There are two types of fairy tales being told across the world. There is the one which we are read to as children, tales full of morals, adventure and happy endings. These tales get turned into films, told again and again, forevermore. But within these stories, there lies a darker truth – murder, monsters, and dark turns around every corner. The versions we absorb have been sanitised or made family-friendly over time.
But that brings us on to the game in hand and whilst Bramble: The Mountain King is a new story, it’s one that focuses on Nordic fairy tales, with a ton of legend thrown in. I can tell you now, this fairy tale is not for children.
Bramble: The Mountain King starts with two children, a brother, and sister, asleep in their room. We are placed in a different period in the past as the brother, Olle, wakes to find his sister, Lillemor, to have gone missing. The open window to the room is a clue and so off goes Olle into the night. From there, the next forty minutes or so are delightful with a trip through a forest at night, where creatures and gnomes are met. You find your sister, but soon a troll kidnaps her and everything turns very dark.
Olle’s journey is focused on getting to a mountain, confronting the Mountain King to rescue his sister. Along the way, he will meet various characters and terrifying bosses based on Nordic folktales. You travel through many different areas with various challenges that play out. The story is narrated well, but you will also happen across books that give you insight into the area and tale, as well as the history of the Mountain King. The writing and storytelling are of a very high standard and Bramble: The Mountain King delivers a great balance of mixing words and visuals to tell its tale, all in a clever and rewarding manner. I loved this world and these stories, but you should be aware that it gets dark and is definitely very frightening at times.
The gameplay consists of a mixture of exploration, platforming, and puzzle-solving. The closest comparison I can draw for Bramble is that of Inside, but at the same time, it’s very different. You move around the areas, jumping, crawling, and sprinting. Soon you gain a ball of light that can be used in certain areas and a weapon you can throw and aim. There are moments where the perspective changes to first person, letting you select and examine objects.
A couple of examples of how this works comes in the form of having to find numerous gnomes hidden around the landscape. You go into first person, move a cursor around the screen to look for them. It works nearly like a “Where’s Wally”. In another section, you have to find ingredients for a spell to brew in a cauldron.
Bramble: The Mountain King all works fine, but at times it can feel a bit clunky, especially in the jumping. I’ve also come across a few bugs, and have needed to restart via checkpoints on multiple occasions; hopefully there will be a patch coming soon. But when it works well, Bramble is good, although the boss battles can be hard and a bit frustrating. Overall though I think the gameplay is exciting and inventive all the way through. But it’s the journey and storytelling that are the stars of the show.
Another highlight comes in the visuals. The level design, lighting, and creature creation are superb. I especially like how the devs play with perspective, and how small your character is compared to some of the more giant creatures. It’s brilliantly done and very impressive. The areas you take in are beautiful too, although others are horrible including a rat butcher you meet surrounded by entrails. A special mention should go to the storybook design as well, with some brilliantly drawn illustrations to accompany the words.
The sound effects join those visuals; mixing joyful moments with that of gruesome horror. Hearing bones crunching will stay with me for a while. But the score is amazing with a couple of choral tracks that are out of this world.
If it wasn’t for a few little niggles in regards the need to reload and work through jump mechanics, Bramble: The Mountain King could well have been verging on top marks. Even then, this is a game that is hugely enjoyable, and the Nordic world feels like a great place to spend some solid hours. Just be aware, this can be a scary place and at times a bit gruesome, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.