamWorld Quest Punch-card Tutorial 1

So how does the card-based battle system work? It’s actually pretty interesting and intuitive. You see, at the beginning of a battle, you draw cards. Cards are associated with a specific hero. Strike and Upgrade cards build up Steam Pressure. Steam Pressure is required for Skill cards. For example, if you watch the video below, it shows a single turn. You can see that I play a Strike card but it does not give me enough SP to play by Skill card, Brave Buster, so I play a second Strike card which adds enough SP for me to play the Skill card.

You can play three cards on a turn and eventually you can chain cards together if you play all three from a single hero. In the video below, you’ll see that I was able to use three cards for Armilly. This chaining action adds a fourth card that has an effect, in this case, dealing more damage, but that will vary based on the hero being chained.

As noted before, you will earn new cards throughout the game as you come across treasure chests and level up. Additionally, you can craft cards for your heroes. Crafting cards is fairly simple and is done from the Deck screen. Shaded cards are card types you could craft but have not done so yet. Each card requires specific resources in order to craft it. “To Victory”, for example, requires 250 gold pieces, 5 lustrous fibers, and 10 smoldering ember. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough lustrous fiber, so I cannot craft this card yet.

The story brings our heroes across many different villains ranging from fairly basic characters to those with unique and complicated move sets, including boss level characters like Captain Canary, shown below. Battles range as far as the number of opponents you’ll confront, but the number of heroes you bring into the battle will depend on how many are you in party and how many are still conscious. Tómba, for example, are essentially bomb beetles. While they don’t appear to do much early on, they pack a very serious and deadly punch once they build up enough SP. Confronting these little steambots changed my whole strategy going into battle. I even crafted some cards and altered by decks just to beat them.

SteamWorld Quest Captain Canary

I think that’s all I want to reveal at this time. Overall, SteamWorld Quest is a solid and pleasantly surprising addition to the universe. The card battle system is unique and compelling, challenging and interesting. The characters are a bit corny but that’s clearly on purpose. The art is again, unique. It’s lively, joyful, bright, and appealing hour after hour. The music is bouncy and fun, never feeling repetitive even though I know it repeats. The cheesy characters and story might not be for you, but it hits me strong and I find it a bright spot to my day when I’m able to play. While I do prefer the platformer genre of SteamWorld Dig 1 & 2, SteamWorld Quest has increased by interest in turn-based RPGs. And I think that in itself is a big positive.

If you’ve enjoyed the previous games in this series, especially SteamWorld Heist, I would definitely recommend this new entry in the franchise. If you are looking for a new Indie game and enjoy RPGs with turn-based battle system, I would also recommend this game due to the unique nature of the card battles.

SteamWorld Quest releases April 25th, 2019 on Nintendo Switch for $24.99 USD (€24.99 /£22.49).

You can find additional information on the game through their official website: www.imageform.se/game/steamworld-quest

Game was played 100% in handheld mode on Nintendo Switch.

A review copy of this game was provided by Image & Form.

Follow me on Twitter @TheStarTrekDude to talk to me about this game in more detail!

Music:

  • District Four Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
    Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
    http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • SteamWorld Quest theme loop recorded in-game on Nintendo Switch

SteamWorld Quest: A Review

Screen Heroes Awards

Welcome to the 3rd Annual Screen Heroes Awards! This year, we bring you 32 categories spanning film, television, and video games. Join us as our three Screen Heroes hosts are joined by hosts from all across the Heroes Podcast Network to discuss the nominees you’ve been voting on for weeks and who the winners are, plus our own takes on those choices.

We do apologize for the echo in the audio. It’s inconsistent and varies in strength depending on who is talking.

Watch the episode here:

What did you think of our nominees and winners?  We want to know! Comment below or hit us up @HeroesPodcasts on Twitter or Facebook!

Go to Screen-Heroes.com right now to subscribe to us on iTunes and drop us a review. If you do, we’ll be sure to give you a shout-out in a future episode!

