Discover a “once upon a time” for adults in our Bramble: The Mountain King review.
Most of the time when you hear a fairy tale or listen to a bedtime story, it has friendly characters and happy endings. This couldn’t be further from the truth in the Nordic fables which Dimfrost Studio have chosen to incorporate into the narrative of their new game.
What’s your favourite scary story?
With a team of 14 out of Sweden, this is only Dimfrosts’ second game and they are one to watch. Comprised of university students in 2017, they founded this studio to create games that focus on storytelling. So let me open a book and tell you the tale of horror in our Bramble The Mountain King review!
Bramble: The Mountain King Review – Story
Nordic folklore originates from several Northern European countries comprising of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. Many creatures and mythology originate from Scandinavian folklore, being a large area in the region. The story of Bramble is pulled from these tales and put together in a well-connected world that is both beautiful and terribly grim.
I told you those mushrooms were a bad idea.
The story begins with a narrator (the only voice in the game) speaking about a little boy, Olle, and his older sister, Lellemore. He awakes one night after a bad dream and finds she has disappeared out the window. He follows to search for her in the darkness and unknowingly begins a grand adventure containing bravery, regret, sorrow and light.
Without giving too much away, each chapter focuses on one of these creatures from folklore. It eases you into the controls with a short and cute romp through a Gnome village. After you help the little guys out, you continue on your adventure until things take a dark turn.
I just want to go Gnome…
Your sister is suddenly taken by a troll, a huge grotesque figure with large ears stuffs her into a bag. Thus your real quest begins. You must travel far and wide to the mountain where your sister is being kept. Along the way you run, hide and battle many mythical creatures for Nordic folklore. These include Nøkken, who are water dwelling creatures that lures its victims with beautiful sounds from a fiddle. A skogsrå, who is a dangerous seductress with a long cow’s tail that coaxes men into the forest and not to forget the witches, whom perform sacrifices to obtain more power.
This is not what I had in mind when I said skinny dipping.
As you journey across bramble-infested villages and dark caverns, a lot of themes are quite dark. One such scene features a troll cutting up animals as you wade through blood and guts to escape his butchers cleaver. Others include a terribly sad moment with a baby and an ending to a boss fight that will shock the faint of heart.
Did that scarecrow just move?
One of the focuses that shines through in this game is that there is always hope, always a light in the darkness that you can find no matter how defeated you feel or how bad the odds are. This is where Bramble truly leaves its mark, the story and message that will stay with you long after you’ve switched it off. If Dimfrosts’ goal was to create an incredible story, then that’s exactly what they’ve achieved.
Row row row your boat gently past the evil creatures trying to kill you.
Bramble: The Mountain King Review – Gameplay
Olle isn’t a superhero or a fighter, he is a small boy which is reflected by the basic gameplay system. You can crouch, run and jump through the series of platforming sections you come across. There are a few instances where you get a weapon in the form of light which is used as a sword or ranged attack. Unfortunately, these are only available at certain moments in the game where you need to beat a boss, light the way in a cave or solve one of the few but interesting puzzles.
That’s not a knife, this is a knife!
One of the more frustrating bits about Bramble is the fixed camera. Most of the time you don’t notice it, but occasionally it will force you in a direction when you’re trying to explore what little there is to find. It does however help you find your way, as there generally isn’t a clear path due to the scenery blending so well with the background elements.
I think I go forward, right?
Although not quite intricate, the best gameplay segments come from one of the few bosses you take down or run away from. They feature some great mechanics that will put your brain to use in order to defeat them. Another short lived segment introduced a hedgehog that you controlled across a lake. I would have loved to see this expanded or used more than once.
It’s over Olle, I have the high ground!
Bramble: The Mountain King Review – Visuals
Possibly the part I was surprised at the most, this small studio has managed to create a world full of beauty and terror. The nature textures and lighting look incredible as you wander through a field of flowers. This can also be said for the village full of plague-carrying humans and derelict buildings which has a bland colour scheme to emphasise the cursed town.
This seems like a nice place for a nap.
Every creature you come across is horrific and incredibly detailed, another reason why Bramble is so enthralling. Even some of the friendly beasts you meet look outstanding. Regrettably I can’t say the same for the human characters and their facial designs. Of course, a much harder feat to pull off but somehow every time the camera pans to Olle or his sister, it looks like a cartoon.
I can’t tell whether he’s happy or sad to meet the king frog.
Bramble: The Mountain King Review – Audio
You would expect that the two main characters you see during the game would speak to one another. You would also be wrong, as this entire game is narrated by a female voice. The characters and creatures make sounds to go along with some actions but it’s usually left up to the narrator to describe what’s happening or how the character is feeling. As a game that is comprised of various folklore tales this works extremely well. The whole story is framed as a fable itself which lends to the immersion the developer is trying to create.
3, 2, 1, here I come ready or not!
Music can either make a game or break it, and in this case it absolutely smashes it right out of the book. Every scene is paired perfectly with the right notes to make you feel afraid, tense or even uplifted. There is an amazing scene where you go from being downtrodden after a narrow escape and as you enter a field of flowers the music explodes into beautiful singing that fills you with wonder and contentment.
What are we all hanging around for?
What Else? – Side Quests, Post Game, Trophies
After the credits roll there isn’t a huge amount to do from here. You can chapter select to pick up the collectables you might have missed or just replay the whole game. These mementos include story books giving you information on each creature you come across and their Nordic fable. There is also a wooden carving for the dozen or so of the allies/enemies you come across. Whilst some of these aren’t exactly hidden, they are very easy to miss.
I think I ordered the wrong book online…
In terms of trophy/achievements, they are all relatively easy and can be done in your first playthrough aside from one. This requires a completed game without dying, which is a lot harder than it sounds. It can be done in around 4 hours or so once you know what to look out for and how to avoid an untimely end.
This doesn’t seem dangerous at all.
Bramble is known as a rough and prickly shrub which has long thorny roots that generally grows different types of sweet berries. This is exactly what this game is, a rough adventure with a sweet message at its core. This game is heavy in its exposition and themes, so if you decide to open this book be wary but also you will get glued to the screen to see what happens next. Although only taking about six hours to roll credits, this is definitely an experience that everyone should enjoy.
Why should you play Bramble: The Mountain King?
- If you like Little Nightmares
- Enjoy dark fairy tales
- Looking for a game with an enthralling story
Why shouldn’t you play Bramble: The Mountain King?
- If you don’t like gore and dark themes
- You prefer lengthy games
- Little to no replayability
A review code on PlayStation 5 was kindly provided by the publisher for our Bramble: The Mountain King review. If you enjoyed this review, be sure to check out more of our indie game reviews and join the Qualbert Discord to chat with us about upcoming games!