I’m starting to think that smaller-than-average protagonists are becoming the norm. I’m looking at you Little Nightmares. Making a sudden appearance towards the end of 2022, Bramble: The Mountain King dropped a demo for early gameplay and gave us something to look forward to.

The Nordic background the game is based on brings some great cultural diversity along with a beautiful yet creepy environment. Long story short, you are Olle, a young boy looking for his sister who was captured by a troll. He must travel through the unsuspecting lands of Bramble with various antagonists on his tail and save his sister from a horrible fate.

The Journey Begins:

Bramble: The Mountain King

Right off the bat, this game is absolutely stunning to look at, and the songs? *Chef’s kiss* The green pastures and surrounding forest are beautifully crafted. One thing that always has me returning to games over and over again is not only the aesthetics but how much detail is put into them. You can tell the developers really put in a lot of effort to make their visuals look as crisp as possible. I would say they definitely surpassed their expectations.

The Land of Bramble:

The game starts with Olle within the grip of a troll that appears to have turned to stone, though we can’t determine who was the perpetrator at this time. I’m sure we’ll get a flashback soon enough.

Olle extricates himself and we can finally start our journey. The next part is something I really appreciate and can’t really recall seeing very often. Olle enters another part of the forest and we just get to see him explore. Wildlife resides complacently among nature, calmly coexisting with one another with a song playing in the background. This is the beautiful part of nature we humans look upon in awe.

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I ended up liking the song so much that I actually looked it up. It’s actually a Swedish piece called Den Blomstertid Nu Kommer (The Flower Time is Now Coming). This part was absolutely ethereal and perfect in execution, subtly displaying the beauty of the land of Bramble even though we know things are about to go south pretty quickly. I only wish this part was much longer.

Even the rays of light reflecting off of the water with lily pads floating along the surface have a calming sensation about them. The ripples created by Olle and a hedgehog traveling across the waters are so similar to how they would look in real life.

All is not how it seems:

I think the game did a good job of subverting our expectations. Everything so far, and a little bit afterward, is incredibly wholesome and docile. We get to see all of the different creatures that live in Bramble and how everything is relatively undisturbed by threatening forces.

Until something strange happens.

Being as kind as Olle is, after reuniting a lost creature with its guardian, music notes can be heard out of nowhere, controlling the movements of Olle while he seems perturbed by what’s happening to him. No one knows where it’s emanating from but we can deduce it’s not someone who’s particularly friendly.

Underground Cavern:

It’s not until Olle enters an underground cavern that the atmosphere changes from peaceful to gloomy. At this point, there still aren’t any physical threats but we know something is amiss.

With only a light to guide his path, Olle makes his way through the dark path, strange moans and groans rising up from the mists wafting up from somewhere down below. Unknown creatures are left dangling above empty expanses in bird-like cages, screeching maniacally whenever they’re disturbed.

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Pretty offputting.

Towards the end of the cavern, drawings light up the wall. Some appear to include a demon-like creature who appears to reside over a people, forcing their will on the ones who worship it. My educated guess is these drawings are a visual retelling of the history of Bramble. The violent creature could be the main antagonist Olle will eventually encounter later on in the gameplay.

As soon as Olle leaves the cavern, the fiddle music starts up again, taking over his willpower where he skips to the edge of a clearing and falls onto a lilypad in a body of water. We finally see who was making that music in the first place.

The Nacken:

As soon as Olle lands in the water, a creature – the nacken – abruptly stops playing, snaps its neck to look at him, puts down the fiddle, then slides quietly into the water. That was pretty creepy the first time I saw it. According to Scandinavian folklore, the nacken is a river sprite that drowns children, or anyone for that matter, who dares to trespass on the brook.

Not really forgiving for the most part but it can be bargained with for the right price.

Next comes a chase sequence but it’s also like hide-and-seek. Because the protagonist is a child, there isn’t really anything he can do when confronted with a threat, so the only option he has is to run and hide.

After managing to escape the creature for now, the game developers did something I had never seen up until now. The music starts up again and with each strum of the strings, a wave of greenish-blue light is unleashed. It’s so powerful that it can kill Olle and any small creatures caught in the crossfire.

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Let’s Take a Joy-Ride:

Finally, after lots of running, Olle takes a joy-ride in a fast-moving river to escape the nacken. The current is much too strong for Olle to fight against so when we see a waterfall in the distance, there is no other choice than to go over.

Unbeknownst to us, the nacken followed him and grabs Olle just as he was about to go over, a sinister look on its face. They both fall down as the screen fades to black. That’s the end of the demo.

Overall, I think the demo was a great experience. It started off kind of slow but I don’t really mind that as much. I would rather a game take its time to develop its characters and really absorb the world in its entirety.

The graphics are beautiful, the colors vibrant, the music lovely yet unsettling. The pacing was consistent and I’m really excited to see what else the game has in store for us in the next few weeks.

Bramble: The Mountain King will release on April 27 and will be available on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X.

Jessica

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