I can tell you exactly what I liked and when I started liking it.
For starters, the whole thing has a very “Norwegian Folktale” feel about it. I’m a sucker for that, and I especially liked the fact that it was rather gruesome at times - because that’s what folktales are like.
The visuals are beautiful - especially the ice sections and the Aurora Borealis, for me at least.
[spoiler]What I found beautiful, though, was the emerging relationship between the brothers. They fight, they disagree, they help each other. Nothing actually changes from the mechanics of the first few “levels”; regardless, by the time I got into the river section, there was a completely different feel to it. I was no longer solving puzzles, I was cooperating. With myself, but still.
The story itself started getting to me when the little brother almost drowned, and that weird dream he had. The exhilaration of using the flying machine, supported by the brothers’ yells of boyish wonder, was palpable. But it was the hippogriff, and the ensuing scene, that finally and totally won me over.
I must say, when the time came to bury Big Brother, I actually stood there for a while. I did not want to push the button. I did not want to drag him to the grave. When a game does that to me, it’s passed the boundaries of simple game mechanics and it’s resonating powerfully within.[/spoiler]
My positive response to this game is 100% emotional. Rationally, I can only say that it’s a Norwegian Folktale given life, and as such it can be raw, gruesome, fantastic, surreal. The relationship between them, in this light, stops being “unrealistic”: on the contrary, it’s perfectly suited to the story its telling.
EDIT - Wait, no I tell a lie, I CAN be rational about it.
[spoiler]The game got me to feel emotionally attached by systematically bringing down barriers between me and it. The first real barrier was demolished in the “little brother almost drowns and has a weird dream” sequence, which finally counteracted what I felt was an exageratedly dramatic intro that did nothing for me whatsoever. The dream sequence was very creepy, and came in the heels of a particular bout of cooperation and dedication on BB’s part to help LB, so that I was genuinely shocked when BB started puching LB.
When that was over I felt closer to them. And shortly after, they happen to rescue a suicidal man and bring some sort of peace back into his life.
And this was optional, I might add. It does not add to the game in any way. Which feels extremely “folktaley” to me, where the protagonist just goes around doing good deeds because. He might get helped later on, but there’s no instant gratification.
From here on, as I say, the barriers started coming down (and they had to, because the underground section felt a bit too “gamey” for my taste). And from here on, the game starts getting raw and gruesome, in that weird matter-of-fact way that folktales have. I loved it that the LB went ballistic when they had to fire an arrow at a dead giant to get him out of the way, and how they react when they get covered in blood. I was actually relieved to wash them soon after.
Of particular note, again, was the flying machine (did look a bit out of place, but hey). It was truly exhilarating. The atmosphere was perfect, so was the sound, the visuals, the controls. I finally felt the same sense of wonder as the two boys.
So you see, by the time I got to the hippogriff (which actually comes before the giants, now that I think about it, but my points stand), which was very effective from the word go (its plaintative cries, and the way we have to navigate the workbench to get to it, even going past a magnifying glass, it all just constructed a perfect visual narrative), I was ready for it. Another exhilarating ride through the air, which ended abruptly. Then right after that, an emotional scene much more effective (again) than the intro.
Do you know, I actually had LB carry the hippogriff’s feather. If the game allowed me, he would have carried it throughout the entire rest of the game.[/spoiler]
For me, the game starts being special when it brings down the barriers between me and it. This isn’t easy. I had just given up in disgust at “Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs” because I had design issues with it that held the barriers fimrly up, until I went “I can’t be bothered with this”. Same with “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”. Whereas “Rayman Legends” brought down the barriers by being so completely fun, quirky and unexpected. “Brothers” brought them down by being faithful to what they were doing, and by systematically forcing me to share in the Brothers’ excitement. Eventually I did, and the game became beautiful.