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Burly Men at Sea review - A storybook shaped by play

For: iPad   Also on: Android, iPhone

The beginning is the end is the beginning

Product: Burly Men At Sea | Publisher: Brain&Brain | Format: iPad | Genre: Adventure | Players: 1 | Version: Europe
Burly Men At Sea iPad, thumbnail 1
After only ten minutes of Burly Men at Sea, the credits are rolling.

Is this the end? It is an end, yes, but not the end. Is there more to see? Yes, but the path remains familiar.

It's an odd, often contradictory experience, and not one that's easily summed up in writing - particularly when even revealing its concept risks robbing the game of some of its best, most satisfying moments.

But the easiest way to think of it is as a children's storybook - one of the charming, well-written variety that transcends its nominal audience - that is shaped by play and never twice the same.

Bringing it back

As a child, unchanging text and pictures would provide unending fascination. The biggest compliment you can give Burly Men at Sea, then, is that it goes some way to replicating this feeling for the less potent adult imagination.

Indeed, it maintains a familiar formula: a bold departure, a surreal journey of discovery, and, eventually, homecoming.

These notes, specifically the beginning and end, are constant. It's the nature of the journey itself that changes each time as the experience naturally loops, and that's down to you.

In this case, the journey concerns our three titular burly men, who leave their sleepy harbour-side home in pursuit of adventure on a sailboat.

Actual control of the three burly men - stout, proud, bearded types deserving of their title - is limited to a few key moments, with much of the story unfolding without you.

But what's there is delivered stylishly.

A new adventure

Movement for all three men is handled with a unique system whereby you drag at the edges of a narrow aperture to reveal more of an environment. Whichever way you choose to drag, the men will follow.

But more crucial are the decisions you make. You'll face the same scenarios and characters time and time again, along with characters that will stick in the mind long after you've stopped playing.

These include an adorable sentient mountain who's keen to pick you flowers, a haggle of spaced-out true believers worshipping in a whale's belly, and an incompetent, down-on-his-luck spectre of death.

It's not a huge cast, and nor is it a game with hundreds of locales to explore every nook and cranny of.

The enjoyment, however, comes from finding a new approach to the same journey.

Not where, but how

Last time we went left, what happens if we go right?

Last time we took to the waves clothed in barrels, what happens if we go in unprotected?

A combination of these micro-decisions, and writing that takes joy in having the same characters react to your repeated encounters differently, shows that branching, narrative-led gameplay doesn't have to be about 40-hour-long epics.

It can be a different bedtime story every night, that's also much the same. It can be taking a different route home. Burly Men at Sea shows that there are more ways than you'd think.
Burly Men at Sea review - A storybook shaped by play
Reviewer photo
Matt Suckley | 29 September 2016
If you're interested in story-driven games and cute character art, Burly Men at Sea demands to be played
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