Every Friday, several A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Now that E3 is winding down and we’ve entered the June-to-August new-release wasteland, I figure it’s the perfect time to go back and play the mountain of rad games I missed over the last few months. I’m starting with The Sexy Brutale, an offbeat adventure game that combines classic inventory-based puzzles with the strict time loops of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. It’s an unwieldy concept, but the game handles it beautifully.
The premise is an odd one. You’re trapped inside a casino/mansion/never-ending masquerade called The Sexy Brutale where, over the course of 12 hours that keep repeating themselves, the staff is killing the guests. Your character wakes up to see this going down and has to undo all 10 murders to unravel the mansion’s mystery and, presumably, escape the time loop. Making matters worse, some kind of occult force is inhabiting the masks of every other character, and if you remain in the same room with them for too long, you’ll be killed and time will rewind. So not unlike the Capcom cult classic Ghost Trick, you’re tasked with stealthily piecing together the story of each killing as it plays out in real time and finding the proper way to intervene.
That Majora’s Mask influence is a strong one, but considering the game’s puzzle-first nature and limited scope, the constant rewinding becomes even more integral and less stress-inducing. Smartly, Sexy Brutale lets you choose where you want to restart the day and jump ahead in four-hour intervals, so you don’t have to be constantly backtracking or sit around waiting for a character to be in a specific place. I’ve had mixed feelings on the puzzles themselves so far (an early one had some odd, untelegraphed logic that rubbed me the wrong way), but the game’s central mystery and the process of actually piecing these murders together has been so engrossing that I’m looking forward to getting back in there.
I have pointedly avoided reading anything about Nier: Automata but somehow osmotically absorbed the information that you need to beat it four or five times to absorb all of its story and world. This is not the “the real Dark Souls starts now” school of new-game-plus git-gud gamerism, but rather the Castlevania: Symphony Of The Night or Super Mario Galaxy 2 ethos of concealing massive portions of the game after its ostensible conclusion, providing a sense of postmodern mystery to its very structure. This is justifiably a huge part of Nier’s burgeoning legend—it’s part of why I hopped to the game as soon as I could—but I am just now approaching the end of my first run-through of the game and want to celebrate its more immediate pleasures: namely, its charmingly polygonal physical structures and its masterfully flighty sense of locomotion. It’s unquestionably the best game that the designers at Platinum have released since 2014’s Bayonetta 2, but it feels, moreover, like a throwback to that game’s predecessor from 2009, as well as its other classic from that year, the sprawling hand-held RPG Infinite Space. It’s almost as if the intervening decade never occurred, which, for Platinum, is a good thing. The designers have talents far out-stripping the mundane licensed work that has kept them afloat these past few years, and hopefully the success of Nier: Automata affords them the leg-room to explore it. Scalebound looked bad, anyway.
Since this week made it depressingly clear that Nintendo’s apparently never going to make a new 2-D Metroid game—presumably content with just rehashing the past, as with the newly announced Metroid II remake, Samus Returns—fans of the clunkily titled Metroidvania genre have got to take what they can get. Luckily, “what we can get” at the moment includes Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight, which came out on PC back in February and might be the best game the sub-genre’s pumped out in at least a decade.
Plunging players into a lushly animated, deeply charming and insect-filled underworld, Hollow Knight’s best features are cribbed from an unlikely source for a universe so cute: FromSoftware’s Dark Souls. The Souls influence bleeds through in multiple places—the terse, evocative dialogue; the “try again, but carefully” approach to death; the tight health margins on the imaginative, creatively drawn boss fights. But its best stolen idea is the way the game handles healing. Denied potions, health kits, or any of the usual video game medical equipment, your tiny hero’s only way to heal is to use his magic, which only recharges when you attack the enemy. The resulting push to maintain aggression while still keeping yourself safe from your foes’ inventive attacks is the best 2-D recreation of Souls-like combat I’ve encountered to date. Nestling it inside a great dungeon exploration game is just icing on the cake.