What starts as a pleasant walking simulator between a brother and his older sister, swiftly turns into the most eerie version of a Hansel and Gretel story that you’ll ever come across. Initially released in April of 2023 across all major platforms, the game is now available on Xbox Game Pass. For us horror fans, Bramble is the gift that keeps giving. As stated before, the game starts with an immense fairytale feel. However, this game quickly turns dark and only gets darker from there. Just when you start to think surely you have seen it all, this game delivers a few more gut punches to leave you gasping in disbelief. I even found myself asking the question, “Is this even allowed in an M-rated game?” 

You play as Olle in this 3-4 hour experience, attempting to find your recently abducted sister. You’ll find yourself in a dark Nordic world similar in appearance to games like Fable or Lost in Random, and reminiscent in gameplay and overall concepts to a game like Little Nightmares 2. Where this game differs is the sheer brutality throughout. Sure, the rating on the box and the horrifying trailer could tell me that I’d be in for a true horror game, but I couldn’t help but go into it a little hesitant. I assumed with the vibrant colors and the certitude that I was playing as a kid in fairytale that at most I would think the game was just a little scary, but nothing to keep my lamp on at night. 

Fortunately for all of us, I was wrong. Bramble is filled with moments of utter terror that begin nearly thirty minutes into your play through, and never look back or give you much time to breathe after that. This is mostly prevalent by the bosses you encounter throughout. Each village or area you progress towards has a legend within it. This is similar to if you travel to a different state and hear about their Boy Who Cried Wolf or BigFoot sightings, but done in a far more creative way. Each sinister boss brings an arbitrary look to the genre. There are trolls, witches, and even zombies within Bramble, but they are all implemented through a fun storytelling feature and they’re designed to look and act unlike any you have seen in games before. 

This leads into my first of many features that I adore within Bramble: The Mountain King. This game uses in-game narration mixed with somewhat missable books placed within the world of Bramble. These are technically missable, but you have to try to not discover them. And trust me, you want to discover these. Mostly after you fight the boss of that chapter, you will stumble across a book with images in it. You will be asked to turn from page to page as the narrator explains the myth from that area of the game. In the book, you will find gruesome imagery and listen to inventive uncanny tales spoken to you from a voice reminiscent of a fairytale or bedtime story. It’s a fantastic game mechanic that developer Dimfrost Studios executes greatly. Sure, you can pick up notes that give more depth to the story in other games, but in Bramble, it's done in a way that makes you feel like you weren’t supposed to find the book. That you are learning the dark truth about the abysmal events you just made it through, or the horrors that still lie ahead. So please, pick up every book. 

What further heightens both the story telling, and the hairs on your back as you are being chased by a hungry troll is the music. It really is remarkable how good this soundtrack is for such a short independent game. There are a plethora of songs that play through moments of calmness, and certainly during moments of stress and discomfort. Everything from the opening score, to the final piece of original music as the title screen pops, the music is everything that is needed and more for a Horrific Fable like Bramble

When it comes to look and feel, I believe while not a perfectly smooth control scheme or graphics that will push your console to its limits, Bramble: The Mountain King is exactly what it should be. Is Olle a bit awkward to control at times, sure. But I feel that just plays into the fact that you are controlling a kid. A kid that has never been on an adventure like this. I think his hesitations are an intentional game mechanic that isn't there to frustrate you, but rather help you feel what it would be like to be in his shoes. 

When comparing the look of Bramble to something like Final Fantasy 16, Bramble will lose all day. But that is purely from the technical specs that only certain gamers care about. For the independent dreamlike look that Bramble is going for, I feel they nail it perfectly. It’s a beautifully terrifying game, which is exactly what it needs to be. 

At times when playing Bramble I thought this game could be perfect. It could be everything I want in a video game. And while I remain impressed overall, I couldn’t help but find myself in a few irritable scenarios. First being that there are a few instances where I found myself doing the same thing, just repackaged. Just like many other games, Bramble slows you down for a quick puzzle, and I found typically those puzzles were a recycled version of the last one, maybe just with an extra step or two. The first time facing that particular puzzle was overall enjoyable, but in a short game like this, I don’t think it's necessary to see that same puzzle more than once.

Especially as the game itself is not a puzzle game much at all. This carries over into certain boss fights as well. I found I had to hit a boss in one location, then dodge and successfully make it through that stage only to then face the boss for two more stages - sometimes even more. It was never overly frustrating, however, I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit more creativity with the action to match the art design that the team at Dimfrost nailed so well. 

I also felt that the game hit a climax sooner than it should have. There is a fight between the monster on the cover/poster of the game that I thought would have been the ending of the entire game, instead it carried on for nearly an hour longer where you come across the weakest of the enemies in my opinion. I feel that the first two to three hours of my play through were everything you could ask for from a game like this, and then it kept going. 

Thankfully the ending repairs the creeping hole in the grandiose ship that is Bramble, and sends you off smiling. This game lands beautifully, but only after throwing a few twists and questions to ask yourself. The lulls that appear towards the end are quickly washed away by the ending that helps tie the game together smoothly. When reflecting on the relentless journey you just went through as a complete package, it’s hard to imagine it would be anything less than a good time for any horror gaming fan. It’s brutal, harsh, scary, and charming all at the same time. A game full of heart and creativity that will hopefully be played by more of us in the months to come. 

Game Score: 4.5/5

  • Garrett Benningfield
    About the Author - Garrett Benningfield

    Garrett is a writer and video game enthusiast from Louisville, Kentucky. Since his first playthrough of Shadow of the Colossus, he has been hooked on the beautiful mix of art and storytelling that is within the vast library of gaming. Pair that with his fascination of films such as Child’s Play and Scream at a very young age, and you have an ultimate fanatic of all things horror video games.