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Bramble: The Mountain King review

Bramble: The Mountain King review

Relatively few thorny issues in this beautifully haunting Scandinavian survival horror

As a Norwegian expat, I often hear people talk about the picturesque Scandinavian landscape with its enchanting forests and breathtaking fjords, but little do they know the dark folklore shrouded behind this romanticised scenery. Nordic myths and legends contain some truly sinister and grim stories, and having grown up literally next door to this environment, I have no difficulty understanding how that folklore came to be. Swedish developer Dimfrost Studio has not only created a beautiful and terrifying survival horror adventure game with Bramble: The Mountain King, they’ve also provided a compelling glimpse into the magical mysteries lurking within Nordic nature’s mythology. Trolls, witches, shapeshifters and giants are only a few of the creatures we’ll meet deep within its forest, although this brings about a more action-based experience than in typical adventure games.

The game starts off in the middle of the Swedish woods, in a little house at night. Nine-year-old Olle is awakened by a nightmare, and immediately seeks comfort from his big sister Lillemor, only to discover that she isn’t in her bed. He realises that she must have climbed out the window to go into the forest, and so he follows, seeking his beloved sister whom he so looks up to. After some walking and climbing (which functions as a short tutorial as well), Olle finally catches up with Lillemor, who has been leaving little clues in the shape of pinecone figures for him to find her. However, it doesn’t take long until she disappears again, only this time she is taken by a troll doing the Mountain King’s evil bidding, and it is up to Olle to save her.

So begins Olle’s long and harrowing adventure through dark woods, plague-ridden villages and deserted castles to reach his sister and save her before she is eaten by the evil Mountain King. Using light platforming elements such as running, climbing and jumping, Olle must venture deeper and deeper towards the horrors that await within the forest. At first he is accompanied by little woodland critters and animals running alongside him, until he suddenly discovers that he has shrunk to the same size as the hedgehogs that ran with him, now looking up at the tall mushrooms that he would have towered over before.

Don’t be fooled by its deceptively cute look early on, as Bramble quickly becomes dark. How dark? Well, unless you consider explicit violence, murder, infanticide and suicide a happy fun time, it is safe to say that this is not a game for the faint of heart. And that’s only a few of the things mentioned in the trigger warning at the beginning, which you can expect to encounter throughout the game.

Quite early on, Olle finds a strange, glowing orb that not only lights up his way in the darkness, but it can also be used to clear his path if it is blocked by brambles. It can even be used as a weapon by throwing it, and the orb becomes an indispensable tool on Olle’s quest to save his sister, especially in the series of “boss” encounters you must face along the way.

After failing at trying to sneak past a horrible troll in his blood-spattered lair, you need to dodge his cleaver and throw guts in his eyes to survive, and although this first boss fight is the easiest, what it lacks in difficulty it makes up for in blood and gore. These big set piece battles become increasingly difficult as Olle gets closer to the Mountain King’s castle, and they are as terrifying as they are unforgiving. All battles have three phases, where each phase serves as a checkpoint, so if you die you return to the last checkpoint.

In one fight against Pesta the plague lady, you need to dodge hordes of rats and her attempts to kill you with her rake, and throw your orb at the correct enemy when she multiplies into several similar-looking versions of herself. When you confront a horrifying witch out in the marshes, she will suddenly attack you from out of nowhere if you don’t spot her in the darkness and do so first before she gets the chance. Although difficult and horrifying, the boss battles are quite inventive and imaginative; none are the same and they all keep you on the edge of your seat. And there are no other combat elements to deal with otherwise. You might need to sneak past enemies that can’t be combatted, or outrun them, but there are no lesser enemies to defeat.

Even though the main focus in Bramble is on platforming and survival, there are a couple of puzzles along Olle’s path as well. He plays hide and seek with the friendly gnomes, and needs to herd small “rumpnissar” into their pen. What is a “rumpnisse,” you may ask? Oh, just little naked babies with cloudberries on their heads. Totally normal. Sometimes the only objective is simply to find a key to progress, but on two occasions Olle is required to make a potion in a witch hut by combining different ingredients. Almost at the very end of the game, you need to seek out very subtle hints to activate a mechanism and unlock a door. Although this is a typical kind of puzzle in many adventure games, there are no other challenges like this here, so it took me by surprise that I had to suddenly switch on that puzzle-solving part of my brain.

You control Olle either with a gamepad or the keyboard for movement and interaction, and the mouse to aim and throw your orb. To indicate an interactive hotspot in your travels, you will see a little glowing orb hovering above it, but it doesn’t show up unless you get close enough, so in order to find collectibles or hidden story elements, you might have to do some exploring. Other than the hotspot indicator, there are no hints or guidance should you find yourself lost. There is no choice of difficulty either, which might make the boss battles more infuriating than necessary for players who have slow reactions or aren’t used to action sequences like that. And therein lies perhaps Bramble’s biggest weakness.

