Burly Men’s score is, like the rest of the game, an artfully simple affair, with a variety of instruments and musical styles blended together in one soundtrack. When the brothers sail away from their home to go on another adventure, the music takes on triumphant tones, while ominous moments are accompanied by strings and haunting vocals. In the village, a folksy guitar piece is backed by upbeat scat-singing.
Sound effects aren’t sparse, but they share a definite minimalist vibe with the rest of the game. Birds chirp, the wind blows, and the Beard brothers’ feet clip-clap on the ground as they move from place to place. Intriguingly, vocal percussion is used to simulate various sounds, such as rumbling ground, mechanical creaks and pops, and even the noise of doors opening and closing. One might think this would be annoying or silly, but rather than being a cloying gimmick, it seems a completely natural extension of Burly Men’s indie aesthetic.
The script is yet another carefully-honed part that adds something to the whole. By turns amusing, self-aware, and even hauntingly thoughtful at times, much of the game’s folktale sensibility can be traced to its atmospheric writing. For instance, a trio of strange, sage-like beings speaks nonsense riddles that nevertheless sound wise, a sea-creature waxes philosophic on the nature of the Beard brothers’ repetitive undertakings, and the brothers themselves use nautical dialect such as “aye.” I found myself repeating certain adventures simply because I liked the script in a particular section, something that I don’t recall doing in other games, as least not consciously.
On PC the game is controlled using the mouse, but it is clear that Burly Men is intended for touch-based mobile platforms. Most of the time you view the game through a round viewport, the edges of which can be dragged to elongate it and induce the protagonists to move in that direction. There is no inventory or even an on-screen interface aside from the mouse cursor and an escape menu that, among other options, allows you to end a journey prematurely and return to the village if you wish. At times there is also a dearth of information about the various ways in which you can interact with an environment, leading to situations where you know that you should be able to change the outcome of a certain plot point, but have no idea how to actually do it. One particular moment like this sent me in search of a walkthrough in order to solve it, but it turned out to be a fairly common-sense solution that in hindsight I wish I hadn’t spoiled so quickly.
Which leads me to one final point about Burly Men at Sea: this game is clearly meant to be taken slowly, so that’s how I recommend it to be played. I’m generally not one to tell others how they should play their games, but I powered through this one all in a single sitting (mostly because I was over-eager to see all twelve variations of the story), and now wish I had taken more time to really sit back and enjoy it.
Part of the reason for this is that, given that I was essentially playing the game over and over again, the repetitiveness began to annoy me after a while. Cutscenes can’t be skipped, and dialog text scans onto the screen gradually, although at least this effect can be interrupted so that each line immediately appears. It’s not much of a time saver, but if you’ve already read a line several times, it’s a way to get through it at least a little more quickly. Whether the repetition would have bothered me if I had taken the game more slowly is impossible to tell, but I suggest that if you feel irritated at the thought of seeing the same elements again when starting another journey, that’s an indication to stop and take a break. Really, this is a game that is meant to be savored, not rushed.
Underneath its unabashedly indie exterior, Burly Men at Sea is a modern, minimalist folktale that does almost everything right. This choose-your-own-adventure is bolstered by solid writing and crisp, clean graphics, then enhanced further by clever sound effects using vocal percussion and a varied soundtrack that changes with the mood onscreen. While some players might find the lack of puzzles disappointing, this decision allows players to enjoy discovering new paths through the stories unimpeded, rather than having their progress halted to solve an arbitrary puzzle. Though there are a few moments when you might not know what to do to unlock a new outcome, this game rewards taking your time with a relaxing, quiet atmosphere that invites you to curl up and enjoy the adventure.
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