18th Dec2017

‘The Sexy Brutale’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Rupert Harvey

sexy-brutale

Originally released on Steam and the big boy consoles back in April, this bizarre and intriguing puzzle-adventure game now gets its Nintendo release. It’s as beguiling as ever, but the switch to Switch brings major problems.

You play Lafcadio Boone, who awakens in the titular casino mansion at noon. Throughout the day, several guests will be murdered. It’s your job to save them. Solving the murders is only the first step. By sneaking around, peeking through keyholes and observing CCTV, you get to see the murders play out. Then you must manipulate time – the day automatically resets at midnight – and seek a way to prevent the crime from happening.

For example, the very basic opening tutorial has you witnessing a shooting in a chapel. When the day resets, you put a blank bullet into the murder weapon, and when the killer attempts his crime, he is foiled.

Crucially, characters go about their business on a strict timetable, and their routines are the same each day, enabling you to plan your interventions. However, interventions is all they are: you cannot interact with characters directly, and being seen risks failure. Thankfully, you have a collection of masks to assist you. Your basic mask enables you to evade capture, giving you precious seconds when spotted by another guest. Another mask, provided by a rescued would-be victim, enables you to manipulate time.

There’s a chance that all of this could be too obscure and alienating for some, early on. Thankfully, your mentor, Bloody Girl, is on hand to guide you. Repeat the same successful intervention and she will drop you a hint as to where to go next.

Be prepared: this is a puzzle game with some very strange lore. It is utterly unique in its cartoon-baroque atmosphere, if not its essential mechanics. The time-shifting conceit has a rich history in gaming, whether it’s the deliberate repetition of Majora’s Mask, or the rewind function of Braid and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. (Oddly, I also found the fixed viewpoint and the eerie atmosphere reminiscent of isometric puzzle classics like Knight Lore – but perhaps that’s just me.)

But The Sexy Brutale conjures a mood entirely its own. It possesses a rich, dreamlike aesthetic, with its mysterious rooms apparently floating in infinite space. Sound effects echo and voices murmur, complemented by delightful soft, jazzy music.

As a result of the game’s wilful obscurity, there are occasional moments of point-and-click adventure syndrome: try everything on everything. I must confess to solving one crime purely through trial and error. But once you submit to the surreal groove of the game, feeding a hungry bone charm with liquid from a fish tank somehow makes sense.

The game is possibly somewhat brief – three to four hours without a guide – even if it is naturally padded thanks to its amiable elusiveness. To hold the curious player’s attention, dotted around are playing card collectibles, and there is plenty to examine, adding texture for those looking to get lost in this very odd world.

If only Switch owners were getting the port they deserve. Forget the silky smooth performance of the PC version: this is a terrible port. To say that the framerate is variable would be too diplomatic – it ranges from the bearable to the horribly stuttering, at times resembling a Ray Harryhausen stop-motion effect. Worse, when you look through certain keyholes, the whole game hangs as a loading icon pops up, and the music jumps like a knocked vinyl. Handheld mode is marginally better, but still very poor.

If it weren’t for the performance issues – which, to the developers’ credit, will supposedly be patched the week beginning 18 December – The Sexy Brutale would be a no-brainer recommendation for the discerning gamer looking for something different. But right now the Switch version is broken. Until that changes, steer clear.

The Sexy Brutale is out now on Nintendo Switch.

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