STAFF REVIEW of Bramble: The Mountain King (Xbox One)

Wednesday, May 3, 2023.
by Peggy Doyle

Bramble: The Mountain King Box art I am an emotional person. There is no other way to start this review, because even though I’m a gamer and can deal with a lot of things and just file them away as not real, Bramble: The Mountain King broke me. So much so that I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to be able to finish the game at one point or write this review. Normally I stay away from spoilers or shock factors, but if you’ve read many of my reviews there is often personal anecdotes about my real-life experience or how games make me feel, and that’s not going to change here. This game starts the same as a lot of indies - with a warning. We’re all used to seeing them, whether it talks about seizure warnings, or story concepts that might be triggering – this one had something I didn’t expect to see, infanticide. Please, please, listen to me on this one. If you think this could be triggering for you, really approach this game cautiously. I am normally not one to warn people off of games, but this was a lot to deal with while playing. I, however, consider myself to be professional enough to not allow this to let me talk about the game as a whole, so let’s move on to the rest of the review.

Dimfrost Studio out of Sweden have embraced and developed a game steeped in their history and Nordic folklore with Bramble: The Mountain King. Folklore is a major source of inspiration for many games, and fairy tales (and dark twists on them) is a genre to which I am inexplicably drawn.

The story of Bramble sees you playing as a young boy named Olle. One night he wakes up and notices his sister, Lillemor, isn’t in her bed. After following her into the woods, she gets abducted by a troll and Olle sets out to rescue her. He is in for quite the adventure, full of danger, as the world is full of ‘creatures’ from folklore. Each mythical being I came across ranged from creepy to downright terrifying. Because I can’t simply just play games I’m reviewing, I searched up some of them online to read their stories and it’s wild and disturbing. Without giving all of them away, and to maintain some sort of surprise for you, I’ll only mention the two that were in the marketing trailers. Näcken, who lives in the lake and lures children to drown with by playing their violin music, and Skogsrå, a beautiful woman who lures men into the forest and ultimately their death.

If it’s not already apparent, this is NOT a kid’s game. Nor is it for the faint of heart. Each creature was brought to life in such a stellar way. I was equal parts scared and intrigued. As you work through the world, there are many story books that you can collect to help you fill in their stories better. You will also find small wooden carvings as collectibles in game. Make sure to search around, you never know what you will find.

An invisible and soft-spoken narrator guides you, and Bramble plays out like an interactive dark fairy tale at times. Olle will befriend creatures like trolls, or ride a hedgehog (yes, he’s that small in this world), and even rescue small gnome like creatures called Nisse. These little friends will help you open doors and perform other small tasks as well. The game is gorgeous. The world has lush forests and beautiful lighting effects when the light dances around items or vegetation. The forests and fields are unbelievably realistic looking, only accentuating the mythical creatures you find along the way. The moments when the camera pulls out and you see sweeping landscapes are absolutely stunning. The dark and scary environments are equally well done, with the closeness feeling too real at times, and the sounds of squishing though entrails, or muddy swamps enough to give you an uneasy feeling. The audio components in the game are extremely well done. Animal sounds, chopping, crying, the wind and birds are all realistic sounding. The soundtrack is melancholy and haunting and the perfect accompaniment, especially when is the darker areas.

Dimfrost Studio embraced a more linear game and simplistic battle style. While this may seem boring or old to some, I liked the familiarity to it. Most boss fights were relatively basic in design. For example, Olle needs to dodge, or hide, and use his powers of light to fight. While simple in design, remember, you are a tiny child. One hit will often kill you and I did find some of the game fights frustrating, especially towards the end of the game. Thankfully, Bramble has many checkpoints, so I didn’t have to backtrack when I died. I do feel like the boss fights were short enough and more there as a means to an end as they didn’t really feel that important to the story, the journey, and the exploration parts.

There are some puzzle-based components to Bramble. They are not extremely complicated but will require a bit of backtracking, collecting and observations. One disturbing puzzle required you to locate a key that happens to be in a corpses hand. My favourite puzzle was making the potions to unlock doors. Using an image made up of a variety of symbols, you had to find the proper items associated with each symbol component and combine them in a cauldron and apply them to a door to escape.

Bramble really plays with your emotions. It’s a roller coaster where you never truly know how dark things can get and then, just when you think that’s as far as it will go, it tosses you even further. You start out looking for your sister, and then you meet the delightful gnomes who play with you, then they get caught and killed. You ride a cute hedgehog through a field of flowers and giant mushrooms, and then you’re running away from a cleaver on a butcher table. The game is not afraid to take on dark topics like suicide and animal cruelty for example. I mentioned the infanticide earlier and I thought it was perhaps related to the child like gnomes being killed, but I was so very wrong. It was darker than anything I expected. The fact that you are playing as a child, and seeing all of this through his eyes makes the game even more grim if you think about it. It would be easy to dismiss all of these horrible things as distasteful in a game, and I think if it had been in different hands, I would tend to agree. Somehow Dimfrost Studios knew exactly what they were doing, showing a cold and unrelenting world, not safe for humans, and very must representative of the fairy tales they’ve drawn on.

If I have one complaint about the gameplay, it’s the fixed camera. Although it works well for showing off the world Dimfrost have built, you do sacrifice some mechanics of gameplay. Sometimes it was hard to see where you were aiming while jumping, for example, leading me to fall or drown at times. This was also evident in sections of the game that required stealth and timing. The camera angle wasn’t always favourable in these instances, and it left me scrambling, wasting time in this timed section.

Bramble: The Mountain King isn’t a very long game; I’d estimate about 4-6 hours to play through it. I was fully engaged through the entire story and felt it never overstayed its welcome. It’s a beautiful game set in a dark and disturbing world. If you are a fan of narrative driven games, especially those with a dark undertone, I think you’ll enjoy Bramble: The Mountain King

**Bramble: The Mountain King was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.2 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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