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October 2018

The Sexy Brutale

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Tequila Works
Release Date: Dec. 7, 2017

About Andreas Salmen

I'm sure this is all just a misunderstanding.


Switch Review - 'The Sexy Brutale'

by Andreas Salmen on March 16, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

The Sexy Brutale is a never-ending masked ball puzzle-and-adventure game featuring intrigue, murder and the quite-possibly occult.

The Sexy Brutale is an atmospheric adventure game that focuses on a murder mystery. After its release and critical acclaim on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, The Sexy Brutale made its way to the Nintendo Switch in December 2017. The game may have looked good, but its release had to be received cautiously, as publisher Tequila Works had major issues getting its previous release, Rime, running smoothly on the system.

The Sexy Brutale was a sleeper hit that garnered quite a bit of attention and received a few Game of the Year nods. I was excited to jump into a potentially well-made portable version of the game to solve interesting murders on the go.

In The Sexy Brutale, we control Lafcadio Boone, a guest at a masked ball. Something's terribly off with the masks, though. We are invisible to all guests while they're wearing their masks, but their masks attack us when we're in a room with them. It certainly doesn't sound like a fun masked ball.

To make matters worse, the staff of the mansion is murdering the guests one by one, seemingly at the behest of the organizer of the event. Within the first few minutes of the game, we meet a supernatural being who orders us to solve and prevent the murders and to eventually uncover the greater mystery at hand. Our most important tool: a pocket watch to wind back time to 12 pm every day. In a way, we're Sherlock Holmes caught in Groundhog Day, and we have 12 hours before our timeline resets to 12 pm. We can choose to rewind the time to retry the current murder at any time. Later on, we also have the option to sync our pocket watch to the mansion's clocks to move the time forward to 4 or 8 pm.

We need to spend the time observing and gathering clues in the mansion. The whole area is interconnected, but we only get smaller cases and can explore portions of the environment at the start. With every uncovered murder, the saved victims leave us their masks and grant us new skills to advance to the next segment of the world. While the murders and their solutions are different, the general process to solve each one is roughly the same. As soon as we have found out who's meeting their demise and where and when it's happening, it's up to us to connect the dots to figure out how to avoid the immediate threat.

As mentioned earlier, we're free to roam the casino unnoticed, but we cannot be physically present in the same room with other guests because their masks would attack us. Those attacks aren't meant to kill us, but they enforce the game's mechanics that we should eavesdrop and observe from the shadows rather than stand next to the events.

The game achieves this by giving us an isometric view of only the current room. Adjacent rooms are not visible except their doors, which give off a certain glow if we approach them. Our standard toolkit is peeking through keyholes, hiding in cupboards, and using our enhanced hearing ability, which gives us the ability to identify the location of noises without peeking into the rooms.

With those basic tools and the skills we learn along the way, we have to gather as much information as we can and eventually find a few items to prevent the worst-case scenario. Once the time has run out or we decide to take it from the top, the day resets to 12 pm. Physical items will be lost once we rewind time, but acquired knowledge, such as a door code, will remain. Another helpful feature is the map, which automatically adds explored rooms as we find them. If we're able to see or listen in on a person in a previous run, their location will be marked on the map in consecutive runs at the right time, making it easy to track previously uncovered characters while exploring other parts of the area.

The game is about quiet exploration and (very mild) puzzle-solving. The varied murders are fun and constructed well, and they match the game's excellent atmosphere. There are some collectibles to be found, ading to the exploration aspect of the game. The Sexy Brutale thrives when you experience it for yourself for the first time, and while the presentation and concept are incredibly well made, the game didn't grab me the way I had hoped it would, which may also be in part due to the truly horrible Switch port.

The concept is incredibly exciting. As a point-and-click adventure nerd, nothing gets me more excited than a well-executed murder mystery with a twist. Unrelated to the technical issues that I'll address in a second, the game felt way too passive. It can be completed in a few short hours, and while the experience was sometimes intriguing, I never felt like a mastermind when I solved the puzzles. The ideas, game mechanics, and skills are special, but they're never used in innovative ways. The game is still enjoyable, but some additional challenge would've been appreciated.

Let's get to the tricky part of this review. The Sexy Brutale suffers from incredibly obvious performance issues that cannot be ignored. Much as the developer's Rime port on the system, The Sexy Brutale suffers from incredibly long load times and occasionally single-digit frame rates. Rime had more complex visuals and an open world, but this game sports simpler graphics and a room-to-room approach, so it's difficult to comprehend why it suffers from the same – and sometimes worse – issues. For a game that relies on exploration and atmosphere, bad performance is a deal-killer.

The performance issues in The Sexy Brutale are not always apparent. There aren't too many issues in the first, smaller area. As soon as we reach the more open areas, traversing and discovering new and bigger rooms causes the game to freeze for as long as a minute while it loaded. More often than not, we were then presented with frame rates clearly below 20 fps, at which point the game didn't even display character animations. Eventually, it gets back to the usual 30 fps, but the frame rate drops have a huge impact on the experience.

The longer we play in a certain area, the better the frame rate is, but as soon as we progress to the next one, The Sexy Brutale practically turns into a slideshow. This issue is present no matter how you play, docked or undocked. I understand that Unity games are difficult to optimize for the system, but I don't understand the trend of the industry to release it anyway and that Nintendo would accept it on its platform even though it's visibly struggling to run it.

The Sexy Brutale is an intriguing game with good ideas and an incredible atmosphere. It is well worth your time, as long as you don't play it on the Nintendo Switch. Without the technical issues, the game would've garnered a much higher score, but this port struggles at every turn and is best left alone.

Score: 5.0/10

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