I’m mad at the Sexy Brutale. And it’s not the mad that comes from a game that’s impossible to play, or a game that is outright terrible. I’m mad because I really, really wanted to give this game a higher score. I’m mad because there are some shortcomings that can’t be overlooked, and that sucks. When a game is already a bit slowly paced, and then it runs even slower, the entire experience becomes, well, abhorrent.
And the biggest tragedy here is that the story and the way it’s unveiled is fantastic. Waking up in a mansion that’s been themed like a casino, you’re informed by a very bloody and mysterious woman that you need to make things right in the Sexy Brutale, an annual party that is going right horribly this year. As it turns out, a bunch of people have been/are being murdered, so you gotta make it right. You do this by time manipulation: a broken watch can bring you back a few hours before to see what happened that resulted in one or more guests’ untimely demise. Using some proper planning and good stealth approaches, our hero slowly saves lives, resulting in a greater degree of time manipulation (the reward for the first rescue) and then slowly pieces together the reasons for these murders and for the time loops. Without spoiling too much, there’s definitely a single individual bent on creating pain and suffering for many at the expense of one, and it all works into a dastardly, positively sickening reaction. In truth, it’s really damn cool, and I loved the concept and execution.
Not to mention the art style of The Sexy Brutale is something to absolutely fall in love with. As the theme for this year is “masquerade casino,” everyone is wearing a mask of some kind, and they range from almost classic Tragedy to truly outlandish and bedazzled. The rooms themselves are decadent with lavish, traditional setups like you would imagine in a rich man’s house from the last century. Remember how Ron Burgundy speaks of owning many leather-bound books and smelling of rich mahogany? That’s seriously the true impression of this mansion, and it’s actually a joy to go exploring and seeking out all the different rooms and areas therein.
As for gameplay, this is where things get a bit sticky. You see, your character cannot be seen in the Sexy Brutale. As I’m pretty sure you’re a ghost of some kind, you can’t interact directly with anyone, and, as such, this becomes a stealth puzzler. Using abilities to peer into keyholes and listen for footsteps, your job is to keep an eye on everyone, find out how they died and then figure out how to stop things from happening. In the meanwhile, the mansion is hardly a desolate spot: the early rescues have fairly few people involved but this gets more complex the further along the story moves. So, you need to plan out where to go, plan when you need to hide out of sight, when to flee rooms, when to grab items, and the precise moment when you can finally put your plan into action to save someone. This usually involves one or more items that you pick up at the time and you need to plan them out accordingly.
The biggest problem here comes in two folds: one is technically related, the other game play. Let’s start with the game. If you screw up a mission, and you’ll probably screw up at least once, you then need to rewind the time in order to take care of your mistake. Now, on occasion, you’ll be able to scrub back to precise moments, making your life much easier. Most of the time, though, you need to jump much, much further back in order to re-do a bunch of things that you got right in the leadup to the one thing you got wrong. I’m a gamer who really likes forward motion. As great as perfection is, I often just want to move ahead and see what’s coming up. So to need to repeat myself again and again just because I grabbed the wrong drink or didn’t find the blank bullet in time is FRUSTRATING. Plus I’m already at my wits end trying to get stealth going in the biggest, deadliest game of hide-and-seek even, so there’s that.
But in addition, this game positively chugs on the Switch. The Sexy Brutale is hardly a speedly game to begin with: all the creeping and planning hardly lends itself to fast and furious gameplay. And I rarely, if ever, care about frame drops, since I often view such things as an aspect that really nit-picky players look and judge, not ones simply playing the game. But when the act of walking down an elaborate hallway slows to a crawl, it irks me in a terrible way. I immediately try to close out of some background tasks, only to realize I’m on a console, not my computer, and these things are beyond my control. It’s maddening, and really takes you out of the moment. Even when the game isn’t making my own character walk badly, it’s noticeable in some animations. The bloody woman I mentioned up top? Her crimson cascade really looks terrible just about every time I see her. I had to search online to see what she looked like on the PC, and it was a bit of a slap: her animation is so much smoother and more interesting there.
So now you’re left at a crossroads: on the one hand, there’s a real good chance that this game could get patched and start to look ship-shape in the near future, and that would be amazing. But the future could mean literally any time: some players are still waiting for patches for games that were released back in May. Instead, looking at The Sexy Brutale as it sits now, I don’t think I can fully recommend the game. It’s really cool, and the story is really awesome, but playing a game that runs poorly sends the wrong message about what we approve of when it comes to optimization on the Switch. If possible, hold out and pick it up after the patch gets released: players shouldn’t have to take anything that’s subpar when it doesn’t need to be. If you absolutely must, I recommend trying it on the PC, because the story really is pretty grand.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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