If you seek adventure without consequence and you’re into strikingly large well-tamed beards then you’ll want to check out Burly Men at Sea. This charming game puts players in the shoes of the narrator as they work to shape the story of three fisher-brothers who step away from their ordinary lives to take the voyage of a lifetime.
Burly Men at Sea was developed by Brooke and David Condolora, the dynamic husband-and-wife team at Brain&Brain. A cross between an interactive graphic novel and a point-and-click adventure, this game follows the tale of three fishermen with beards appropriately named Brave Beard, Hasty Beard, and Steady Beard. While out at sea the brothers find a message in a bottle caught in their net. They soon discover the message is a map displaying their village at the center with water surrounding their small island. Hasty Beard thinks it’s useless while Steady Beard believes it must have a greater purpose. The brothers return to their fishing village to speak with locals in order to uncover information about the map. Eventually at a coffee house they meet an old man who tells the burly brothers that the map they carry “brings about adventurous deeds and heroic feats.” But after their brief encounter with the man, he disappears out a back door. With not much more information to go on the brothers see this as their opportunity for adventure and set sail to the unknown.
The player controls how the adventure is told with various branching scenes based on player decisions. With significant replay value each choose your own adventure playthrough starts and ends in the same place; what happens during the rest of the story is up to the player. Each session allows the player to choose three different ways to tell the story. But the best part of this decision based game is that…there’s no wrong decisions! You’ll never feel regret or reach for the reset button to take back what you’ve done. There's literally no "wrong" way to tell the story. Quite frankly it takes a lot of pressure off the player and allows you to relax and enjoy the ride without feeling any remorse or guilt.
To control the characters the player can nudge them into a direction by dragging the viewport. Simply expand the setting in different directions to show the brothers the path you want them to follow. Players can also interact with the environment to put the brothers in various situations that they will react to, thus creating a new branch to the story. I recommend clicking everything you can…even if it doesn’t push the story forward it’s fun to see what will happen when you, for example, click on a chicken one too many times.
Taking place over the course of a day, each branch of the story results in different locations, weather, and new encounters with mystical creatures based on Scandinavian folklore. To best illustrate the story, the developers utilized a playful design and pastel color pallet reminiscent of a children’s storybook. Not only does it look like a children’s book…it well…IS a book…sorta. Without spoiling too much, players can actually order a hardcover copy of their story to be printed. Instead of taking screenshots here and there of your travels you can get your entire game session in hand to remember forever or to brag to all your friends about the story you wrote.
The soundtrack has an upbeat quirkiness to it while the sound design works to accentuate the game's whimsical aesthetic. The developers called on Plied Sound LLC to provide their own voices to create the melodies and sound effects for the game. The “whirrrsh” of the espresso machine and the “tink…tink...tink” of a blacksmith’s hammer against an anvil are literally someone saying what that sound would well…sound like. Think of it as when you were a kid and you made laser sound effects with your mouth to signify you were shooting your Star Wars blaster. It’s like that. The first time I took notice of the voiced sound effects it took me by surprise but I was delighted each time I heard a new one.
Burly Men at Sea is short but compelling. And while the story varies from each playthrough the theme never changes. In an interview with Gamasutra, Brooke Condolora of Brain&Brain said that the game is “about adventure for adventure’s sake, about following impulse down an unknown path.” Beard or not this game teaches us to step away from the mundane, take chances, stop second guessing ourselves. It can be scary to head into the unknown, but sometimes with a little nudge in the right direction, we can find ourselves on an unexpected adventure.
Burly Men at Sea is fun, clever, and a fresh take on decision based games. It’s currently available on PC, Mac, mobile, PS4, Vita, and Switch.
Check out the trailer below: