Lafcadio Boone, a man who awoke with a bloodied mask on his face. Every day is the same day, and the guests within a mysterious mansion are being murdered over and over again. With your mask, you have the ability to reset time, and it is up to you to save everyone from their horrible fates. This is The Sexy Brutale.
The Sexy Brutale is a very memorable experience. It blends together unique elements found in stealth and adventure games in one puzzle-game package that makes everything feel new and fresh. It’s this clean breath of fresh air that makes such a simple game seem all the more complex. It takes what games like Maniac Mansion on the NES had, throws in some new tricks and ideas, and then completely repurposes it into its own entity. It’s a game where you’re looping through time in order to save everyone from a horrific death in a strange mansion. It’s like one big game of Clue that you play over and over again, but you do something different each time. Moreover, it’s a very unique puzzle game that’s hard to put down.
At the start of Boone's journey, he meets a masked man who is shot and killed. This is where the game introduces the mechanics of stealth and time looping. Time resets back to noon, the masked man is once again alive, and you must follow both the victim and the assailant in order to prevent it. You must stay behind these characters and be careful not to enter the same room. If you do happen to walk within their sight, expect to be chased down by their masks and unable to pick up any items in the area. The mechanics are very simple, and it puts a huge emphasis on timing and item placement in order to save the guests of the mansion rather than more traditional puzzles. This completely works in the game’s favor as it provides a good balance of difficulty and interest that keeps you playing until you’ve figured it all out.
The layout of the mansion itself is a spectacle on its own. The building is just big enough, with enough variety in each of the rooms that they don’t feel empty or useless. In the beginning, you’re limited to small portions of the map, but over time you gain access to more and more of the locations. Once you learn your way around it’s not too difficult to navigate, but I found that Boone's walking speed was a bit slow, compounded by some buffering issues while loading into new areas. Despite those issues, the design is beautiful and brilliant, and it brings out some of the best cutesy yet dark atmospheres I’ve seen in a while.
Each part of the mansion has different guests that follow their own specific path from noon to midnight, so you always know when and where to expect people as you watch them walk and talk before resetting time. The game revolves around manipulating these paths in order to change the future outcomes of the guests. The formula is, ultimately, fairly simple. You find out who you have to save, you watch them die, and then you figure out how to save them by stealthy eavesdropping on everyone in the mansion. This may require that you reset time in order to correct whatever action has taken place, but the feeling of going back and changing what will soon happen in the future feels so rewarding, and I absolutely loved each and every experience. I found myself resetting time quite often because of how much I wanted to read every piece of dialogue offered by the characters.
The more action-oriented of the mechanics did seem a bit afraid to stray off from their intended purpose. I never particularly found the enemies threatening as you could simply turn around or run right past them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I would have liked to feel more intimidated and afraid to accidently take a step into the wrong room. Again, The Sexy Brutale is a puzzle game, so it has its own merits that, for the most part, overshadow these issues. It’s not perfect in this regard, but there is definitely a lot that makes the game special.
In a way, I’m a bit sad that the game only lasted me a solid eight hours. I wish that there were more guests to learn about or more puzzles to solve, but the developers managed to make each character feel alive and interesting with their own themes and personalities, rather than being a ragdoll that allows you to move forward with the game. In this regard, it’s an excellent example of quality over quantity.
The clever thematic approaches for each character keep you interested and invested in the people that you are saving. One of the first few areas is the Casino which has specific themes that follow each of the characters’ personalities and ultimately reflects on how they will die. It’s an interesting use of symbolism that I didn’t really expect to see out of a game like this, and I think it makes it all the more charming. The idea of each character having their own issues and history doesn’t go too far though, but it is certainly a nice touch. Each character was very memorable in their respective scenario, so while it’s a shame that the developers didn’t build more upon them, it does keep things a bit simpler and easier to digest. Perhaps it’s better this way, though, as the overall plot starts off fairly interesting, but never really makes an impact at any point in the story.
While I may have a few nitpicks about the game, there thankfully aren’t any big issues that kept me from enjoying the experience. The aesthetic design was pleasantly beautiful, the score was catchy and memorable without any dull moments, the characters were interesting and quirky, and the game stayed relatively simple without sacrificing any of my interest. There is a lot to love about The Sexy Brutale, but unfortunately, the game doesn’t take many big risks. Other than the unique hybrid between genre and mechanics, there seems to be a lot of wasted potential, or rather potential that could have benefitted from a little extra time and effort. I’m by no means disappointed, but I really would have liked to spend more time learning about the characters through something like additional puzzles or manipulation of the time mechanic. That being said, it does provide a great experience to anyone who is looking for a puzzle game with an interesting set of characters. It won’t blow you away, but it’s definitely well worth your hard earned twenty dollars.
Most of my time is dedicated to tearing apart games and movies, then telling you what I think about it. I've been a gamer since birth, practically born with a controller in my hand. I've always spoke my mind, so critique was a natural fit. Twitter: @Jsrf38