The Marquis invites you to tonight’s show! 7PM in the theatre!
LET’S DO THE TIME LOOP AGAIN
Waking up on the floor of a mansion wearing a mask adorned with a bloody handprint, you soon realise that the party hosted by the mysterious Marquis has gone wrong: over the course of 12 hours, the staff are systematically murdering the guests in horrific ways. A timepiece in your possession contains mysterious powers that will allow you to reset time in order to work out what is happening, and take steps to prevent their murders.
If the game sounds like a grisly murder mystery version of Majora’s Mask, you’re absolutely right. Over the twelve in game hours, each NPC has their own routine and can be tracked on your map as you see them performing it. The map is extremely well implemented and easy to use, even though the areas aren’t labelled, making finding the Library, for example, a bit of a hassle if you don’t remember where exactly it is. It’s not a huge deal as each puzzle is located in a certain area, so this only affects backtracking for collectibles during the endgame.
Each guest has their own personality, which matches their actions and routines, making them feel more lifelike in this grisly world. Most of them have their own specific talents which are imbued into their masks, allowing you to absorb those powers after you save them. These include the ability to pick locks, listen to distant conversations, and much more; using these will allow you to progress further through the mansion and uncover more of the mystery.
The main character, Lafcadio Boone, is tasked with saving the other guests, but he doesn’t have much at his disposal other than his special pocket watch. As per Nintendo’s lunar classic, the key to helping the game’s inhabitants is to monitor the movements of both victim and assassin in order to work out how to save them. The best way to do so is to peep through keyholes to keep an eye on people and to listen in to their conversations; this is especially important as being in the same room as another NPC will freeze time as their ghoulish mask chases you out of the room.
The tutorial mission, for example, sees you observing the assassin as he takes the gun mounted above the fireplace in order to shoot the clockmaker in the chapel. Luckily, this same clockmaker opens a safe earlier which is shown to contain a blank bullet that you can use to save his life. This one is a very simple puzzle for sure, but they get more in depth as the game goes on. None are particularly difficult (heck, I saved the Casino victim first try by accident), but they all feel very rewarding and the murder setups are all quite unique and grizzly.
There are ten guests in total to save over the course of seven puzzles (including the tutorial). Some puzzles only have a single guest to save, whereas others have a couple of guests that need your help. Regardless of how many there are, there’s only one puzzle to solve that will save all the guests in that area, and these will also only grant you a single mask as a reward. These masks are all unique, although some are more useful than others. Most are a little situational and aren’t used particularly much, although others will be more frequently used. Nevertheless, the mask mechanic is a nice touch and it allows for natural progression over what is quite a linear adventure.
The linearity is a bit of a double edged sword, to be honest. It’s nice to have a continuous difficulty curve, along with story progression as you encounter each new character. However, the game’s strict adherence to this linearity also works to remove some of the charm too. Once you save a guest, you’ll no longer be able to save them again in the future, lest you incur the wrath of the game telling you off for not doing the next thing on the list. Even after saving all of the guests and obtaining all the masks, you’ll still be unable to resave people on a future time loop. If you are wanting to see how many you can save in a single 12 hour period, you’re going to be severely disappointed – the game simply won’t let you. It’s a shame as it could have added some extra replayability to a game that otherwise lacks it. There are collectible cards you can obtain in order to unlock an alternate ending, but it’s so underwhelming that it’s not really worth going to the effort for.
Being unable to resave guests is a minor gripe in the long run. Disappointing, for sure, but not enough to ruin the experience. What does mar it is the performance issues that the game has. Framerate, for the most part, is fine – although there is a noticeable plunge when using certain mask powers. Given that these are momentary actions, they won’t affect your enjoyment too much, but their existence is certainly unfortunate. More of an issue are the loading times. On reaching a new area, spying into certain rooms or walking into certain areas, a roulette wheel that indicates the loading will appear and the game will grind to a momentary halt until it has finished loading everything in. It’s understandable given the size of the world and everything going on within, but they’re a pain in the arse nonetheless. It only seems to affect certain areas though, and usually only upon the first visit, but you will get sick of them very quickly.
It’s a shame that performance suffers so much, since the overall presentation is actually quite fantastic. I wasn’t sold on the isometric doll look, but it grew on me quickly. Everything animates well and the whole world is just oozing charm. It’s accompanied by some wonderful music that ranges from dramatic operatic music, to some jazzy electro-swing. The world is a delight to be in and I was sad when it was all over after it’s relatively short runtime. I hope we see a return to the Sexy Brutale in the future as I would love to see it reopen its doors.
The Sexy Brutale is filled to the brim with charm, and the Murder Mystery scenario will keep you intrigued until its satisfying ending. The puzzles aren’t especially complicated, you can’t resave guests, and the performance issues all stop it from being the masterpiece it deserves to be; but that doesn’t stop it from being a must-play experience. I hope Cavalier Game Studios make a sequel or successor in the future so that we can return to the scene of the crime again. And again.