Life getting you down? Then it’s time to relax with a block of wood and a chisel.
That’s the lesson I took away from Maskmaker, a new game from the maker of A Fisherman’s Tale. Stumbling into an abandoned mask shop, you discover a hidden room that grants you access to a strange fairy tale realm. The realm is, in turn, split into several biomes which you hop between by donning various masks.
But it’s not just that this VR adventure requires you to craft new masks in order to make progress; creating a specific mask will allow you to jump into the body of an otherwise lifeless character. So while you can’t can’t pull a Breath of the Wild and clamber up a wall, if you see a figure on a ledge and you can reproduce their mask, you can jump into them and find yourself standing on that ledge.
Mask making is such fun that just messing around creating random masks can keep you entertained for ages (though you can’t store those customised masks). Logically, you know that the shape of the mask comes from the blueprint you’ve pinned to the wood carving bench, and it’s impossible to chip the wrong piece off. However, when you’re holding the chisel and hammer, it feels like you’re bringing something to life. That’s even before you dip it into the paint bath or affix your slowly growing collection of components to it.
And you know what? The masks you craft might as well be alive – in the context of Maskmaker‘s mystical world, at least. As diverse as the realms are, from swamps and mountains to beaches and deserts, there’s something eerie about how still they all are (barring the occasional animal).
Donning and removing masks is always a rush, though there’s always a faint feeling that you’re crossing an ethical line by leaping into another being’s body, wood or not. It certainly doesn’t help that your guide, King Prospero, is quite clearly a wrong ‘un. Maskmaker‘s story doesn’t offer as many surprises as some, but it’s still an engrossing fable with a heart-tugging conclusion. Prospero has the barely-disguised bluster of The Wizard of Oz, so it’s entertaining to just string him along.
That said, the “good guys” can be annoying at times. The first time you’re in the mask shop and you hear something along the lines of “You do not wear the mask, the mask wears you”, it’s charming. Two hours later, when they’re still dispensing their fortune cookie wisdom, not so much. It’s like having the non-baby version of Yoda sitting in the corner of your room; sooner or later, you’ll grow so sick of his “advice” you’ll end up throwing a shoe at him.
Maskmaker‘s puzzles, however, are rarely so irritating. They range from fixing machinery and rescuing a goat to uncovering statues and mimicking their poses. The biomes themselves are one big puzzle, as you deduce which components will grant you access to which areas. So there’s more than a little to-ing and fro-ing but the biomes are so gorgeous to behold that backtracking rarely feels like a chore. The masks you have to craft do grow increasingly complex but that, too, remains a joy rather than an imposition.
There were a couple of puzzles, however, that wound me up; I won’t give away any solutions but occasionally you have to cart multiple objects back and forth. Maskmaker requires two PS Move controllers so you do have two hands available in-game, but if a puzzle requires, say, four items, you have to make two trips. Sightseeing’s not an option this time as you have to make sure the objects don’t twang off onto the floor. Even if you enable the accessibility option that lets you toggle “hold” instead of having to hold down a trigger to grip an item, losing and having to go back for them is a genuine, teeth-grinding possibility.
Despite that bugbear, Maskmaker is a great game while it lasts. At around five hours play time (less if you mess with masks less than I did), it never outstays its welcome. It blends a compelling, emotional story with enjoyable puzzles and entertaining gameplay that makes it a standout VR experience.
Maskmaker Review: GameSpew’s Score