Burly Men At Sea
Developer: Brain & Brain
Publisher: Plug In Digital
Release Date: 12 April 2018
Price: $9.99 / £8.99
Reviewed by Pat Lunn
Game design is more accessible than ever. With a range of user-friendly tools on the market, artists, writers and more are getting a chance to create brand-new experiences unlike anything anyone ever thought was possible in the medium. No game has demonstrated this growing opportunity to combine art with design in quite the same way as Burly Men At Sea.
Created by the husband-and-wife team of Brain & Brain, this charming game follows a trio of bearded sailors in modern day Scandinavia as they journey through a branching adventure encountering creatures and trials based around Scandinavian folklore.
It’s a joy to play and, in a market bustling with soulless corporate content, one of the most heartfelt titles I’ve ever encountered.
Men At Work
The story of Burly Men At Sea is pretty free-form. There’s a beginning section and an ending, but everything in between is largely up to you. Gameplay is simple; you drag the three main characters, the Brothers Beard, left or right by expanding the stylistic circular viewport in whichever direction you want. There’s the ability to touch objects and people the Brothers encounter, as well as some basic adventure-game style puzzles.
The controls are a little strange. The entire game is played on the touch screen in handheld mode and via a single joy-con when the Switch is docked. The latter setup took a little getting used to, but once I had played through several Burly adventures I found it really intuitive and began focusing on what really makes Burly Men At Sea standout: Exploration.
A Myth In The Making
With its minimalist artistic style and a relaxing, melodic soundtrack, I found myself playing Burly Men At Sea after a day of work just to unwind and discover a little more culture or the next unique set piece.
Each of your voyages are logged in the game, so I could easily find new paths I hadn’t previously taken. For example, there’s a moment early on where you meet three sea nymphs. I believed that I had to talk to them and leave, but by staying sat with them even when I was prompted to move on, I unlocked a completely new path and a new adventure.
This gameplay made each play through unique and gives the title a fantastic sense of replayability. It’s for this reason that I really struggled to find a fault with it, but if it does have an issue it’s in its lack of interactivity.
The Perils Of Point And Click
At first I felt that the limited number of possibilities made the game feel stilted, like a pretty version of an old 90s Lucasarts title. But when I gave the controller over to one of my less gaming-literate friends, I realized that Burly Men At Sea has been created from the ground-up to be accessible to players of all ability levels.
No matter how skilled a player you might be, you can have a fulfilling adventure while learning about Scandinavian culture. This makes sense, as it’s not a game about challenge, more one of discovery and relaxation.
Burly Men At Sea displays a unique combination of art, narrative and layered game design that’s rare to find not only on the Nintendo eShop but on any platform. The heartfelt approach of the design team translates into a truly special experience. Given it's demonstration of the narrative power of the gaming medium, and the fact it comes in much cheaper than a lot of shovelware, I can’t think of reason why anyone shouldn’t snap it up.
Pros & Cons
+ Brilliant design
+ Fantastic artwork
+ Lots of replayability
- Minimal control
- A little slow