All the glory of Nordic folklore
Another must-have game is coming out this year, and I can’t wait to play it. I’m referring to Bramble: The Mountain King, which will help keep our minds and eyes refreshed by the icy Scandinavian wind.
After God of War: Ragnarok, Santa Monica’s most recent chapter set in those breathtaking, enchanted lands, bids us farewell to the Norse landscape, we will have the opportunity to re-immerse ourselves in an equally fascinating and, in my opinion, even more peculiar environment.
“MUST BE SOMETHING IN THE WATER HERE IN SWEDEN”
These are the words of Fredrik Selldén (Fresel), CEO and Narration Lead of development studio Dimfrost Studio, creators of Bramble: The Mountain King, in reference to the growing number of excellent video game products and related development teams from the fascinating Scandinavian lands (such as Dice and Fatshark).
On the occasion of the Game Awards 2022, when they made the game demo available on PS5 as well as Steam, where it is still possible to download, he used this phrase as an answer in an open interview (AMA, Ask Me Anything) on Reddit.
The 20 outstanding and talented members of Dimfrost Studio are very close-knit and have been working with strength and passion for years. This team’s nerve center is in Norrköping, Sweden.
All of this began when four college students made the decision to collaborate and fulfill their shared dream of opening their own game development studio.
This vision became a reality in 2017 with the creation of “A Writer and His Daughter,” a very unique VR title with incredibly neat and well-made graphics and, in keeping with their main focus on storytelling, an intriguing narrative.
I think it’s brave of them to make their debut with a VR game, but hey, these guys seem to know what they’re doing!
Following the launch of their first game, they started working on Bramble: The Mountain King right away. The first clips quickly went viral on Reddit, catching the attention of one of their partner, Zordix, who inspired them to keep going and have faith in the project.
Thus, here we are. As a result of Dimfrost’s growth and subsequent success, Bramble: The Mountain King appears to be something that will truly blow our minds.
WHAT IS BRAMBLE?
The bramble is a genus of generally thorny shrubs of the rose family, including raspberries and blackberries.
There are plenty of woods in this area, and brambles are typically abundant in wooded areas, so I’m not sure if this is the game’s intended meaning, but I think it fits perfectly.
According to what we currently know about Bramble, it is a magical location that is home to creatures of all shapes, sizes, and natures, ranging from the tiniest to the largest, and from the most benign to the most dangerous.
By now, you should be aware that this location is in the north, in the Scandinavian countries, where folklore has recently enjoyed great success in popular culture.
I am confident that there will be a ton of folklore in this situation, and I can’t wait to see it.
Many details are already apparent in the young protagonist’s attire, which we will discuss later, as well as in the presence of gnomes and trolls, as well as artifacts and paintings in the caves that are typical of the Nordic tradition.
However, the setting itself—a fairy tale that is occasionally surreal but also evocative and richly detailed—is the true protagonist and symbol of this cultural choice. Along with the pleasant sound of the water that is adorned with artistic water lilies, it appears possible to feel the cool dampness of the caves and the tickle of the grass on the legs. All of it flecked with the soft and, occasionally, vivid color of the flowers and creatures that play in the open space.
Mushrooms, trees, sun, breeze… It makes you want to be there and run around in that tall, soft grass.
Everything is wonderful, right? Delectable, if I may say so.
But Bramble isn’t just a pleasant place to take in the fresh air and play with friendly gnomes; it’s also a dangerous place full of darkness. Bramble can be quite horrifying.
It is incredibly intrepid to decide to set a story that Dimfrost Studio categorizes as horror in broad daylight, and it takes exceptional skill to frighten players in a setting like the one I have just described.
Although I don’t want to make any bold predictions, I think they succeeded almost exactly because during the roughly quarter-hour that they allowed us to play the demo, a visceral sense of unease and, let’s face it, fear, was revealed with deafening effectiveness.
THE SAD STORY OF NӒCKEN
The demo, titled “The Näcken’s Pond,” is available for free download on Steam and introduces us to the antagonist that our protagonist will have to deal with.
But first, I think it’s appropriate to introduce the character we’ll play and explain why he encounters so many perils before discussing Näcken and his tale.
Olle is a very blonde boy with charming features who instantly evokes a strong sense of tenderness. He is agile, but not particularly performing, and he still exudes the air of someone who is not lacking in courage.
According to what we know, Olle has embarked on a quest to rescue his sister, who has been abducted by a terrible troll; however, not all trolls are evil.
Beginning the demo, we find ourselves in the hands of one of these, let’s say, trivial creatures, who don’t seem to be acting maliciously at all. The troll is assisting Olle through a narrow passage, and another troll that we will encounter later will provide similar assistance.
In actuality, the demo starts off in the coziest manner. It shows us this idyllic, fairy-tale setting with elements that are almost playful and young Olle interacting naturally with the creatures he encounters.
There is no apparent criterion for the proportions. At first, Olle’s surroundings of tufts of grass that are nearly as tall as trees can make us feel helpless, but then the child is met by the gnomes, who are so much smaller than him that they can perch on his chest like kittens.
Olle’s goodness is obvious from the beginning, and despite his frail and innocent appearance, he gives off the vibe of a heroic warrior running awkwardly on wooden clogs.
