You ever get deja vu? Okay, sure, we all have. But have you ever gotten deja vu in a gorgeous, sprawling mansion? …okay, some of you, okay. But have you ever gotten deja vu in a gorgeous, sprawling mansion where every time you experience it, you have another opportunity to prevent the deaths of various eccentric, mask-wearing denizens?
No you haven’t–you in the back: put your hand down!
A Groundhog’s Day style of playing the same day over and over again is the central conceit to this puzzle adventure by Cavalier Game Studios and Tequila Works. You’re a mysterious, vaguely ghost-like being who must traverse the ever-expanding casino mansion that bears this game’s confusing name. While exploring its sprawling halls and many unusual rooms, you must save the lives of several of its guests. And the best way to do that? Follow them around, find out their cause of death, and experiment with different ways to prevent said death.
It’s a seriously clever idea, and definitely brings a freshness and originality that I love to see in indie games.
On its face, the Sexy Brutale gets maximum points for style. The art direction is a beautiful cross between Edward Gorey and a steampunk Eyes Wide Shut viewing party. The masks of the various would-be victims are each just as individual as the characters who wear them. Each and every room is strange and unique: it feels a little like Clue on mescaline. And with a blaring horn section and an oddly danceable beat, the soundtrack is a perfect addition to the sometimes funny, sometimes morbid world around you.
But even without such a great-looking aesthetic, the Sexy Brutale’s gameplay is the real charmer. As I’ve mentioned, you spend the game going through one day over and over, like a Majora’s Mask remake starring Bill Murray. You spend your time following various guests around and solving different puzzles to make sure that they make it through their day safe, sound, and among the living. When you save a character from a gruesome fate, they remove their masks and offer it to you, allowing you to absorb a power specific to them. It’s like Persona, only without playtime that brings you to the verge of an existential meltdown.
These powers open different sections of the mansion to you, whether it’s through the inheritance of the glass-breaking high note of a soprano or the lock-picking skills of a professional escape artist. It’s a lot of fun to test these new abilities out on different places in the mansion, making your way into one unfamiliar section after another.
The puzzles themselves aren’t what I’d call hugely difficult, which I’d count as a good thing for the most part. They’re challenging, but it was rare that I felt like I was on the verge of starting fights with anyone who ever even glanced at a steampunk cosplay. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for a clear difficulty. One of the earlier puzzles I solved without even realizing how I’d done it. That isn’t a humblebrag, it’s just… an odd feeling, really.
The controls themselves were another problem I had with the Sexy Brutale. Honestly, they felt pretty clunky. Like, literally clunky: there’s a small delay between you hitting a button and the action taking place. The loud sound your character’s feet make matches the movement, which feels heavy footed and slower to respond. And that can be frustrating when you’re trying to get to a different section of the mansion in a hurry.
The story is appropriately quirky and bleak: characters are betrayed by a mysterious force within the mansion. One death scene in particular involved the aforementioned soprano genuinely bothered me: so seeing it play out half a dozen times while I tried to figure out how to save her was particularly effective. However, for all of the hints at the strangeness that ties everyone together, the finale of the game felt a little dialogue-heavy and spoonfed. It ends on the appropriate note, I just wish the developers had played their cards a little closer to their chests in the end.
But The Sexy Brutale still pulls it all off. It’s challenging, creepy, and unique in a way that a ton of other games just aren’t. It’s a $20 game for around 4 to 5 hours of gameplay. There’s some replay value, but I know that that can still be a steep price tag for someone who isn’t entirely sold on the game’s concept. However, I believe that if you’re dying for something that is genuinely unlike other indie games you’ve played, it’s worth the full price. If you’re still unsure, then wait for sale. But definitely buy it. The Sexy Brutale isn’t flawless, but like a serial killer in an ice cream shop, it’s difficult to get out of your head once you’ve encountered it for a few hours.
The Sexy Brutale is available on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam for $19.99.