Bramble: The Mountain King Review
There have been many cinematic story-driven titles that have caught my attention in the past; the most recent example before Bramble: The Mountain King was none other than Little Nightmares. Unfortunately, I have always found myself a bit bored by the vagueness of the story because it leaves so much to the imagination that, most of the time, I don't really understand the narrative at all. Bramble, on the other hand, pulls no punches. This is why I'd like to leave a warning before we begin: not for gore or spooky themes, but for outright cruelty and shocking ones, such as suicide, infanticide, harm to minors, and harm to animals, among others.
With that out of the way, let's begin with what the game is all about. Bramble: The Mountain King's Steam page describes it as a grim adventure set in a world inspired by Nordic fables, and it explains that we'll be playing as a little boy who sets off on a journey to find his sister. Though this really is the premise, there is an underlying narrative that I'm not sure I quite grasped, but for the first time in a story-driven title, it doesn't bother me to not understand.
Whilst I've become a big fan of horror titles, one of my biggest issues with the genre is the vagueness of the narrative; it usually barely makes sense without digging deeper outside of the game, or the entire plot is presented in an abstract world that is hard to make sense of. I feared that this would be the case in Bramble, too — especially as I went from one terrifying mythical creature to the next — but I found myself so immersed in the experience that, for the first time ever, the plot wasn't as important.
One of the things I most like about the game is how well the narration fits in — it doesn't overly explain, and it doesn't try to fill in the silence. Most of the journey is nothing but quiet as we go from horror to horror, watching some of the most shocking scenes I've seen in gaming yet... and this comes from someone who has played multiple Resident Evil titles and watched Outlast playthroughs. The narrator does a great job at replacing dialogue, as she speaks only during pivotal moments, and I always felt like what she'd say would really give me a proper glimpse into Olle's current state of mind for me to connect to the character but not so much that he became his own separate being. This allowed my mind to fill in the blanks, and it worked so phenomenally that I feel more connected to this child than I do with most protagonists.
Of course, the silence and narration aren't the biggest part of the game — the horror and unsettling themes are. When I first booted up the title, I expected a vague plot with scary-looking, storyless monsters who were just there to spook me, but Bramble makes a note to tell you at least the superficial story of the terrors you fight. Once I caught on to that, it felt like I was battling through every Nordic myth, and this added so much more satisfaction to every conquest — it didn't feel like I was slashing through waves of scary-just-because enemies, but instead, I was fighting through legends that terrified children through ages. Monsters that turned out to be very real, and they were causing pain and death everywhere.
Additionally, unlike most games of this genre, the monsters didn’t just linger in the background to create a scary atmosphere — they interacted with the world around them in horrific ways, and if I was caught, I would see Olle die a gruesome death. I think perhaps this is thanks to the fantastic checkpoints that stopped the experience from becoming tedious and that Bramble never becomes repetitive in gameplay, as there are numerous ways we traverse, defeat, or sneak past enemies, and none of them relied on annoying tropes, as some games do.
Since I was expecting something along the lines of the other titles I've played with this style, I was shocked to witness some of the themes touched upon; I continuously thought that they would only hint at some of them or perhaps pan the camera or hide images as most games (and even movies) do, but everything was left on display. I am sure that, in large part, the reason why this is such a disquieting game is that it neither pulls punches nor tries to scare by throwing everything in at once — things aren't there just for shock value. At least, I didn't feel this was the case at all.
Throughout my time with the game, I wondered why some of these situations unsettled me so much more than anything I'd seen in the other horror titles I've played, and I think, in part, it has to be the fantastic cinematography throughout the entire game; despite how many AAA titles I've played, this is one of the most awe-striking experiences I've had. From the soundtrack to the angles and the cinematic moments, the developer did a phenomenal job at setting the atmosphere.
That being said, I did see some complaints in the Steam comments that there's barely any gameplay. While I do understand it's a lot about walking and solving straightforward puzzles, I didn't personally feel like adding more to do would have done anything but hinder the experience. Not only did the game start feeling a bit dragged out towards the end, but I feel that it was thanks to the lack of forced gameplay sections that I was so engaged with Olle's journey despite the lack of dialogue and context.
Truth be told, I am not the slightest bit surprised that Bramble: The Mountain King sits at Overwhelmingly Positive on Steam at the time of writing. Even for someone who isn't usually a big fan of some of the features — such as stealth gameplay — I have been enamoured, and I cannot wait to see what else Dimfrost Studio will come up with in the future.
Bramble: The Mountain King (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
If you're not put off by heavy themes, I couldn't suggest this title more; Bramble: The Mountain King is one of the few titles of this genre I wish I had played sooner.