Developer: Cavalier Game Studios & Tequila Works
Publisher: Tequila Works
Platform: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Category: Adventure & Puzzles
Release Date: 7th of December, 2017 (EU & NA)
…So Jim Sterling gave this a 10/10, huh?
In The Sexy Brutale you play as Lafcadio Boone, a priest who awakens in the titular mansion/casino to discover that he’s stuck in the middle of a masquerade ball during a time loop in which everyone around him is either a murderous staff member or a party guest who’s about to get killed in some bizarre fashion within the next 12 hours. For some reason, no one in the hotel is aware of Lafcadio’s presence, but he can still affect the world around him in various ways, so he makes it his mission to use his trusty stopwatch to reset time over and over until he’s figured out how to save every last guest.
The concept will be instantly familiar to you if you’ve ever played games like Majora’s Mask, Shadow of Destiny, or Ghost Trick, and The Sexy Brutale doesn’t do much to shake up its well-worn premise. As with each of those games, you roam around the mansion and use your time powers to hear various conversations, collect items, and learn secrets until you’ve got all of the information needed to solve puzzles and ultimately stop your current target from being eliminated. Unfortunately, these puzzles have a tendency to feel unfulfilling and simplistic, as saving guests is less a matter of skill and cunning and more like a busywork checklist. Spend a few cycles following the killer and the victim and it’s guaranteed that at least one of them will spell out exactly what you need to do in big red text. To give a non-spoiler example, if a character were to die by being run over by a train, you can bet that the killer will be seen saying something like “BOY I SURE HOPE NO ONE FINDS THE SECRET SWITCH IN ROOM 417 THAT WILL DIVERT THE TRAIN TO ANOTHER PATH!”, for seemingly no reason other than to rob you of any sense of accomplishment you might have had otherwise.
While I expect a game based on rewinding time to offer puzzle solutions that can be achieved extremely quickly once you have all the necessary information, it rarely felt like I had to work very hard to reach that point. The game attempts to throw a wrench into the puzzle-solving by adding a sort of stealth aspect as you try to avoid being seen by any of the guests or staff lest their seemingly sentient masks start to chase you, but they move so slowly that you will literally never get caught before you have a chance to escape through a nearby door.
I could at least forgive the mediocre gameplay if the story were engaging, but alas – The Sexy Brutale is one of those games that keeps you in the dark for the majority of the runtime and then dumps an obnoxious amount of exposition on you near the very end. It’s impossible for me to fully express my reasons for being dissatisfied with the story without entering heavy spoiler territory, so all I’ll say is that the last 20-30 minutes of the game retroactively cause all of your previous actions to feel totally pointless. That being said, if you’re the type of person who likes to over-analyze every aspect of a game’s cryptic plot, there’s definitely plenty here for you to pore over and speculate about, so you may get more enjoyment out of it than I did. The soundtrack is also pretty darn awesome, ranging from electro swing tunes that feel like they could have come straight off a Caravan Palace album to some haunting piano-backed vocal songs.
The game’s Switch performance is definitely not awesome, however. While it runs well the majority of the time, you will occasionally encounter some truly horrific load times and slowdown when entering/peeking into certain rooms. The developer has promised a patch to fix these issues in the near future, and I wouldn’t say it’s awful enough to recommend skipping this port altogether if you have no other way to play it, but be aware that this isn’t anywhere near the most optimized version of the game in its current state.
It’s not that The Sexy Brutale is bad – it just never went far enough for me to feel like it was anything more than average. The puzzles are basic enough that your first guess on how to solve them is usually correct, and the stealth aspect is so weak that one has to wonder why they bothered to include it at all. Still, that’ll be enough for some people, and the presentation is certainly high-quality and well worth experiencing, so if the screenshots look appealing and you’re not turned off by the low difficulty then consider giving this one a go.
Fans of games like Majora’s Mask and Ghost Trick will likely to find something to enjoy in The Sexy Brutale’s time-traveling murder mysteries – just know that it doesn’t reach the same heights as either of those titles.
THE VERDICT: 6/10
*Review Key Provided by Tequila Works