Brambles. When I think of that word, I immediately associate it with the cocktail of the same name, and then inadvertently think of the menace I become when I have one too many. However, you more sensible types would probably be more likely to think of brambles as thickets and bushes, usually adorned with blackberries. They can provide passers-by with juicy morsels, or if you lose your footing, they can trip you up, and leave you full of thorns and splinters.
This seems like a pretty inane opening, but I promise I will go somewhere with this. You see, there’s a certain duality to these brambles, pleasure, and misfortune, and the same can be said of Grimm’s fairytales, which inspire Bramble: The Mountain King. Grimm’s Fairytales are in a league of their own when it comes to blending fantasy and horror, offering children’s bedtime stories that would have kids of this era burying their heads under the covers and pleading with their parents to close the book shut.
Well, Bramble: The Mountain King offers an experience not unlike surreal horror platformers like Inside, Limbo, and Little Nightmares, with a Grimm twist that will make you feel like a timid German kinder, trembling in your nightgown as your mother reads these dark tales by candlelight.
I’ll let you behind the curtain. I’m a huge fan of Little Nightmares as a series, and I have seen games try and fail to replicate their masterfully unsettling format. However, Bramble: The Mountain King comes out swinging, offering a captivating blend of fantastically whimsical and devilishly dark, and if any game can match Little Nightmares note for note, it’s this one. If you want the finer details, stick around. Here is Indie Game Culture’s Bramble The Mountain King Review, conducted on PS5.
Disney After Dark
Let’s begin with the visuals in Bramble: The Mountain King, which I have to say, are something to behold. I had gone into this game expecting certain set-pieces to offer that ‘wow’ factor, but even in the more quiet moments, or the transitions between chapters as you wander through a lush overgrowth of flora, you get that sense of wonder the game clearly aims to inject at every opportunity.
In the first half of the game, this indie title aims to provide a picturebook fantasy world, thrusting you into the heart of a fairytale, complete with Gnomes, Fairys, Mushroom Caps, Stone Golems, and much more.
The cynic in me always seems to find a way to complain about something, but regarding this game’s presentation, I don’t see what more the developer could have done to provide a truly awe-inspiring world to explore.
I wasn’t crazy about the rays of light effect that were used in just about every scene, but that’s about it. Gee, I guess I do always find a way to complain, huh?
My cynicism aside, it wouldn’t be a Grimm-inspired tale if it didn’t drop the pleasant facade and descent into depravity, and in the latter half of the game, you get to see the other side of the coin. You’ll be urged to explore dark and dingy cabins, eerie overgrown cornfields, swampy marshes, and villages burned to ashes.
Truly, this gradual reveal that this world is not what it seems is wonderfully handled, and even in the more picturesque areas, you can never guarantee that some devilish being isn’t watching from the shadows.
This masterful presentation is made possible by a fixed-camera approach, and I have to say, there are few games that offer better cinematic camerawork, making each moment blend seamlessly into the next. It’s one of those titles where it is very hard to do the visuals justice in words alone, but if I could choose only one, it would be magical.
Moving onto the narrative offering within Bramble The Mountain King, and after gushing about the visuals on show, I would say that the story on offer is even better. This is because of the two-pronged approach that the game takes to storytelling. On one hand, the game sticks to its roots, telling age-old stories from The Brothers Grimm fairytales.
Then on the other, the game tells a story of a young boy called Olle and his lost sister, which begins as a lighthearted affair, but quickly becomes a dark and sinister tale of heartache, and fear, with an overarching theme that the world is a twisted and horrible place, where even the purest of heart will succumb to the darkness.
On the Brother’s Grimm front, the game uses storybooks scattered around the world to give players a deeper understanding of the enemies, myths, and legends they have encountered in the world, but usually only after you have narrowly cheated death by their hand. The dedication to authentically reflecting the source material is admirable, but it’s the outlandish set pieces that really stand out and punctuate the short 5-6 hour runtime.
Whether it’s battling the grotesque Pig Butcher, trudging through the mud as Nacken chases behind, or stabbing Skogsra’s face as many times as you deem fit. These moments make the player feel something. Whether it be fear, pity, regret, or bloodlust. When a game that largely exists without dialogue manages to extract these strong emotions from the player, it’s an indicator that the narrative is something special, and that is definitely the case here.
A Slow Burn
So far, pretty much perfect, right? Well, while it’s not a common issue with developers, occasionally, you will see a game that gets so caught up in telling a compelling story and designing a stunning world, that they forget to make the game as fun as it possibly can be.
It’s usually the inverse, but this is a trap that Bramble falls into on more than one occasion. I will get to what the game does well from a gameplay perspective, but much like all those that play this game, I need to get through the game’s beginning first, because it’s enough to put even the most patient gamer off progressing.
Bramble opens up slowly, which is understandable as the initial period serves as a silent and seamless tutorial of sorts. Plus, the game needs to build slowly from a narrative perspective to make the player care about the characters in question. I’m not naive to that, believe me.
However, what I simply cannot get behind is the choice to have practically an hour of gameplay that offers nothing more than a series of patronizingly easy and devastatingly boring mini-games, followed by very basic platforming. Honestly, not until you beat the first boss does the gameplay really start to get interesting.
That being said, when this happens, things do get more exciting, with chapters that are broken up into puzzles, platforming, and usually a boss battle at the end to really challenge the player. Speaking on a positive note, the puzzles are well-designed in the sense that players are never given hints or funneled through sections, yet the puzzles never feel obtuse or frustrating.
Through exploring, and examining the world around you for clues, the player will be able to have that eureka moment, and feel like a genius for a second. Which is all you can really ask for from a puzzle.