Want to join the conversation? Join us live every Tuesday night at 9PM EST on Twitch to chat with us! We’ll answer questions and note comments live on the broadcast! Follow at: twitch.tv/heroespodcasts

Subscribe to Screen Heroes! The links to iTunes, Blog Talk Radio, Spreaker, Google Play, and our RSS feed are below!

Stop by our Patreon to see what kinds of cool perks you can get for being one of our contributors: patreon.com/HeroesPodcasts

Not ready for that kind of commitment? No problem! Buy us a coffee over at ko-fi.com/heroespodcasts because every dollar truly does help.

Screen Heroes Podcast Credits

A Heroes Podcast Network Production

Hosts
Derreck Mayer
Rae Stewart
Ryan Couture

Special Guests
Jon Czerwinski (former Gamer Heroes host)
Thomas Egan (Gamer Heroes host)
Kacey Parnacott (host of a coming soon Anime focused series)
Ian Turner (host of Echo Station and Costume Couture)

Executive Producer & Editor
Derreck Mayer

Music
Flying Killer Robots

iTunes
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Spreaker

Google Play

RSS Feed

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@ScreenHeroesPod

Screen Heroes Awards

Best Live-Action Fantasy Movies

It’s time for the Best Live-Action Fantasy Movies of All-Time! That’s right, we sit down and provide our Top 5 fantasy movies, making up a solid list of 20 live-action films. Before we jump into that, we talk some news including the directors leaving the Han Solo movie, plus the reality of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman pay.

Also, go to Screen-Heroes.com right now to subscribe to us on iTunes and drop us a review. If you do, we’ll be sure to give you a shout-out in a future episode!

Want to join the conversation? Join us live every Tuesday night at 9PM EST on Twitch to chat with us! We’ll answer questions and note comments live on the broadcast! Follow at: twitch.tv/heroespodcasts

Don’t forget to subscribe to Screen Heroes! The links to iTunesBlog Talk RadioGoogle Play, and Feedburner are below!

Also, stop by our Patreon to see what kinds of cool perks you can get for being one of our contributors: patreon.com/HeroesPodcasts

Screen Heroes Podcast Credits

Hosts
Derreck Mayer
Rachel Stewart
Ryan Couture

Special Guest
Robert McCullagh

Executive Producer
Derreck Mayer

Editor
Derreck Mayer

Music
Flying Killer Robots

Links
https://linktr.ee/screenheroes

Social Media
@ScreenHeroesPod

Best Live-Action Fantasy Movies

The Last Witch Hunter Reviewed

While the latest Vin Diesel film, The Last Witch Hunter, may seem like exactly what you would expect, it probably isn’t. Commonly known for his over the top action franchise, The Fast and the Furious series, you may think that Diesel is branching out into over the top fantasy action flicks with this film but unfortunately, everything about this film is simply lacking. Personally, I found the Fast and Furious to be an entertaining series filled with fun and adrenaline but also with a decent amount of good character development interspersed, as outrageous as those films are. the-last-witch-hunter

————————————Spoilers Ahead————————————-

Unfortunately, The Last Witch Hunter possesses none of the action packed charm or appeal of Diesel’s previous films. The entire plot is filled with pointless events, all of which feel disconnected and like the writers were making it up as they went along. The film starts with Vin Diesel’s character, Kaulder, a person of seemingly Viking or European Barbarian origin, along with several other comrades as they invade a witch lair, hoping to rid the world of the Witch Queen as she is apparently responsible for the Black Plague in her attempt to rid the world of humans. After defeating the Witch Queen, Kaulder is cursed by her with immortality hence the reason the rest of the film takes place in the modern day. Once at this point, the rest of the film takes place like the plot of a bad linear video game. Kaulder goes from cliche fantasy location to other cliche fantasy location slowly learning details about the dark witch’s plot to predictably resurrect the Witch Queen and to restart the Black Plague all over again. Without having to go into all the details, the ending of the film basically leaves Kaulder in the exact same place as the beginning. Zero things have changed for him. He is still left immortal, still charged with defeating witches, and still has Michael Caine as a mentor who is, unfortunately, horribly wasted as an actor. And what makes this whole ending ludicrous is how Kaulder makes the obtuse observation that something has changed in his life when literally nothing has. Now to clarify, all of this happens without a lick of decent action to even make up for the bad plot and acting.

