This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of posts about video games that did not get a fair shake in the marketplace. The Sexy Brutale is the ideal first candidate given its rich atmosphere, immersive music, distinct art style, compelling gameplay, and inexplicable failure to puncture the gaming public’s imagination.
It is tragic that I have to discuss this game’s merits in terms of its failure, but we’ll get into the details of why it’s particularly appropriate for this game shortly. First I’ll give you the basics. The Sexy Brutale is a fixed camera stealth puzzle game with a heavy focus on its characters and narrative. It takes place in the titular casino-mansion: an opulent art deco palace of vice and imported goods. It is populated by its eccentric mask-wearing millionaire customers and the even-more-masked tireless staff.
Its gameplay is best described as an interactive version of films like Groundhog Day, Source Code, and Edge of Tomorrow. (With a healthy dollop of the film version of Clue as well.) The protagonist has just one day to figure out why the staff of the Sexy Brutale is murdering all the guests. The compacted day plays out relentlessly, with various sounds and occurrences marking the fall of a guest. One day is not enough to save them all, so we are granted a powerful pocket watch that allows us to reset the day whenever we feel like it.
Listening through walls and peeping through keyholes gives us information on guest and staff movement, information that is helpfully recorded on a map that can also have the time it displays adjusted. We dare not be in the same room as any of the other characters, for their enraged enchanted masks will freeze time and chase us down. We must work out of sight, in between the seconds, to unravel each deadly plot and make changes to keep the guests among the living.
Things are further fleshed out with various clocks across the mansion as home bases, collectible invitations, lore, and playing cards, and powers to unlock from each saved guest’s mask.
In my own playthrough I found The Sexy Brutale to be without significant flaw, save for one glitch that required me to start a cut scene-heavy section over and an ending that tried to be too many things at once. It had everything going for it… if we lived in a world where creativity and polish were actually appropriately rewarded.
I hate to do this, but it’s time to stop talking about the game. There’s only so much that can be said about an art experience that so few people have experienced. You’ve already seen several sentences in this post along the lines of ‘it’s like…’ or ‘I think people will…’. I’m not allowed to dive into the game’s impact, its ripples in the community, because it sank like a stone and disappeared from sight swiftly. Criticism suffers when this is the case, for reaction is nearly half of art. If a game is a dog, then the ways people play it are all the tricks that dog knows.
The easy entity to blame is the AAA game industry. They don’t fund these smaller stranger games (even though there’s nothing small about The Sexy Brutale), they express contempt for anything they see as a risk, and they don’t like things that can’t be parceled out and sold for more than they’re worth. I blame them for lots of things, deservedly so, but in this instance we have to point somewhere else.
This time it’s the littler people. The youtubers and Twitch streamers. In a Steamy world, where the marketplace freely admits that it doesn’t care about the quality of what it sells, customers who want to be savvy turn to internet entertainers to get their game information. These independent actors are often the entirety of the marketing strategy for smaller games. Beg one to play you game with their face in the corner, hope their eyes go wide, and then hope some more after that.
I readily participate in this part of gaming culture. I love watching my favorite streamers show me something new or turn something boring and corporate into a platform for humorous antics, but just like every other job it comes with responsibilities. These people, for the most part, failed The Sexy Brutale.
I follow many of them who claim to have their finger on the indy game pulse. In fact, I only found out about The Sexy Brutale from Jim Sterling and Totalbiscuit. How then can I blame them for not promoting it?
I’m speaking more broadly. There should have been far more people lauding this game in the streaming and video space. I believe that the same sort of soullessness that defines AAA gaming is present in this smaller industrial machine, though it seeks to protect different things.
I know one personality in particular who has disappointed me of late with their lack of content highlighting high-quality independent games. I won’t mention their name, for I don’t see what purpose specifically labeling them in this way serves. I used to make purchasing decision based on their videos, most notably the game Papo and Yo: an emotional puzzle title about a South American boy dealing with a normally-docile monster representing his abusive alcoholic father.
I haven’t seen a game like this pop on the entertainer’s videos in months. They instead choose games with much lower production value and much higher… let’s call it ‘riffability’. I think this is an intentional business-minded decision. A game with a heavy focus on story, a game that is less of a blank slate, doesn’t provide as much of an opportunity for a streamer to insert their personality.
Financially it makes perfect sense for them. They stick to digestible games that serve as blank slates. They play rogue-lites where they die right around the time to end a video. They play early access survival games where they stand around joking with their conference-call friends ignoring the backdrop, be it the forest, or outer space, or a deserted island in the middle of a boiling lake in hell.
This leaves no room for games that have real things to say, things that are, quite frankly, better than any streamer-caliber off the cuff joke. Games like The Sexy Brutale can’t rely on the AAA industry to fund them, streamers to use them as their stage, or even games journalism sites to do passionate editorials exploring them. Those sites are too busy posting press releases and explanations of memes.
I’m arguing that if one of those three has the power to pull for games like this, it should be the streamers and youtubers. Yes, such games require them to think a little harder, dig a little deeper, and call it quits when the game rolls the end credits. There will never be ten thousand episodes of Glasses Mcclickbait’s Sexy Brutale series, but the game still deserves their time. It’s a game you sit down with. A game you listen to. A game you won’t discuss until you see it close its eyes in front of the fire, whispering about what a struggle it was to reach the armchair.
In a way that those who have played it will understand best, The Sexy Brutale is armored against its own failure. It loops the same day over and over again because it knows that tomorrow will be worse. It is the last drop of wine in the glass, glossy and full-bodied, insisting that there’s still drink to be had.
It will always be a performer taking its final bow before an empty theater. The show’s not over yet. Somebody might still show up.
I would encourage you to look up The Sexy Brutale and listen to its soundtrack. It’s an excellent game. I hope to do more posts like this. I already have two games in mind, games that streamers and youtubers ignored, but I’ll have to play them and see if they were unjustly ignored first.
Until next time.