"Madness reigns in the Hall of the Mountain King."

Lillemore is one of the most horrible, terrible, thoughtless, rotten sisters in history. You’ll see why as we go along in Bramble: The Mountain King, Dimfrost Studios and Merge Games’ horror adventure that, of course, starts at night. Doesn’t this kind of story always start at night?

Bramble: The Mountain King fully earns its M rating. The start-up screen has two warnings for you, one regards some visual effects which might be a bit much for people who suffer from seizures, the second is regarding the graphic content and themes of the game, which are gruesome to say the least. If this doesn’t sound like the kind of game you’d like, I suggest skipping the rest of this review and looking for something a little lighter; this game is about as dark as I have seen.

But it’s not all blood and guts (although there is quite a lot of that); there is a compelling story being told. The foundations of the tale and many of the story elements in Bramble are taken from Nordic folk tales and mythology. There are gnomes (I’m going to have to have a word with them about my missing sock…), giants, trolls, and Fey Folk. At the start, and for the duration of what may be considered the tutorial, the game is almost what our modern sensibilities might consider a fairy tale. Olle (you) is following his sister, Lillemore, through the woods at night. Apparently, Lillemore likes to go hiking in the dark. You get to walk through the woods, climb some stuff, hang out in Lillemore’s hiding spot (ruins of some sort) and learn how to throw a rock.

Later, after you slide down a hill, you find yourself a bit smaller and hanging with some gnomes. It’s almost cute, but don’t worry—the horribly ugly stuff is coming soon.

As you may have guessed, when you slide down the hill, Olle and Lillemore have shrunk to something as tall as a blade of grass (in some places, you are looking up to the top of the grass). This distorted sense of scale is carried irregularly through the game. Sometimes you are tiny, sometimes you are your normal size; it depends on what the story calls for, which helps to keep you on high alert. Speaking of the story, this is one area where the game does a very good job. While the subject is very dark, the way it is told, both through the adventure and through narration, is well done.

There are revelations as you go. These come from books you find, various objects (such as statues), and encounters with the denizens of the world. For the less obvious aspects, the narrator does a fine job of filling in the details. The Norse mythology and folklore origins are rather like the stories by the brothers Grimm, only turned up a few more notches. As Lillemore goes gallivanting in the woods at night, she is abducted, and you are now on a mission to rescue her.

Bramble: The Mountain King comes with puzzles to solve, hurdles to negotiate, and unsavory characters to get past or defeat. While some of these encounters feel a bit like a boss battle, this game is not combat heavy; it is much more about the story and the adventure. The world has some striking scenery at times, but movement is rather limited. The game sets you on a path from which you don’t deviate very much.

Speaking of the scenery, and the visuals in general, I found a few misses. For a game which requires 6.1 GB of your switch’s storage capacity, the graphics could be a bit better. The visuals are generally good with odd spots of unfortunate issues.

I noticed there are certain “close-up” shots where there are patches of the image which look a bit like painted gauze. There are a few places where solid objects can be penetrated, leaving you with your head in the wall, and the like. The worst visual glitch I encountered was while riding the hedgehog (no, this isn’t some new nerdslang phrase). At one point, while gnome-sized Olle is piloting the hedgehog, I went towards what I thought was a little cave. It was only a cleft, but the game let me pass through and into the “solid” terrain from which I could not get out. I walked around the pond, and could even see myself on the far side of the pond, jumping up and down like the poor, utterly stuck sap I was. The only solution was to shut down the game and start from the previous auto-save point. I only lost a couple minutes, thankfully, so no biggie.

Bramble: The Mountain King provides some unlikely foes and some unlikely friends; sometimes in the same encounter. Most of the time, you will know right away who the bad guys are; they are the ones trying to bite your head off, chop you in two, crush you like a jelly donut, drown you, blast you with magic, or impale you on spikes…you get the idea. Olle dies a lot in this game, and sometimes in very graphic ways.

Related to the gore and dark themes, you will encounter situations related to murder, suicide, infanticide, human sacrifice, demonology, and other forms of malevolence. Like I said, this game is pretty dark. It’s also loaded with obstacle courses. You have unlimited tries to get the series of motions and actions just right, and some of the sequences are pretty tight on the timing and/or placement. Getting from point A to point B may not always be obvious. The game does provide some visual cues, but you will need to keep your eyes open for them. As you navigate some of the darker areas, you can use a small object which looks like a stone made of light. It can help illuminate the area around you and, in certain instances, be a weapon.

This brings me to the controls. There are plenty of places where using the ZL button to keep your little light in hand gets a bit awkward while using the left stick to move about, especially in situations with tricky footing. Most of the rest of the controls are pretty easy to use: Right to run, Left to crouch, Y to interact with something, ZL and ZR to target and throw something. I did notice some difficulty with getting the + button to cooperate and show me the main menu. I don’t know what’s up with that one, but it was a bit annoying.

Although I’m not generally a horror fan, I can give Bramble: The Mountain King a fair shake based on how well it did what it’s supposed to do. In this regard, there are a few minor issues, most of which are easy to get around or ignore. This leaves us with a visually striking game with a solid story which draws in the player. Even with all the dark elements, Olle is still on a mission to save his sister, so there is always that little ray of hope.

The horror elements do not rely on loud noises and jump-scare tactics, which is a point in Bramble’s favor. The horror is maintained with the whole situation; you are almost completely helpless and may be overwhelmed by any opponent you encounter. You are fighting very dark forces which can show themselves in any environment and in many forms. For example, you might be in an otherwise tranquil wooded area near a river when suddenly a troll stands up and eats you. The tension is felt in the visuals of your surroundings, the elements and the lighting, and in the soundtrack.

This, by the way, is an area the game developers really got things right. The soundtrack keeps the tension where it needs to be and communicates an almost sublime peace in other places. Some of the Nordic folk tunes, complete with vocals, are almost hauntingly beautiful; a nice contrast with the horror of the story.

In conclusion, Bramble: The Mountain King comes with some of the most vile and graphic topics. Although the gameplay mechanics are relatively easy, the player will need to figure some things out the hard way. If you like the horror genre, this game is a “must-have”. If not, you were warned to run away at the top of the article.