In short, don’t waste your time.
rs_1024x645-150617142654-1024.vin-diesel-last-witch-hunter2.jw.61715Did you catch The Last Witch Hunter opening weekend? Do you disagree with my thoughts? Comment below!

The Last Witch Hunter Reviewed

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Review

Overview:

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is a downloadable title available for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, as well as their next generation counterparts. The story follows the quest of two brothers looking for a tree that will cure their sick father. Along the way, they encounter wild animals, trolls, giants, cultists, and many other strange things, some good and some not.

The Good:

1. Brothers is a truly unique game in how it handles both protagonists. The older brother is controlled through the left thumb stick and left trigger. The younger brother is controlled through the right thumb stick. This can really play tricks with your mind if you’re right-handed like me and the brothers somehow end up on opposite sides of the screen from your controller. I had to stop more than once to get them switched around. Nevertheless, this setup made for some rather interesting puzzles that challenge parts of the brain one does not usually use.

While flying, you have to move the brothers left or right to steer the glider.

While flying, you have to move the brothers left or right to steer the glider.

2. This is a platform game and, as previously mentioned, it has a lot of puzzles that require the brothers to work together. However, each brother has his own skill-set. For example, the older brother can pull levers while the younger brother does not have the strength. Meanwhile, the younger brother has the ability to slip into places that are too small for the older brother. The collaboration of the brothers is a lot of fun and it is nice to not be totally alone in those dark and dangerous places. The brothers are also different in their personalities. Whereas the older brother is more mature and strong, the younger brother is compassionate and a bit of a goof.

3. The supplementals of Brothers work quite nicely. The graphics are not high detail like a Call of Duty title or Mass Effect. Rather, they are more like out of a storybook like Fable‘s graphics. This fits the fantasy genre quite well. Likewise, the music enhances the experience and draws on emotion with a sound that has a sort of wooden flute as the lead instrument. There is also no spoken dialogue, but the game makes it pretty easy to know what is going on based on tone of voice (they do speak but it’s no language I know) and symbols.

The brothers meet plenty of strange people and things, some that will help you and others that will not.

The brothers meet plenty of strange people and things, some that will help you and others that will not.

4. Level design is not lazy in the slightest in Brothers. The player goes everywhere from a village, caves, mountains, the air, a giant fortress, among other places. With the exception of the first section, I was never bored with the setting. Rather, I was drawn into it and wanted to keep playing. Add terrors and monsters to the equation and you have a diverse and dark game-play experience.

The Bad:

1. Minor glitches still hurt this game. The only ones I came across involved the older brother (never the younger brother surprisingly) getting stuck in areas and not being able to move. I would have to reload a checkpoint to be able to get out of it. Since the game saves fairly frequently, this was a minor concern. Nevertheless, it was a bit of a nuisance.

2. I am still not sure how I feel about the ending. I will not give it away here, but the story takes a rather bold move that may upset certain audiences. I give it credit for boldness, but I’m truly not sure if it was the right move.

brothers3

The brothers have to work together in puzzles. In this one, one grips a surface while the other swings across to the other side with the attached rope.

Conclusion:

I have never played a game quite like Brothers. The control scheme is innovative even though it can be trying at times. The story is dark and sometimes even brutal. The game is very short, but for someone who does not have too much time to spend on video games nowadays, I like a decently short game. If you’re one for a variation on platformer games, then this is certainly a game you should check out.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons Review