Clue memes, while probably dying in the current generation, nevertheless maintain at least a toe hold in society. Mr. Mustard did it in the study with poison, one might say after hours of collecting clues. But what if you, the detective, had the ability to go beyond the evidence and reverse time to see how and when the murder happened, and stop it. Such is the premise of Cavalier Studio’s 2017’s comedically macabre The Sexy Brutale.
The meeting point of fiction, board games, and film, The Sexy Brutale feels part Agatha Christie parlor mystery, labyrinth, and Groundhog’s Day. Players start the game as Lafcadio Boone, a priest stuck in a time warp inside a sprawling New Orleans mansion. Able to go back and forth in time on a loop, Lafcadio is witness to how cordially the mansion’s hosts treat their guests: they murder them. Tasked by a mysterious angel to stop the deaths, Lafcadio sets about spying through key holes, tracking victims’ footsteps and their murderers through the mansion, and learning the environment to find the precise spot where he can put a proverbial wrench in the works, disrupting the hosts’ plans for murder.
A New Orleans burlesque gloss smeared lovingly over The Sexy Brutale, its art and music are wonderful. From character costumes to drapery, décor to peppy tunes, a French Quarter vibe oozes through the game like voodoo smoke. The motif slightly exaggerated in style, the step or two from reality adds a sense of fun and enjoyment to a game that, had it been straight-forward attempt to portray reality, would not have been as relatable. Developers understanding the word enjoyment, The Sexy Brutale entertains with panache.
Nevertheless, The Sexy Brutale is one of those games whose mechanics seems to have sprung into inception prior to story. Another way of saying this is, story is adapted to mechanics rather than vice versa. Where the running, gunning, and platforming of games like Tomb Raider or Uncharted flow naturally from their premises, a mask wearing priest tasked with reversing time to stop a series of murders feels more like evening television than it does something derived from a natural wellspring of idea—a fact compounded by the truly convoluted manner in which the game’s story concludes itself. Any gamer must suspend disbelief to play, but The Sexy Brutale requires the destruction of it. This sounds like criticism, but it’s not intended to be, rather an observation given the integration of art and music ensures gamers have no problems setting aside any perceived need for narrative coherence to puzzle out the murders.
In the end, The Sexy Brutale is one of those indie puzzlers that sets the eyes glowing with its delightful art and design and the brain tingling for the unique nature of its riddles. Puzzle solving developed naturally with each murder “thwarted”, they nevertheless get harder and harder. The first few may take 30-60 minutes each, whereas the final two or three will take more than an hour. The story laid on top of the time-loop mechanism may not amount to much, but the joy of solving the puzzles, experiencing the synergy of soundtrack and mansion motif means there are no issues settling into this sexy brutale.