Bramble: The Mountain King is a dark narrative-driven horror adventure developed by Dimfrost Studio and published by Merge Games. The game takes place in a fantasy setting where mythical creatures based on Nordic folklore roam the forest and lurk in the shadows. Although it is not without a few bumps in the road, the trek through Bramble is ultimately one worth taking.
Gotta pay the troll toll
Players take on the role of Olle, a young boy who must embark on a dangerous journey to save his sister, Lillemor, after she gets abducted by a grisly troll. What begins as an innocent late-night jaunt through the forest evolves into a treacherous rescue mission. Olle encounters an assortment of creatures from Nordic mythology, ranging from loveable gnomes to hideous trolls. While some monsters prove to be friendlier than they appear, most will spare no time in beating Olle to a pulp if given the chance.
Bramble is narrative-driven in a literal sense, as the story is conveyed through fairy tale books that Olle finds on his journey. Each storybook recounts a tragic tale that gives context and informs how each creature came to be. The books are read aloud by a narrator who also occasionally chimes in during gameplay to provide additional narrative details.
A stone’s throw
Olle’s rescue mission involves a lot of climbing, jumping, and shimmying across a variety of terrain. While Olle is adept at platforming overall, he did have trouble sticking the landing at times, often resulting in his gruesome demise. Alongside platforming are several stealth segments that serve to amplify some of the more nerve-racking moments. Crouching behind objects and sneaking through tall grass sometimes felt tedious and became the parts I preferred doing the least.
The platforming and combat are balanced with occasional contextual puzzles that can be solved using clues in your surroundings and a bit of experimentation. One such puzzle involves brewing a potion to unlock a door using the markings on the door to determine the potion ingredients. Though challenging, the puzzles followed a proper logic and never overstayed their welcome or felt impossible to solve.
When you aren’t sneaking past trolls or finding your way out of a locked room, you will be facing off against nightmarish creatures derived from Nordic folklore. Each boss battle feels like a fever dream at first, as slaying each creature requires a bit of trial and error to determine their pattern and weaknesses. Armed with little more than a glowing magic rock and some courage, Olle must defeat each boss by timing his movements and chucking the stone at enemy weak points when the time is right. Not only can the courage-imbued rock be used to illuminate your surroundings, it can also be used to damage enemies as well as clear away accursed vines blocking the path forward. Telegraphing the movements and behaviors of each boss is crucial for surviving battles unscathed. Aside from gnomes, Olle is on the small side in terms of scale, making the massive bosses seem that much more foreboding in combat.
Looking for an angle
Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Bramble: The Mountain King is its spectacular visuals. Scenes of grotesque violence and dread are interspersed with moments of levity to brighten the mood. From the heavenly glow of ambient sunlight illuminating a grassy knoll, to the glossy sheen of blood splatters smeared across the ground, Bramble’s stunning graphics bring every aspect of its grim fairytale world to life.
Dynamic camera angles add to the game’s cinematic quality while providing plenty of screenshot-worthy opportunities throughout. Certain camera angles can foreshadow the path ahead, helping to orient Olle in the world while providing a glimpse at the horrors that await. Bramble’s cinematic camera is complemented by chilling sound effects and an ethereal score that includes hymns and other Nordic-inspired tunes.
A storybook ending
As visually impressive as it is, Bramble is not without technical flaws. The game crashed once during the first half, causing a brief setback in progress. Olle’s platforming occasionally felt clunky and unreliable as well, particularly when jumping onto certain objects. Nevertheless, these minor issues are overshadowed by the captivating graphics and genuinely creepy atmosphere that do most of the heavy lifting.
Bramble: The Mountain King is as gorgeous as it is horrifying, with surprises lurking around every corner. The game excels at building tension and suspense while maintaining visual splendor throughout. Although the game isn’t particularly long–I rolled credits around 7 hours–it is an experience that horror game enthusiasts will not want to miss.
This review is based on a Steam digital code provided by the publisher. Bramble: The Mountain King is available Thursday, April 27, 2023 for PC, Xbox, and PlayStation.
Bramble: The Mountain King
- Spectacular scenery and visuals
- Great tension-building and suspense
- Good music that includes Nordic hymns
- Truly creepy and scary moments
- Like a book of fables brought to life
- Game crashed once
- Trouble jumping to and landing on ledges at times
- Stealth segments are somewhat tedious
Larryn Bell posted a new article, Bramble: The Mountain King review: Don't feed the trolls