A young boy named Olle treks through dark woods after his missing sister. At first, nothing seems awry, yet he soon comes upon pinecones arranged in strange formations. Not long after, a massive shadow flits overhead. In the distance, obscured by the moonlight slanting through the trees, a massive, insidious shape lumbers by. This is Bramble: The Mountain King, a dark folktale game with a hefty helping of puzzle platforming steeped in Nordic myth.
As you can imagine, Olle has to go through quite a few trials to rescue his sister, Lillemor, from the Mountain King. Giant pig demons try to slice him up with equally massive cleavers. A grotesque nymph, channeling the lifeforce of the men it lured, killed, and trussed up to trees, attempts to obliterate the young boy with blood magic, and more.
It’s not all grim, however. He also plays hide and seek with gnomes and befriends stone giants and frog kings. You control Olle as he explores this world packed full of more mythological creatures to count, solving simple puzzles and navigating platforming sequences. Puzzles consist of stacking books atop one another to reach a window, mixing potions to dispel a fiery barrier by matching shapes on ingredient bottles, and luring zombies into pits so Olle can sneak on by. He has help from a strange, glowing orb that he can chuck at monsters to debilitate them or illuminate dank caverns to help judge where his next leap will take him.
Early on, Bramble: The Mountain King reminded us of puzzle platformers like the superb Inside. The set camera, which changes from screen to screen, makes judging the distance of jumps often cumbersome, and some chase mechanics later in the game left us frustrated as we failed again and again to master Olle’s wonky movement while trying to outrun one horror or another. Furthermore, when Olle has to aim to throw his magic stone, the controls feel stiff and imprecise. This would've been the perfect game to make use of the Switch's gyro controls, yet they aren't an option. Thankfully, failure in any form results in a quick reload at a convenient checkpoint.
The handful of bosses, which make use of the magical stone Olle carries, never tried our patience difficulty-wise, but often felt a little overlong with second and third forms reusing the same mechanics – hiding behind trees, running from falling projectiles, that kind of thing – but faster or harder to dodge. Olle dies in a single hit but these bouts also have frequent checkpoints, so they don’t grow too frustrating to complete despite dragging on.
In fact, we felt the entire adventure could have benefitted from shaving off an hour or two as a good chunk in the middle consists of Olle stumbling into mythological beast after mythological beast; so much so that we forgot about his sister as we crept through a zombie-ridden village, wondering why we were even here. Each chapter wasn’t connected to the last: fleeing from a violin-playing swamp creature had no relationship with fending off a monster while on a rickety raft, other than the fact that we stumbled upon them. The titular Mountain King isn't even mentioned until the last hour or two.
An unnamed woman narrates Olle’s adventure to tie it together a bit better, which helps give the unsettling, if a little disjointed, fable a cozy feeling. A handful of discoverable storybooks elaborate on the narrative further with wonderfully drawn art, a sporadic and appropriately folksy soundtrack backdrops each plight, and the environments, both the fantastical and the mundane, capture the whimsical atmosphere you’d expect from a horror-inflected adventure such as this, though Olle and his sister undergo little character growth. The narrator tells you Olle’s a coward that must rise to the occasion of rescuing his sister, but when the credits rolled we didn’t feel particularly attached to these Hansel and Gretel lookalikes.
Regrettably, the Switch struggles to do the locales justice. Moonlight filtering through the trees of a forest of giants serves only to hamper the frame rate and worsen some egregious pop-in, which included the textures on our blond-haired protagonist. Objects in boss arenas disappear if viewed from certain angles, and one bout against a plague witch dropped to single frames when she duplicated her hideous visage. [Note. We've been told that a patch addressing performance issues on Switch, including frame rate drops in the Plague Village and Skogsra boss battle, will be released within a week of launch, so fingers crossed for improvements.]
This was most prominent when the Switch was docked. In handheld mode, Bramble: The Mountain King ran more-or-less smoothly, but with blurry textures which obscured minute details on our OLED screen. Such issues never hampered our ability to sneak past trolls and rescue gnome children from certain death, but if dark, and often gruesome, fables intrigue you — and you like to experience them through your television — we recommend checking if Olle’s adventure fares better on a more powerful system.
There’s a lot to like about Bramble: The Mountain King. Through its narration and fantastical environments, Dimfrost Studio does a great job at making you feel like you’re taking part in an unsettling, if a little too long, fable laden with mythological creatures. The game's puzzle-platforming segments do nothing extraordinary, yet strike a nice balance between simplicity and challenge, and though the set camera and cumbersome movement can often get in the way, frequent checkpoints alleviate much of the frustration. However, depending on how much performance issues annoy you – stuttering, pop-in, frame rate drops – this is an adventure that might be best played elsewhere.
That's a shame. I like to give any M-rated game a gander. Best played elsewhere it is then.
Definitely sounds like a game right up my alley, but I don't want to lose any visual fidelity, so I will have to play it elsewhere. PlayStation 5 it is!
Better on this review. Maybe adjust some of the old ones down as well.
Looks like a maybe Steam Sale game...
Oof, those screenshots look rough. I'm not a "graphics come first" type of person, but I'd have a hard time playing through this on Switch.
There's supposed to be a day one patch, so any early review is already outdated I guess. Waiting for a cheaper price and some updated reviews and some patches, it still has my attention.
@Cr4shMyCar I think they picked some bad ones to share because vids I watched of this game actually look pretty impressive imho.
Guess I buy it and wait for update to performance issues.....before playing it.
Controls and hitboxes are attrocious. It's a shame. Could have been a fun game, but it's just a tedious mess.
I had no performance issues on my OLED Switch. Game plays great and its super scary with cool monsters. I am enjoying it
@SwitchForce I just bought it and i have no issues
@AG_Awesome I am impressed on the scare level of this game
@ThisisJosh i am not seeing any of this
A new update has been made available for the Switch version of Bramble: The Mountain King.
Several technical improvements have been implemented, including better performance. Pop-in has also been reduced among other things.
The full patch notes for the Bramble: The Mountain King update are as follows:
Increased performance in Skogsrå level
Increased performance in Tuva
Small performance increase across entire game
Reduced pop-in throughout entire game
Fixed frame drop during Skogsrå bossfight
Fixed some textures not loading in correctly
Fixed an issue where the game sometimes would not save, and upon resuming the game after closing it down the player’s progress would only be in Nearby Forest
Fixed an issue where the main menu would receive input while fading in, and the “New Game” button would be auto-focused. This would make players accidentally press the “New Game” button while the menu is fading in. Now, the menu should not be intractable during the fade-in, and the “Continue” button should be auto-focused instead if the player has a save file with progress
Improved the visibility of the hidden planks in the swamp by increasing the emissivity of the material
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