I had a pretty good idea I was going to be charmed by Burly Men At Sea going in: Brooke Condolora’s essentialist artwork combined with wonderful fairy tale stories crafted with husband David Condolora is a recipe for a fun time.
I was not expecting to smile the entire time I was playing this game, nor to feel so completely like a little kid being red a bedtime story.
Burly Men At Sea is a celebration of storytelling, tall tales, and humor that has a surprising amount of content, and a charming secret hidden within it.
We’re getting the critical point out of the way first in this review: If there’s one thing that will drive some people away from Burly Men At Sea, and this by no means a game everyone is going to be all about, it’s the gameplay, or more specifically the lack there of. Burly Men At Sea could very easily be described as a “Storytime Simulator”. Like the title of “Walking Simulator” there are some people that are just not going to like this style of gameplay.
Mechanically, Burly Men At Sea functions like an interactive choose your own adventure story. You make a series of decisions for a group of three…well… burly men at sea. The Brothers Beard (Brave Beard, Steady Beard, and Hasty Beard) will do all the actions and all the talking, but you’ll be able to choose where they go in environments, and make major decisions as to where they journey: Left or Right Tunnel. Wait or Go. Stay together or drift apart. That sort of thing, but that’s about it. More than anything, you’re an observer, so people looking for an intensely interactive experience full of split second decision making and action are going to be disappointed if they look for that in Burly Men At Sea ( This is hardly surprising though, as the game is billed as “A Quiet Adventure from Brain&Brain”. If you were expecting something different, you must have missed the subtitle). As you make these decisions, a story unfolds, full of odd characters, beautiful locales, and a heaping dose of dry humor.
As you make these choices, the story takes its twists and turns, and eventually comes to a close. You’re given a graphic synopsis of this story, and told to chuck the map you found at the start back into the sea for the next crew seeking adventure. A new day brings a new adventure and all that optimistic stuff.
This is where the rest of Burly Men At Sea opens up, and a fantastic secret is revealed.
You know have free reign to find new paths, new characters, and new environments, simply by going left instead of right, waiting instead of walking, or talking to someone different. You’ll find new branching paths and keep finding new characters to interact with. One of the best parts of this is each self contained adventure only take 15 to 20 minutes to experience. While the tone in Burly Men At Sea may not vary drastically from story to story, by being presented in short increments that really do feel akin to a bedtime story, this doesn’t wear thin in a way that I think it might have were these adventures longer affairs. One or two and you’re satisfied, but eager for another one or two the next night.
If you do go back and explore, you’ll hopefully return to the bookcase in the coffee shop. This bookcase helps to turn Burly Men At Sea from a charming narrative experience, into something wholly and wonderfully unique.
Each adventure you play through is recorded as a book. These books are saved on this bookshelf, and the spine of each book has two elements: four images acting as a shorthand of that story, and a number. As Hasty Beard remarks, a small card is also found on this shelf which has a web URL written on it. While the Brothers Beard play it off as “bilge”, it’s something much more wonderful.
Each possible story in Burly Men At Sea has been assigned at number, and by going to burlymenatsea.com/mystery and entering that number, you’ll reveal the hidden treasure of this game. Each of these numerical codes corresponds to an actual print book that tells the story of that particular play through. These are hardcover, fully illustrated storybooks, which will be available for pre-order, and are planning to ship later this fall.
This mystery elevates Burly Men At Sea from simply a wonderfully charming game to a multi-faceted celebration of bedtime stories and storytelling. Not content merely to pay homage to the entire act of story telling and the joy of short tales like those told in their game, David and Brooke Condolora have taken the next step to keep the joy of telling a story alive in both the physical and digital world.
The entire game controls very easily, though as mentioned above, there aren’t many mechanics at play (really just leading the Brothers Beard around and seeing what trouble they get into). The art is, as Brook Condolora called it, essentialist, so while there is not a ton of detail, the doesn’t need to be. The bright colors, numerous curved shapes and bouncing soundtrack are all inviting and encourage you keep adventuring.
On it’s own Burly Men At Sea is a must have for lovers of folktales and story telling, but with the added fact that you can actually hold these stories in your hand, it becomes a different and more wonderful experience all together.