Steering Olle is mostly pretty straightforward, but on some occasions it takes very little to fall off a ledge or plunge into the water. Not-so-spoiler alert: Olle can’t swim. In one sequence he needs to find his way through a creepy swamp, and although the surroundings and hidden underwater dangers are well-designed, trying to maneuver Olle on a very narrow path where he needs to jump over almost invisible gaps led to his untimely demise more than once. Thankfully, you spawn right back at the last checkpoint if you die, and the game autosaves quite frequently, but still, there were several passages where Olle either has to sneak past an enemy, or climb very narrow ledges, and dying over and over because of poor environmental design really made a dent in my game experience whenever it occurred. It didn’t happen too often, but when it did, I was immensely frustrated.

Bramble is filled with terrifying and creepy characters, most of which are based on actual Scandinavian myths. Olle has to escape numerous enemies on his journey, among them the hideous Näcken. According to legend, he hides on the bottom of ponds and lakes, waiting for someone to pass by so that he can pull them into the deep. Other dreadful characters and mythological figures include an incredibly frightening witch and a beautiful but even more dangerous shapeshifter called Huldra. Thankfully, not all of the creatures who live in the woods are scary and malicious. Olle also meets playful gnomes, finds fairies and even makes a friend with the affable and misunderstood giant Lemus.

Although the main story is pretty simple, the game has a fascinating way of presenting the folklore in an interesting light. Here and there, Olle finds storybooks that give context to the different mythological creatures he encounters, in which narrated tales are accompanied by beautiful pictures. Although some artistic liberties have been taken concerning the original folklore, these stories are really told well. One such liberty that stood out to me was regarding the Black Plague, an element that not only dates the setting in the game to around 1350 but has an interesting spin as well. Here the victims of the plague have turned into flesh-eating zombies, infecting whole villages that seem abandoned at first. Olle needs to sneak past them as they feast on the remains of the other villagers, and outrun ravenous hordes of them in a scene that left my palms dripping with sweat.

Even though Olle is our brave hero in Bramble, the game doesn’t let us forget that he is just a little boy, and the more bosses he (sometimes unwillingly) defeats and kills, the more traumatised he becomes. In the beginning, he is mostly curious and cheerful, but as he delves deeper into his journey, he becomes more visibly affected by his actions. On one occasion he is covered in blood after an especially brutal boss fight, and at another point I stepped away from the game for a short while, just to come back to find Olle crying and shivering. In some sections he walks a lot slower than he normally would because of his harrowing experiences and fatigue, and all he wants is to be reunited with his dear sister. Olle is clearly not your typical hard-boiled hero, and the fact that his endeavours affect him so much is heartbreaking.

The scenery and locations are beautifully rendered in a realistic third-person 3D art style that is visually stunning but even more terrifying and scary at the same time, whether it is dark forests, deserted villages or creepy marshes that Olle must travel through. Seeing the horrifying creatures up-close is way more dreadful when the graphics are this good, as are the dark, eerie landscapes. This game reminds me of Little Nightmares, both in its graphical style and gameplay, and if you enjoyed those titles, I am sure you will appreciate Bramble as well.

Olle isn’t really the talking type, and apart from some “hupps” and “ughs” there is little voice acting to talk about. However, the game is magnificently narrated by Nola Klop (whose talent you might recognise from Deliver Us the Moon, Deliver us Mars and Ghost on the Shore), and her voice guides us through the darkness in a hauntingly beautiful manner. The soundscape is also brilliantly executed, shifting between exciting or frightening music to piercing silence, where all you hear is the looming quietness of the forest. From eerie humming and whispers in the darkness, to the spine-chilling wailing of trolls somewhere near or far, it all contributes to an even more nerve-wracking atmosphere, and if you dare, play with a headset to enhance the experience. The score ranges from a beautiful melancholy Swedish hymn, to Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” (which fittingly plays exactly where you’d expect), further ensuring Bramble is a captivating game experience.

Final Verdict

I realise that as a Norwegian, I might be biased towards my Swedish neighbours and their beautiful game, and having heard these tales and legends throughout my whole childhood, I am probably more familiar with the subject matter than someone not from Scandinavia. Still, these legends are so intriguing and they fit perfectly into a horror game, and I am truly happy to see that my native country’s folklore is presented in such a beautiful manner. For eight or so hours of gameplay, you will be taken on a horrifying but also lovely journey through forests and marshes, where you have hair-raising encounters with the creatures that dwell deep within. It’s no traditional adventure, but if survival horror and creepy folklore is your thing, then Bramble: The Mountain King is a must play.

Hot take


Bramble's action elements might prove challenging for those used to relaxed adventuring gameplay, but with its main focus on platforming, stealth and boss battles, this stunning and terrifying survival horror game artfully weaves Scandinavian folklore into its dark but gripping narrative.


  • Graphics are both wonderfully realistic and chillingly scary
  • Fabulous narration
  • Beautiful and haunting music
  • Showcases Scandinavian myths and legends in an intriguing way
  • Challenging and diverse boss battles that never feel alike


  • Sometimes very finicky to steer Olle
  • No difficulty settings
  • A little light on puzzles

Aurora played her own copy of Bramble: The Mountain King on PC.


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