The indie scene is often filled to the brim with some of the most interesting and experimental games out there, and you can often find a wide variety of titles to suit just about any particular genre requirement you might have. We also often get games like Bramble: The Mountain King which, while not incredibly experimental, often aim to do a singular thing and do it well. With Bramble: The Mountain King, that one singular thing is to show off the atmospheric possibilities of using Nordic fables and folktales as your game’s narrative base.
Let’s back up a bit—Bramble: The Mountain King is an indie title developed by Dimfrost Games and published by Merge Games that tells the story of a young boy, Olle, and his adventurous sister Lillemor. Using classical Nordic tales as its base, Bramble: The Mountain King hopes to take us through an incredible audio-visual tour of classic folktales, both adorable, and often violent.
The game features a relatively simple story that feels like it was ripped right out of a classic book of fairy tales. Olle wakes up one night, frightened by nightmares, only to find his sister missing. Deciding to follow her trail into the forest, Olle eventually finds his sister, and the two set off for adventure, meeting magical creatures like the Frog King and gnomes along the way. Ultimately, Lillemor gets kidnapped by a troll, and Olle has to figure out how he can get his sister back. There’s nothing particularly complicated going on with the game’s story, with the highlight being the game’s general atmosphere throughout its environments.
"The game features a relatively simple story that feels like it was ripped right out of a classic book of fairy tales."
Despite the simplicity of its story, I’d argue that Bramble: The Mountain King suffers from some poor pacing, especially at the beginning. While it starts off in a fantastic way, building its thick atmosphere as you travel through a dark forest finding small people made out of acorns and sticks all over the place, there isn’t really much of a pay off before you find your sister. Once you find her, you’re going to be going through the rest of the game’s tutorials in a couple of bright and cheerful levels before quickly being thrown back into a dark world that’s seemingly out to get you at every corner.
The constant zigzagging doesn’t really make for a particularly engaging game. The title only really starts getting somewhat interesting once the plot finally kicks off after your sister is kidnapped, pitting you against some hyper-violent monsters in some gory levels.
Bramble: The Mountain King doesn’t really try to get too ambitious with its gameplay. It’s simple enough to play, with standard movement, the ability to sprint, crouch and jump, an interaction button, and a way to fight back against some of the more violent denizens of the forest. The gameplay never really gets too complicated. You’re often just simply platforming your way through the game’s various levels, avoiding deadly bear traps and other sharp objects along the way, and sometimes, you’ll be trying to find gnomes to help you open doors along your adventure.
"The gameplay never really gets too complicated."
The gnomes in particular seem quite influenced by mechanics from Nintendo’s Pikmin franchise, though it is worth noting that Bramble: The Mountain King never really gets too deep with its mechanics. You’re not going to have to figure out complicated ways to use different kinds of gnomes to approach a puzzle. Rather, you’ll need a set number of gnomes to open specific doors to continue, and it’s getting those gnomes that acts as the main puzzles of the game.
You’ll find gnomes in all kinds of situations through the game’s dark environments, and you’ll have to do different things to sway them to join your cause. The introductory sequence of Bramble: The Mountain King even gives you a short tutorial on how you’d go about recruiting gnomes and use them to open a massive door. Once the game’s main plot kicks off, gnomes are going to be in much more precarious positions, often needing your help to hopefully save their lives.
These small bouts of puzzle solving are often divided up with simple platforming segments that, while never really too difficult, give you a good chance to stop and experience the game’s gorgeous visuals. The other way your gnome-saving action is going to get interrupted is if you find yourself in one of the game’s many boss fights. An early one in particular is, once again, quite easy, but when it comes to sheer atmosphere and visuals, is an absolute treat.
As you might expect from a game that proudly touts that it features inspiration from Nordic folktales, Bramble: The Mountain King has a great variety of creatures that you’ll meet, befriend, and sometimes even fight. Creatures range from the troll that kicks off the plot by kidnapping your sister, to adorable little gnomes, and even King Frog, who saves your life in an early part of the game and considers you a true friend.
All of this is punctuated by gorgeous graphics that really bring the game’s various environments, from the forests, to bridges over cliffs, and even to the downright gory house full of animal carcasses, to life. Visually, Bramble: The Mountain King mixes photo-realism in its environments with a more cartoonish look to its various creatures, including protagonists Olle and Lillemor. This gives the game quite a unique look, making its various tableaus look like they’ve been ripped directly out of a musty old storybook.
"These small bouts of puzzle solving are often divided up with simple platforming segments"
On the audio side of things, however, Bramble: The Mountain King feels like a bit of a let down. While some of the more atmospheric sounds are fine, and the narrator does a great job of explaining what’s happening without giving too many details away, something about how some of the game’s creatures—and especially the gnomes—sound feels quite grating. Their child-like giggles and cries initially seem fine, but then you learn quite quickly that they’ll make these sounds constantly until you finally recruit them, and trust me when I say that this can get quite annoying, quite fast.
As an experience, Bramble: The Mountain King might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The game features gameplay that is overly simplistic, and none of the core game design really meshes with its overarching themes or atmosphere. The game is almost entirely reliant on its audio-visual presentation, with the gameplay just being a rather simple excuse to try and get you from scene to scene. What I’m trying to get at is that there’s surprisingly very little “game” in Bramble: The Mountain King.
However, if you can set aside your expectations of a “game”, you might find Bramble: The Mountain King to be quite charming. It isn’t a particularly long game, and while it has a number of gameplay mechanics, none of them get particularly deep. I don’t think I’ll ever find myself revisiting Bramble: The Mountain King years down the line, however, since there really isn’t all that much to revisit. The story is simple, and while the visuals and atmosphere are all great, there’s nothing in its gameplay that draws me in.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Graphics look amazing; Great atmosphere.
No depth to the gameplay; Pacing issues in the opening.