REVIEW - Bramble: The Mountain King is a crowning achievement
Hail to the king, baby
Please note that the screenshots in this post do not come from the Switch version of Bramble: The Mountain King. The only screens available for the Switch version are found on Nintendo.com, and they are quite compressed and small in size. We did not feel they accurately depict how Bramble: The Mountain appears on Switch, leaving us with PS/Xbox/PC screens as the only option.
I had my eye on Bramble: The Mountain King ever since it was revealed. While it may not be a full-fledged cinematic platformer, it certainly has a ton in common with games like Limbo, INSIDE, and others of that ilk. As you may know, that kind of thing is right up my alley. It also looked quite striking from a set piece standpoint, as trailers and screenshots often showed a diminutive character up against massive enemies or lost within sprawling landscapes.
Now that I’m out the other side of Bramble: The Mountain King, I have a near-insatiable desire to discuss it. I found the game to be a top-notch experience from start to finish, but as of right now, it seems Bramble: The Mountain King is destined for ‘hidden gem’ territory. There’s nothing wrong at all with being a hidden gem, but it usually means the game got lost in the never-ending software shuffle. I honestly think it deserves a considerable amount of attention beyond that.
In Bramble: The Mountain King, you play as Olle, a young boy who wanders off into the night to find his missing sister. While Olle at first believes there’s nothing to be scared of, the night quickly reveals itself to be a breeding ground for bloodthirsty monsters, fearsome creatures, and unimaginable terrors. Unfortunately for Olle, he’ll have to push on through this nightmare to hopefully find his sister and bring her home safely.
For decades now, there has been a lot of talk about how Disney takes classic fairy tales and sanitizes them to an unrecognizable degree. Disney is out to make as much money as they can from the biggest audience possible, which pushes them to create family-friend content. If that’s not your cup of tea, you can look to Bramble: The Mountain King for the exact opposite. The game is based on and inspired by Nordic fables, and every single one of them is absolutely brutal. Not only is the subject matter intense and dark, these tales are told through copious amounts of on-screen blood, guts and violence of all sorts.
Bramble: The Mountain King is definitely not for the faint of heart. I have absolutely no problem with violence in games, no matter how realistic or over-the-top it is. With that said, I will point out that some of the moments in this game honestly surprised me in terms of brutality. I wasn’t offended, nor did I turn away, but you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re prepared for that kind of experience going in.
Taking things a step further, Bramble: The Mountain King is not afraid to address real-world issues through the lens of a fairy tale. This isn’t in relation to the current political climate or anything like that, but there are some very heady topics broached. The game even gives you a warning before you start up just to let you know that some very sensitive things are going to be presented. Some of that is with nuance and metaphors, while other elements are flat-out depicted or showcased. Long story short, from a topical standpoint, Bramble: The Mountain King could be a very arduous journey for some to endure.
For me, I found the way that Bramble: The Mountain King tackled these topics to be quite deft. I’m not sure how much of the fairy tales presented here are told as-is from the original creations or were altered by the devs for the purposes of more interesting gameplay, but the end result was a string of stories that kept me very interested, entertained, and eager to see what happened next. Even better, there are actual fairy tale books in-game that will explain some of the characters you meet and the stories behind them, which only helps to enhance the adventure. The combination of gruesome tales and monstrous characters, most of which are showcased through play rather than cinematics, made for a game I had a lot of trouble putting down.
From a gameplay perspective, Bramble: The Mountain King felt like it found the perfect mix of puzzle platforming. It’s clear the purpose of this game is to take you through some wild tales, but surviving them was just as enjoyable as the stories themselves.
The puzzles here aren’t like those in The Legend of Zelda or Professor Layton, but instead, are almost entirely environmentally-based. You’ll have to figure out how to climb up objects, jump to platforms, move boxes to access areas, and so on. There’s absolutely nothing here that feels taxing or will have you stumped, yet the puzzle platforming gives enough of a pushback that I found myself quite engaged. Throw in a handful of situations where you’re forced to figure out puzzles while being chased, and you come away with a pretty alluring concoction.
