Sometimes a game is exciting, not because it showcases a new mechanic or technological advancement, but because a game alludes to new possibilities for how we can tell stories in an evolving digital medium. And while the nonlinear narrative Burly Men at Sea doesn’t change the adventure genre from a gameplay standpoint, its charming presentation and delightful story leaves me wondering how we will be sharing fairytales in schools and homes in the future. Originally released for PC, Android and IOS in 2016 and ported for PS4 and Vita in 2017, Brain&Brain’s Burly Men at Sea popped up on my radar after its recent inclusion in the Holiday Sale in the Playstation Store. Though initially designed as a “swipe and tap” game for smart screens, Burly Men at Sea succeeds on the console because the simple gameplay relies on an endearing story that elicits smiles and chuckles from the player.
As the name of the title implies, you play as three burly men who traverse the treacherous seas—Brave Beard, Steady Beard, and Hasty Beard. The three burly men are drawn in a pastel-colored minimalist style that evokes the pleasant memories of reading adventurous picture books as a kid. The music is just as adorable as the visuals, utilizing the sounds of a jaw harp, triangle, and other lightheaded instruments that bring the folktale to life. When the three heroes set out to sea, their boat is swallowed by a massive whale. Inside the whale’s belly, the player is presented with a branching set of choices: you can ride it out inside the whale by sitting around a campfire with three mysterious nymphs, or you can exit the whale through its blowhole. If you choose the blowhole route, you then choose whether or not to equip three nearby wooden barrels (or wooden trousers as the burly men call them) for flotation once they return to the sea. The choices you make affect what creatures you come across, many of whom are based on Scandinavian folklore: a kraken; a giant rock troll; mermaids; a magical seal, all drawn in a way that can only be described as cute, no matter your age.
One playthrough takes about twenty minutes to complete, and at the end you meet an old fellow seafarer and hand him a map detailing all the exiting adventures. “Aye,” he says. “Beautiful, that is.” The entire presentation of Burly Men at Sea could have collapsed if it did not stand on the foundation of cleverly crafted dialogue. The player is encouraged to play again and explore a new path, and in subsequent playthroughs the dialogue between the burly men changes in humorous ways. That play-again aspect of the game did awaken the scary completionism monster in my brain, but although there are some mundane stretches to repeat, the amusing self-aware dialogue elicited enough amusement to make me set out to see again and again.
Though this is a great game for kids, this Burly Men at Sea has enough going right for it to be an intriguing title for adult gamers of many different tastes. For the ultimate experience, the Burly Men at Sea Maestro Beard Edition includes the game and original soundtrack, and is available now on Steam and the Playstation Store.