Try to wrap your head around The Sexy Brutale’s temporal metroidvania approach

Be kind, rewind

I don’t understand The Sexy Brutale. I played for an hour while chitchatting with design director Charles Griffiths. After that hour, I felt like I was almost there, like everything had almost clicked. But then the demo ended and I was left to wonder if my intuition was accurate. There’s a lot to process.

The quick pitch on The Sexy Brutale is that it’s a Groundhog Day-type approach to an eccentric murder mystery. Over the course of one day (nine real-life minutes), ten guests are offed in increasingly unpredictable ways. The first one was simply shot; the third was killed by a giant spider.

Replaying that fateful day over and over is key to saving them because before you can save them, you have to understand them. So there’s a voyeuristic aspect — staring through keyholes, listening through walls — to it all. You need to learn their routines in order to intervene. There’s a certain amount of tinkering that’s necessary because almost everything (objects and interactions) has some eventual use. It just may not be the use you immediately need.

This maniac mansion unfolds in a very deliberate way. Griffiths commented about how an early idea for The Sexy Brutale was the “Dark Souls version” wherein there’s no real identifiable structure. It just dumps you in the middle of this madness and you have to figure out how to save the guests one by one. That would’ve been too abstract though. It’s hard enough to figure out how The Sexy Brutale‘s moments play into one another; no guidance at all would’ve been overwhelming for the majority of players.

While it’ll take a while to parse, The Sexy Brutale does guide you. The game switches between two distinct phases: Preventing murders and looking for the next murder to prevent. If you’re not doing one, you should be doing the other. It’s sometimes hard to keep sight of that when everything seems like it may play a part. Investigating it all is so tempting.

That’s especially true because the time element exponentially complicates it all. There may not be anything interesting happening in this room right now, but some serious shit might go down in an hour. As time passes each day, you’ll hear a series of events happening across the house. The guy that you kept from getting shot takes a bullet to the chest at the exact same time every day because you’re not there to save him this go-round.

It sounds callous as all hell but once you prevent a death, there’s no real reason to exert the effort to do it again. Saving a guest has them take off their mask (it’s a masquerade party, after all) and it grants you a power. They seem like simple improvements, like the ability to better hear when people are whispering. But that means you have a new tool to help you unravel yet another secret that’s happening in this house. You have one more piece of the puzzle.

That’s where the metroidvania component of The Sexy Brutale comes in. Abilities allow access and previously impassable areas can now be explored. Matters are further complicated, again, by time. Most games like this ask that you answer the question of “where?” The Sexy Brutale requires that you answer both “where?” and “when?” Just one more question makes everything so much more complicated.

It’s enough that Griffiths referred to The Sexy Brutale as a temporal metroidvania. An obvious parallel is to Majora’s Mask. In fact, Zelda came up several times during this appointment. But, while Majora’s Mask can be unwieldy at times, Griffiths seems to think his game is maybe more focused than that. He said the studio aimed for a “greatest hits” of the time mechanic.

I ended our meeting offering that this is a game that I want to spend a handful of hours with, free from the pressure to keep a conversation going. (For what it’s worth, Griffiths mentioned the game’s probably six hours long or so.) I want to tinker with everything, I want to dissect it and learn how it all affects one another. I want to solve this damn murder mystery. Those guests are just going to have to relive their horrible deaths time and time again until I can finally figure it all out.

About The Author
Brett Makedonski
While you laughing, we're passing, passing away. So y'all go rest y'all souls, 'Cause I know I'ma meet you up at the crossroads. Y'all know y'all forever got love from them Bone Thugs baby...
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