If you love being told a story, while also being partially in control of telling it, this is certainly a game for you. This game is a tale of three bearded men who seek to find adventures out at sea. As you keep playing, you find out that they are actually Brothers Beard, quite charming. The handcrafted illustration of the Scandinavian-based landscape indulges minimalism with a very vibrant colour scheme.
What actually inspires the three men to go in the search of adventure is one of their findings in their fishing nets, which is a map that in the beginning only has their home island in the centre. If you finish an adventure, you get to find out more about the map and where it came from, its source to me was quite unexpected.
Now, about the books, they are to provide the players with the stories they had just completed. With every adventure being different depending on choices, the code provided for the book within the game aims to tell the story that has just been completed, but at a price. It’s a nice tie-in, not many games out there give the chance to get something physical out of a playthrough.
Although Burly Men at Sea is a point and click game, it feels a lot more like a choose-your-storybook-game. Progress can only take place when the bookshelf is getting filled with more and more adventures of the brothers, rather than having the players solve puzzles.
The player gets more of a chance to interact with the world itself than to interact with the characters. Every now and then you can make a bird’s wings flutter, or cause a chicken to lay an egg, or just light up a cavern so the Beard Brothers find their way. More chances to interact with these characters would have been really interesting, or at least have the option to spark up a conversation between them.
The drag and move vignette mechanic is not something I’ve seen in games before, and it is a nice little touch, it allows the eye to focus only at the centre of the screen instead of having it wander anywhere else. Again, I feel like this really plays on the idea of minimalism.
To aid that choice of a story, the decisions made by the player are quite limited. There is only so much that the player can do to control the three brothers, but does get the chance to slightly guide them through their travels. Although some dangers of the sea are reflected upon within the game, it still has a bit of a childish nature to it. It doesn’t quite matter how much danger the brothers are in, they will end up back on their home island anyway.
One of the things that bothered me about the game is how repetitive it got after a while, but not in a good way. Since every adventure starts and finishes in the same way, it feels like the good parts of the game are sandwiched between parts that really get a bit mundane after two playthroughs. It would really have been nice to get some variety in that aspect. For example, if the dialogue was different, or if the ship didn’t come back to town under mysterious circumstances.
The adventures always start by being swallowed by a whale and end with meeting a recurring creature, but the two events in between these two are up to the player. Although, there are ten different encounters that could take place. This includes whether the men stay inside the whale and wait with the nymphs by a small fire, or to take the quick route out. After the return home, there is always the choice, and some encouragement to keep you going in the search of further adventures.
The use of the map also isn’t very clever, as it only maps out the adventures that have just been completed, so, in the end, it doesn’t work as an actual map, but instead works kind of like a track your progress type of thing.
However, although there are some bad sides to the game, it is certainly worth mentioning that it has been made only by two people – a husband and wife team of Brain&Brain. Their adventures as travellers throughout the country, as well as working as farmhands in order to support the game, is what inspired them to tell us about the three brothers.
A gorgeous little touch that the game has is the sound effects created by some acapella voices, it is quite gorgeous. Personally, I absolutely fell in love with the clinging of metal in the smith’s hut, though it is a simple high-pitched voice saying “ching, ching” every time the man’s hammer hits against the metal. Quite entertaining actually.
Sadly, as gorgeous as this game is, it doesn’t give the player a chance to enjoy the opportunity to replay the game, it doesn’t feel like there’s enough to go back to besides a touch of comedy and beautiful sound effects of the acapella.
Magdalena Kolodziej is a freelance journalist and contributor to PN2. You can find her on Twitter @magda_0019