Growing up, superstitions are often used to stop us from doing dangerous things. "Don't sit too close to the television or you'll ruin your eyesight", and "if you swallow chewing gum, it'll stay in your digestive system for seven years," were just some of the things I heard as a kid. One quip I definitely wasn't warned about, though, is the tale of the Nacken – an evil spirit that lures people to water with its enchanting music before drowning them. If I did, growing up by the seaside would have been a hell of a lot more traumatic.
This clearly wasn't the case for Swedish developer Dimfrost, whose upcoming horror adventure game, Bramble: The Mountain King, was inspired by exactly this – cautionary fables designed to keep children safe and terrify them in the process. "We as people, we relate to stories better than with facts," Josua Mannebäck, producer at Dimfrost tells GamesRadar+. "If my mum or dad told me as a child don't run as a giant monster who only hears children's footsteps will come out and eat me, well, that might make me think twice about running."
See no evil
In the latest trailer for Bramble: The Mountain King, that debuted during the Future Games Show, we were introduced to Dimfrost's Nacken who looks just as horrifying as you'd expect. The tall, dark figure has long thin hair, razor sharp teeth, and enough dark eye circles to put a panda to shame. A very clear contrast from our lead protagonist, who is much smaller, brighter, and probably a bit less sinister. "We want players to feel small and fragile when facing these creatures," Mannebäck reveals. "After all, you're not afraid of the things that you feel you have power over."
If you watch any of the trailers out there for Bramble, you're sure to pick up on the foreboding tone Dimfrost wants you to feel. In the game, you play as little boy Olle who is on a journey to rescue his sister after she was kidnapped by a troll. It's clear Olle is out of his depth in Bramble's world as he comes up against a variety of monsters that were inspired by a mix of Nordic folklore, the developers' childhood stories, their Swedish upbringing, and the media that they now consume as adults.
"Some of our creatures are inspired by John Bauer and his paintings." Mannebäck says, "we love the work that he did and he influenced our art style a lot. In a way, Bramble is a bit of a homage to his works, so including some of his creatures was a bit of a must for us."
Not every single creature you come up against will be something to fear though, as Mannebäck explains, "we don't want to be known as a horror game per se. We feel that Bramble is a grim, atmospheric adventure, with horror elements. There are moments of beauty, joy, friendship, and growth in Bramble that we hope will warm people's hearts. At the same time though, you will also experience moments that are grim, dark, scary, and terrible."
In terms of gameplay, it seems as though Bramble: The Mountain King will play similarly to Tarsier's Little Nightmares. Whilst taking control of Olle, players must explore spooky, but gorgeous, locations, move objects, avoid traps, and interact with creatures big and small. It also looks like Olle will have to go up against a boss every once and a while too. In fact, in one of the previous trailers for Bramble, we can see Olle repeatedly stabbing an unknown entity as blood splatters across his face and the victim beneath his sword groans in pain. Something I didn't expect to see the innocent little guy doing.
"When we designed the encounters, vulnerability is the feeling that we want to evoke. We want players to feel almost overwhelmed with what's ahead," Mannebäck says. "The environment can also suggest that action too - large trees, rock formations, etc. And the encounter does not necessarily have to be just one scene [...] The encounter can take place over many scenes, with many sections."
Bramble won't be a hard game though, Mannebäck reassures us. He adds: "When designing those encounters, we also want players to feel a sense of a challenge. And I don't mean making it difficult for the sake of being difficult. A good challenge should involve both the mind and the physical reactions." Instead, Dimfrost wants players to rise to the challenge and grow because of it. "Our main character is a young boy, so it feels natural that both our character and the player will feel that sense of challenge. And once you overcome it, you will grow, you will mature - both as the player and as the young Olle."
One of my favourite unofficial game genres is "slightly unnerving game with cute visuals that features a child protagonist in a gruesome world." Some of my favourite games that fall into this category include the aforementioned Little Nightmares, Killmonday Games' Fran Bow, and, to a lesser extent, American McGee's Alice series. Bramble: The Mountain King appears to fit that same bill, which would explain why I'm so drawn to it.
Bramble's Nordic influence clearly makes it unique amongst the others of its kind, though. Despite not being familiar with these characters prior to the game, it's been very easy to suddenly grow fearful of the likes of the Naken, or enchanted by the smaller, cuter creatures we'll soon meet in Bramble: The Mountain King.
Which is exactly what Dimfrost is hoping for: "Recognition and nostalgia were something that we aimed for. Those who are from Nordics might recognise our characters and that familiarity might spark them to look at our title and feel a connection to the stories they've been told," Mannebäck explains. "And for those people outside of our region, we wanted to give a little glimpse of our culture and our stories. We're more than just Vikings!"
Looking for something to play whilst we wait for Bramble: The Mountain King? Take a look at our list of best horror games.