I do want to make a very quick note of one puzzle at the tail-end of the game that is much closer to something you’d find in a Resident Evil game. You’ll have to study your environment to figure out a code, and while there’s nothing else like this in the game, this particular instance was still an absolute joy. The way I came to the solution felt really organic, which I appreciate a great deal. It’s also the last puzzle before the game’s final battle, so it seemed like an appropriate spot and situation to implement it.
I will say that some may take issue with the pace and approach of Bramble: The Mountain King, but I am not one of them. The entire game is pretty much environmental puzzle solving, mixed with areas that you simply navigate through. There are some combat elements when it comes to bosses, but by and large, you’re just finding your way through a linear world. This all came across as especially well planned out to me, but I know others will find it to be a tad too one-note. There’s sure to be pushback on the above-mentioned linear path through the game (albeit through many pseudo-explorable 3D spaces/environments), but this kind of gameplay comes with the territory. It wasn’t a drawback for me in any way, shape or form.
Where I think more overall praise will come from is the boss encounters in Bramble: The Mountain King. I don’t want to spoil these moments, as some are the best interactions in the game. You’ll often come up against a foe multiple times, and you won’t always be fighting them. You’ll have to hide from bosses, find a way to get around them, survive being chased by them, and yes, battle. These confrontations are thrilling, and I was fairly surprised at not only what they offered, but how you had to clear them. There’s also a great variety in the bosses you’ll go toe-to-toe with, which makes each encounter feel fresh and unique.
Adding to the atmosphere of Bramble: The Mountain King is the fantastic soundtrack, along with stellar voice acting. The composing duo of Martin Wave and Dan Wakefield created a moody, dark, and foreboding soundtrack that lifts the entire experience to another level. The sound design in general is extremely high quality, and makes every cinematic moment, platforming section and boss battle feel even bigger. Combined with a spot-on performance by narrator Nola Kop, this game and the tales it tells comes to life in horrifying fashion.
The team bringing this game to Switch also deserves equal praise, as I came away seriously wowed by the technical side of things. Back when Bramble: The Mountain King was first revealed, I thought there was no chance it would come to Switch due to the visuals alone. I was honestly shocked to find out I was wrong, and even more surprised when I saw just how impressive the Switch port is.
I think it goes without saying, but from a purely visual standpoint, the Switch version of Bramble: The Mountain King is going to be the least impressive when compared to other platforms. That’s not meant as a knock in any way, just a truth. Now, seeing what Bramble: The Mountain King does on Switch really threw me for a loop. There were multiple instances where I was left mouth-agape by what was on-screen. I don’t know a thing about the inner-workings of the Switch, but I can guess that it took some real wizardry to get this port to where it is.
To really drive the point home, I’ll share that Bramble: The Mountain King is one of the only games in the Switch’s entire run that I took screenshots of while playing. There were moments I found so stunning that I wanted to capture them. Those who listen to our podcast know I don’t really care about graphics at all, but I can still recognize when something of merit is achieved. In my opinion, Bramble: The Mountain King is a title worth applauding on the technical front. There are a very small handful of stutters and frame drops along the way, and some up-close moments look a tad rough, but it’s overall a noteworthy visual achievement. Truth be told, I’ve experienced worse technical hiccups in Nintendo first-party titles!
While I expected to enjoy Bramble: The Mountain King, I have to say that my overall impressions of the game on every level are markedly higher than anticipated. There’s not a single area where things fell short of my expectations. At the very least my expectations were met, but more often than not, what the game offered went above and beyond. It was one of those rare games for me where I constantly worried that the adventure would end soon, as I never wanted to see the credits roll. Once the game did wrap, I only felt myself wanting more, which is about as high praise any game can hope to achieve.
Check out a trailer for Bramble: The Mountain King and see what you think. If anything in the trailer tickles your fancy on even the slightest level, I have the utmost confidence you’ll have a wonderful time playing through this terrifying adventure.
I'll definitely have to check this out. Great review RMC. Your recommendation on the podcast caught my attention.
Thank you for the kind words, my friend. If you do check the game out, I hope you enjoy it!