The quote that partially sums up this game, “courage without kindness can take you down a dark path,” is symbolic, and Olle, in my opinion, embodies the necessity of kindness in order to be able to face even the greatest threats and turn adversity into strength.
All is well so far. All nice and contemplative, maybe a little slow and boring, right? But don’t worry, poetry isn’t something that lasts for very long.
The moment we enter the first cave, the environment completely transforms.
We are in the dark, and the unsettling noises coming from a distance are not at all encouraging (congrats, by the way, to the sound sector).
The challenges we must overcome are very sneaky, but we have a little bit of light to help us. Olle moves fearlessly in the direction of the laments that are drawing nearer despite the nearly invisible platforms and improbable leaps in the dark.
We will then realize that the source of this unsettling and heartbreaking cry at the same time is a creature imprisoned in a cage, to which we will have to cling in order to get past the abyss beneath us and reach a more stable surface. On the other hand, the entrapped creature will not respond well, releasing a spine-chilling roar from its helpless groan.
We’ll imagine we can catch our breath once we’re back outside in the sunlight. Not for nothing, guys, because this demo’s most horrifying section starts there.
As usual, the forest provides comfort, and as we get closer, we can see another lovely pond with water lilies and blue reflections. In the beginning, a presence only appears in the background as we are about to cross.
Although it is initially unclear who or what it is, it unquestionably has human features. We have a suspicion that it is not friendly because, shortly after, it starts pursuing us with obvious malice in its heart.
It might have long, unkempt hair, but its skin doesn’t resemble that of a living person. What then is it? When I first saw it, I assumed it was a zombie and wondered, “Is this always folklore?”
When we finally make it out of this creature’s attack, we are in another cave where, right next to two small skeletons, we find a book that contains a story. The story of a man named Näcken.
Näcken was a straightforward individual with a deep love for music, especially violin. He always played joyfully, but the other villagers did not like him.
The man found within his heart the capacity to love, in this case a village girl, in spite of being the object of relentless and violent bullying.
However, the people there didn’t care about his love for music and the girl, and one day they beat the man with unimaginable ferocity. Näcken, who had survived the violence, stood back up, enraged and seeking retribution. He picked up his violin and started to play some forbidden melodies. The villagers consequently began to stomp around in their dancing.
The strength of this evil magic caused people to dance against their will until their bodies’ limbs violently shrank and fell apart, killing the victims horribly.
His beloved was also overcome by Näcken’s blind rage, and when the man realized it, he was now surrounded by death and despair.
He took the girl’s body with him as he dove into the lake, where he drowned, hoping to take away his suffering.
The man’s damned spirit, on the other hand, rose from the dead and manifested as this undead creature, which still exacts revenge with his violin and unleashes his cursed music upon everyone.
SOME TECHNICAL QUESTIONS
Bramble: The Mountain King is an indie game developed by Dimfrost Studio, as we have already widely said, and produced by Merge Games, whose release is scheduled for 2023.
It is a cinematic 3D adventure with a horror-themed atmosphere and a clear, well-thought-out direction. From a visual and narrative perspective, the work in front of us is exquisitely driven, but I am confident that there will be plenty of action.
Let’s face it: there are obvious influences. One in particular, Playdead’s Inside, from which they unmistakably inherited the character dynamics, particularly the modalities in which he dies, confirmed in the Reddit AMA by the same development team.
Little Nightmares by Tarsier Studio, whose gameplay dynamics are remarkably similar, is another obvious source of inspiration.
I want to make yet another slightly bold association. I’m referring in particular to the atmosphere of desolation that occasionally makes me think of Team Ico‘s Shadow of the Colossus.
According to Dimfrost, the following are their recognized sources of inspiration: Nordic fairy tales (obviously), The Lord of the Rings, The Grimm Saga, John Bauer‘s paintings, Edvard Grieg and his compositions for the Mountain King, Nils Holgerson, Astrid Lindgren, and Selma Lagerlof.
Regarding the elements affecting the technical aspect, we can look to the cinematographic field, where in addition to the aforementioned Lord of the Rings, we also have Midsommar and other Swedish audiovisual productions. Apart from the photography, I suppose, and the ability (in the case of Midsommar) to create horror in broad daylight, what has distinguished this team’s style in these cases is the direction.
Frequent checkpoints (just like in Limbo and Inside, amen! ), adjustments for those with color blindness, and a general attention to detail lead me to think that these Scandinavians are really good guys.
The only thing I have to say right now is that I find the item collection mechanic to be a little cumbersome (you must again and again press the associated button). Let’s see, perhaps it will have a reason after all. They could, in our opinion, eliminate one of the button presses, which already brings the object into view, and thus reduce the collection to a single press.
We do not yet know the anticipated game length, but Dimfrost Studio is gathering user feedback to find out. I’ve read that some people believe the ideal time frame is between two and three hours, but I hope they don’t take this advice because, for me, a time frame of less than twenty hours would be disappointing.
Wishing that the good Swedish water will come to wet all other lands, we remain in suspense because “The Näcken’s Pond” has given us crazy hype and we can’t wait to explore Bramble in all its magnificent and terrifying splendor.