‘Maskmaker’ is a slower and more sincere experience than 'A Fisherman's Tale', but does it stand up to its award-winning predecessor? Here are my thoughts:
Maskmaker is the kind of game that had me hooked long before I ever put on my headset and stepped into it. As soon as I saw it previewed here at VR Final, I couldn't wait to start exploring, discovering materials, and crafting a variety of different masks with my own VR hands.
I mean, this is a VR puzzle game inspired by a 20th century Mime performance for goodness sake. If that's not enough to get you interested, I'm not sure what is.
But let's get this out the way before we start: Maskmaker isn't A Fisherman's Tale. Its pacing is dramatically slower, its narrative is more sincere, and it's a lot more thorough. Maskmaker is its own beast, something that makes it worthy of critique and praise in its own right.
Mask-Man: Into the Maskiverse
If A Fisherman's Tale goes for meta and mind-bending, Maskmaker is more nuanced and complex. French studio InnerspaceVR allows you to step into the shoes (or face-plant into the mask? I concede it's not a perfect alternative) of an apprentice mask maker, tasked with learning the tricks of the trade while on the job.
But far from becoming some practical woodworking simulator, Maskmaker forces you to come to terms with some notably more profound challenges. As you craft each new mask, you put it on to become an inhabitant of a corresponding land and use the feature to embody a different wooden figure in various in-game worlds. You use this ability to traverse biomes, solve environmental puzzles, and unlock secrets as to the true identity of who rules the Maskiverse.
From your hub in the mask maker's workshop, each world, area, biome, and level is unlocked with a new mask, the materials for which you'll need to explore and discover for yourself in the outside worlds you already have access to. The mask maker's workshop is the product of intense attention and care, and even artefacts, items and inanimate objects portray deep worldbuilding and lore.
This is just as well because you'll spend quite a bit of time here organising your materials, finding out what you need to proceed with, and crafting each new design. Then, as you progress through the game's story, new facilities will become available to you.
That being said, the outside world is also pretty substantial - especially as far as virtual reality games go. In fact, 'depth' could perhaps be the term that best describes Maskmaker. Throughout its three- or four-hour-long narrative, the game delves deep into its material and delivers a surprisingly nuanced commentary on the themes of mentorship, generations, and succession. It's mature, measured, and left me contemplating quite heavily what I was seeing as I was seeing it.
Of course, that's probably also true for all the game's environments. It is certainly doubly true of large environmental puzzles, but even non-important environments and mechanisms drip originality, character, and worldbuilding.
However, some of the games design choices certainly limit this feeling of depth. Firstly, the worlds you explore aren't filled to the brim with living and breathing NPCs. Instead, worlds are filled mostly with wooden statues that stand still, allowing you to nick their max designs as you proceed forward. Furthermore, lore exposition is also delivered mostly through disembodied narration that speaks to you while you work. Their narrative offers food for thought, and the conflicting information helps add a new dimension to puzzle-solving gameplay, but it adds a few complications to the efficiency of the gameplay.
Kicking Butts and Designing Masks
So, we've already established that Maskmaker features a slower and more subtle narrative. These descriptors are also apt for its core gameplay elements, seeing as you spent much time slowly combing through words for resources, soaking up environments for hints & clues, and picking up & deciphering the lore - largely through pensive monologues from disembodied narrators.
At the heart of gameplay are, naturally, the masks. The basic premise is simple, you explore, collect ingredients, and unlock new masks you can craft. You take a chisel to a block to unearth new base designs. You can then discover different maps throughout the game, which you can then craft. In turn, each mask transports you to a different position in a realm, where you can solve puzzles & find more ingredients. It's impressively done, actually: you can switch between the workshop and the biomes simply by putting on or removing a mask.
Building the masks themselves is a lot of fun. To do so, you'll have access to a kind of sandbox area in the workshop where you can use some 30 some-odd items to decorate them. One can also use the painting facility to adorn them - even if this is only to split each section into one of three colours. While for the most part, you're following a pretty strict design, but at the end of the game, you are invited to create your own. It's ultimately a small part of the game, but it's a lot of fun - perhaps I would have even liked to see it used more.
Throughout the game, you will continue to unlock new locations - of which there are around 30 - but they aren't necessarily important right away. It's a game that will have you visiting each world repeatedly to pick up new materials, so there's a nice sense of intrigue and adventure all the way through.
But the game doesn't really tolerate you being lost for long. I mean, your narrator speaks a lot anyway. Sometimes you cut them off accidentally, and sometimes you wait fidgeting until they've finished so you can move on. But if the game notices you're not progressing, it'll throw a series of exceedingly less subtle hints at you until you do the thing it wants you to do. There are even a couple of occasions where they say things that are tantamount to instructing you how to finish the puzzles before you've even started them. For instance, "this cave has been blocked for a long time" says my ethereal narrator at one point. "Okay," says me, "I suppose it's time to unblock this cave."
Of course, there is a lot more to this game than puzzling, searching, and crafting. There are a number of quite impressive and captivating VR-specific sections, but those are best discovered by oneself.
I've also purposefully kept much of the story reveals out of this review, so rest assured this is just a spoiler-free review, not a review of a game with a boring story. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you invested, even if it takes a few hours to get started.
Maskmaker is a slower and more sincere experience of A Fisherman's Tale, but that's not a bad thing. But with such a rich narrative, it's a shame there are so many occasions where it feels like opportunities were missed.
Despite this, with interesting puzzles, attention to detail, and interesting (albeit brief) creative modes; Maskmaker is certainly worth four hours of your time.
From the team behind the award-winning A Fisherman's Tale, Maskmaker is a puzzle adventure game developed by InnerspaceVR and published by MWM Interactive. It is available now on SteamVR and PSVR, starting at $19.99.
Interested in finding out more about Maskmaker? Check out our write-up now!