Then the same can be said of boss battles. Through trial and error, memorization of sound cues, or through close examination of the battlefield, you’ll be able to work out how to reveal a weak spot, or carve out an opening to escape. These are the moments from a gameplay perspective where the game shines, but it’s the moments in-between that pull this game down.
Bit of a Shambles
While the game is competent in just about every department, the gameplay is definitely the weakest aspect of Bramble The Mountain King. Not because it is particularly offensive, buggy, or poorly handled, but more because we have seen it all before. It’s almost impossible to avoid comparisons to Little Nightmares or Inside when reviewing this game, and believe me, if I could have, I would have.
However, due to a variety of platforming sections, bosses, and set pieces that borrow ideas from these relatively old titles, it’s hard to avoid such a thing. I won’t go as far as saying that some sections feel antiquated, but they don’t do anything to push this niche avenue of gaming forward.
To be a little more specific, the pulsing soundwaves from Nacken are reminiscent of Inside’s air force blast section. Or you could argue that the section where you must use a Gnome as bait for the creature in the mutilated organs is the same as the Shoe Room in Little Nightmares. I could offer more examples, but the point is, this was something that I kept realizing as I played further into this title, and while Bramble’s sections were just as well implemented, it’s very hard to heap praise on borrowed ideas.
Though, even if I put this notion to one side, I still found the game lacking in some areas. Firstly, the game’s platforming does have that quintessential ragdoll floatiness that I love. However, it seems that, at times, the game doesn’t give the player enough room for error, leading to cheap deaths, and the same can be said of some boss battles too, which almost require players to die to succeed. However, none of this is as poorly implemented as the throwing/aiming mechanics. This feature feels so poorly optimized and sensitive that being accurate feels like a potluck at times.
This would all be easy to overlook if the game didn’t ask 100% completionists to beat the game without dying, and you can’t even reload saves, preventing save-scumming. Take note, developers, a surefire way to piss me off is to lock a relatively simple platinum behind one standout, near-impossible trophy.
Then lastly, on my rant, I also felt that the game didn’t offer a lot of opportunities for players to go off the beaten path and discover new and interesting secrets. In fact, if you play naturally and don’t go out of your way to explore, I would wager you will find most of the Wood Figurine collectibles anyway.
In a game that is so good at telling silent stories through the environment, I found it very surprising that the developers just plopped these in plain sight. A missed opportunity to add in more puzzles, lore, and set dressing, if you ask me.
All in all, through a slow start, bumbling moments littered across the entire game, and a lack of innovation compared to other games of its ilk, Bramble struggles to offer gameplay that does justice to its world, story, and visuals. However, if you are willing to struggle onward, you could argue that the standout moments make it all worthwhile.
If you were a fan of Bramble: The Mountain King’s pseudo-horror format, its Grimm and unsettling world, or just want something that plays relatively similar to this quirky platformer, then you might want to check these games out too:
- Little Nightmares 1 + 2
- A Plague Tale: Requiem
As I have a tendency to let the dust settle before my review hits print, I have the luxury of getting a lay of the land, and comparing my thoughts with others, and the takeaway I have on this occasion is, why the hell is no one talking about this title.
Bramble: The Mountain King is a game that takes centuries-old stories, and pulls them together masterfully to provide a well-paced narrative in a fantastical setting, which gets darker and darker with each chapter. The platforming is refined, while still having that floppy ragdoll feel that games within this genre are known for, and there are more than a few memorable set pieces that are so creepy and unsettling that you’ll likely see them when you hit the hay for the night after playing.
However, the game isn’t without flaws, making it more of a Little Nightmares tribute act than a spiritual successor. The game decides to frontload the game with a lot of slow-paced platforming and monotonous mini-games, which only delay the player from getting to the incredible content that lies beyond the slow opening. Plus, I would say that some of the platforming isn’t perfectly implemented, leading to cheap deaths. The checkpoints are pretty generous, but if you want to go after the achievement awarded for a no-death run, this can be a pain point.
The gameplay is touch and go at times, but on most occasions, the near flawless presentation and narrative swings make up for it, leading to a short and sweet pseudo-horror title that will appease plenty of Little Nightmares fans, and attract newcomers to this very specific lane of indie titles.
- Jaw-dropping visuals that bring the Brothers Grimm stories to life
- A well-paced and charming batch of stories, with incredible set-pieces
- Fun puzzles, Intense Boss Battles, and simple platforming
- Some sections aren’t perfectly designed, leading to cheap deaths
- The game’s opening is really dull, and is frontloaded with boring minigames
- The mechanics implemented here are nothing we haven’t seen before
Question: Is Bramble The Mountain King A Horror Game?
Answer: Sort of, but not really. Much like Little Nightmares, the game has a fantastical, surreal, and whimsical theme to it, but it also has a lot of creepy moments, unsettling monsters, and a dark underbelly that could be perceived as horror. I wouldn’t put it in that category, but if you are super averse to horror, you might want to consider passing on this game.
Question: How Long is Bramble The Mountain King?
Answer: If you are gunning through the game without stopping to smell the roses, and burning through the bosses and puzzles with little to no difficulty, you could have the game wrapped up in anywhere from 4-6 hours. If you decide to try to get all the hidden achievements and find all the wooden figurines, I would say that you would be looking at closer to 7-8 hours.
Question: What Can I Play Bramble The Mountain King On?
Answer: Bramble: The Mountian King is available on all major consoles, including the PS4/5, the Xbox One/Series X/S, the Nintendo Switch, and PC.
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