Bramble: The Mountain King Review
26 Apr, 2023
Check out our review of Bramble: The Mountain King to find out what we thought about this dark adventure inspired by Nordic fables.
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Indie video games frequently take inspiration from traditional folklore, but Bramble: The Mountain King goes a step beyond. It feels very much like a work of folklore in itself. It doesn’t just relate the stories and legends of the past in a more palatable format, but rather, it takes a confident stance towards telling a story in a style that’s unmistakably like a folk tale.
The tale itself is straightforward enough. It follows young Olle as he goes after his older sister Lillemor into a forest full of fancy. They discover a mysterious and light-filled stone, encounter friendly gnomes, and jump across toadstool mushrooms in their whimsical adventures. Their adventures soon take a darker turn, however, and Olle finds himself alone and anxious to find his sister.
Much like centuries-old folk tales passed down through oral repetition, there’s a lot here that feels uncanny and imperfect – perhaps intentionally so. It all works together to create the impression of snuggling up at bedtime to hear this tale from an experienced storyteller.
Olle’s journey towards his sister takes him through an increasingly dark world that’s replete with giant trolls, gruesome witches, plague-ridden villages, and yes – deadly bramble.
He doesn’t have a lot that’s on his side, apart from his wits, the magical stone in his hand, and his own two legs. Over the course of the game, you will likely see him stabbed, mangled, sliced and crushed numerous times, all of which adds to the effect that’s caused by his general appearance, – that he’s more a doll or a puppet that you’re imagining through this world of folk monsters.
Again, much like folk tales, Bramble: The Mountain King defies thematic genre. It starts out quite whimsical, and progresses into something of a horror game in the second half. Although not quite a survival horror title, Bramble: The Mountain King features many shots that would be at home in a good horror film, from the sinister way Pesta stares into the camera as the world around you dims, to the murky grove of the shapeshifter Skogsrå, to the dead village full of hanging witches and heaped corpses.
All this comes so much later in the game, though, that I wouldn’t fault players who want to bounce off early. In the game’s first third, when Olle and Lillemor are traipsing about a gnome village or making a rock giant sneeze, Bramble: The Mountain King can feel meandering and rough-on-the-edges.
If you come to the game for its horrors, I advise you to stick it out – there’s many excellent sequences and set pieces later to make the wait worth it.
This tonal difference is seen in the gameplay, too. What starts out as a walking simulator with simple platforming, later comes into a boil of stealth and boss fights, both of which are made clumsy by the game’s sluggish movement controls.
The many sections of the game that require quick reflexes do lead to some impressive results, such as Olle narrowly escaping deadly situations. However, I couldn’t help but feel like at other times, they are at odds with how the game has taught you to play itself. Is the game meant for those who want to take it easy, or for those who want to some quick movement and action? It’s all a bit of a mash.
Bramble: The Mountain King is an impressive sophomore title for Dimfrost Studio as it leans into the studio’s Swedish heritage, and also turns heads for its heart-stopping set pieces and its folk horror tone. It’s got a bit of a slow start, and it never fully commits to any of its platforming, action, or stealth, but certainly quite the discomforting experience that a folk tale should be.
Developer: Dimfrost Studio
Country of Origin: Sweden
Publisher: Merge Games
Release Date: April 27, 2023 (PC, Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
This review of Bramble: The Mountain King is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher. The PC version of Bramble: The Mountain King was played for this review.
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