If Groundhog Day took on the form of a video game, it might very well be The Sexy Brutale. It’s a 3D puzzle and adventure title developed by Cavalier Game Studios and Tequila Works (Rime) focused on intrigue, murder and mystery with a huge emphasis placed on the manipulation of time.
Taking control of the ludicrously-named Lafcadio Boone, it's up to you to uncover the secrets of the titular casino-cum-mansion and its inhabitants, as you're forced to relive the same mysterious and murderous masked ball over and over again in order to save many a life.
While it might sound like a cross between Majora’s Mask and an episode of Agatha Christie's Poirot, the stylish setting and art direction along with colourful and varied cast of characters gives The Sexy Brutale a palpable sense of sophistication. The game's central mechanics revolve around spying through loop holes, moving from room to room investigating every nook and cranny (in a way that is somewhat of reminiscent of Luigi’s Mansion), hiding in closets and solving a series of intriguing murder mystery puzzles by continually winding back time in order to piece it all together.
The stealthier elements of The Sexy Brutale allow you to learn about individual narratives in the game and obtain clues, while the action and puzzling combined with this and the time mechanic ultimately reveal a grander story with plenty of twists and turns along the way.
Observation and a strong understanding of the time-sensitive patterns at each stage of the game are all beneficial to progression. If you don’t take the chance to absorb your surroundings and analyse the routines of the characters at certain hours of the day in the mansion, you’re going to find it hard to advance. The first murder you’re required to prevent occurs in the chapel. A shooting takes place and your job is to go back in time with the assistance of a broken pocket watch and prevent it from occurring. It's all gone a bit Bernard's Watch.
As the pocket watch is broken, days are restarted at 12pm and reset at 5pm – this leaves you with the time in between to find a solution (in the form of a puzzle) and save the day. Having witnessed the murder weapon in action at a certain hour of the day, you’ll find a blank cartridge on the floor of a particular room to load into the weapon on display in a sitting room on the other side of the mansion. As soon as you do this, the same scene plays out and no guests are hurt. What’s better is your pocket watch is then fixed enabling you to save your game at any clock – setting it as your starting point for each day. With the watch repaired, the full day is now also available.
The reasoning behind the murders and surprises linked to the casino are slowly revealed over time. This naturally makes you more and more invested in solving the puzzles. With every murder confined to a unique location in the mansion from the main casino floor to the theatre, the usual process is to examine the surrounding environment to work out how it can prevent certain situations from occurring (or in some cases better the potential outcome), observe the characters and then use the clock to time actions in with particular scenes that play out. Lafcadio Boone is not allowed to be in the same room as other characters, further encouraging a stealthier approach to the way you play.
As you progress and save more characters, the protagonist increases the power of his abilities – opening new doors (in both a literal and figurative sense) within the title. It all becomes very routine but there’s enough intrigue along the way to keep you motivated. Additionally, the game has a detailed pause menu to both assist you and highlight the inhabitants you’re required to save, your inventory – with items obviously able to prevent and activate sequences, and the map allowing you to note points of interest.
The visuals in The Sexy Brutale really do give the title a unique sense of identity. The diorama-like scenes highlight intricate details that perhaps other art styles would not have. Unfortunately, the Switch version isn’t sporting quite the same high-quality visual standards as rival platforms, but it at least manages to keep the fantastic charming character of the game intact. In handheld mode, the game performs well enough. About the only minor disruptions are linked to the load times. The overall performance though really isn’t that much of a problem due to the style of the game. Finally, the music and sound effects all add to the main themes – and definitely make you feel like you’re located in a fun but threatening world.
As short-lived as the story is, The Sexy Brutale is still a standout murder mystery title. The stimulating 3D puzzle and adventure elements makes it one of the best within its genre. The chosen theme and locale is also the exact type of setting you want for a title built on intrigue, murder and mystery. If you’re more of a shoot first, ask questions later sort of player, this might not be for you, but for the type of person who enjoys a slower-paced but equally as rewarding game experience, this is a murder mystery worth looking into.