Burly Men at Sea is a reminder that the best tales are those you create yourself. The game stars three bearded brothers as they haul ashore at a sleepy fishing village, clutching a message in a bottle. It contains a blank sea chart, and an old man informs them that they must search the ocean to fill in the blank space. Thus the burly men set off to look for adventure – and whatever they encounter becomes their story. And each time you play, the story is slightly different.
Much like Old Man’s Journey, Burly Men at Sea is an interactive experience that sits somewhere between a video game and a child’s picture book – essentially, it’s a folk tale simulator. As you take the three brothers on their adventure, their journey is narrated via typewriter-font words that are full of expression, which is a big part of the game’s charm – as is the minimalist presentation with its basic characters and backgrounds, and homemade sound effects. In summary, Burly Men at Sea is a very inviting game – which is good, because it expects you to revisit it again and again.
The game is meant to be played in one sitting, which isn’t difficult as you can work your way through it in 30 minutes or so. There’s a reason why it’s worth returning to, which I won’t spoil here, but even without that tantalizing hook you’ll want to come back to it time and again, the same way you’d return to a beloved and well-worn music album. Because you control the narrative (and sometimes the world), you can make each experience as unique as you want. The game is best played on Switch in handheld mode, as you can manipulate things more intuitively with a finger, but the pointer controls for the TV are also solid. Plus, sharing the experience with your family is easier that way!
What you find at the end of your story is up to you; you decide what the brothers encounter and whether they learn anything. This was what I found so magical about Burly Men at Sea; rather than demanding that the player learn to master its systems, the game instead expects you to learn something about yourself. Games that are not only enjoyable but also encourage you to pause for self-reflection are few and far between. That’s reason enough to play Burly Men at Sea – you won’t regret it!
Burly Men at Sea is available for PC, Mobile, PS4, Vita and Switch. We reviewed the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: Review code for Burly Men at Sea was provided by Seaven Studio. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.