Maskmaker offers arresting atmosphere and intricate design, but it doesn’t have much new to say with its base mechanics. More in our Maskmaker review!
Maskmaker wears a lot of hats or, forgive me, masks. On the surface it’s an enjoyable, if somewhat lightweight puzzle adventure that explores a similar mechanic to Accounting, Virtual Virtual Reality and The Under Presents. It’s also a remake, of sorts, of a 1975 mime performance, borrowing its name and many of its core themes. And, for people that remember Innerspace’s Firebird series, it’s even a bit of a sequel.
A typically multi-faceted effort for its developer, then, and Innerspace does a good job fleshing out the mask-swapping, world-hopping concept into a fun 3+ hour adventure that tackles ideas of mentorship and succession. What it doesn’t have, though, is quite the same spark of ingenuity of 2019’s A Fisherman’s Tale, or other recent VR puzzling highlights.
The core of Maskmaker is astonishingly impressive from a technical perspective. To travel between worlds you simply put on a mask in the workshop and then lift it off to return. On the PC version you switch out between worlds in mere seconds with minimal time spent in front of a loading screen. It makes the transition between each of its six biomes (three overworlds split into two main areas) near-seamless, though not quite as fluid as the instantaneous Under Presents.
And we’re not just talking about tiny spaces; Innerspace expands its staple artistry to stunning mountainscapes dotted with rural villages, golden beaches that have you feeling the sun even in VR and dusty desert canyons that leave you longing for a glass of water. Each of these worlds has been crafted with care and has a hand-made feel, right down to the paint-like flecks of snow on a mountaintop or the lush green textures of leaves in a forest. It’s the sort of VR experience you want to see inside the best possible headset so as not to waste its beauty on distorted screen resolutions, and something I’ll want to revisit whenever new hardware is released.
World-hopping also gives the game a light Metroidvania touch, although it really is the slightest hint. You can travel between any world at any time, but the bulk of the ingredients you’ll need to make a specific mask are often located within its given biome. There was a chance to interweave between locations to gather resources more often here, but it’s never fully explored, and Maskmaker is pretty light on challenge overall. Many of its in-world puzzles, like creating bridges for mountain goats to navigate or changing cogs to operate a rope bridge, are fairly rudimentary and could have been lifted from any other VR puzzler.
They’re better when they play with the game’s themes and add to the underlying narrative. In the swamps you concoct a potion that temporarily kills harmful spores growing on trees. It’s simple in approach but, with a bit of exploration, you’ll discover a hidden meaning that gives your actions much more heft. Other moments, like directing the flow of water through a canyon, are a little more on the nose but require some intricate switching out between masks on the fly.
The story’s more direct beats are riddled with similar sorts of double-meanings and metaphors (there is a lot of dialogue about the many roles of a mask). It teeters on fantasy whilst tying into questions about who we have to become to surpass our mentors and sets about exploring the topic with a genuine sense of pathos (one great phrase goes along the lines of “For it is dangerous to make a face before you do not know your own”). But, while the themes are interesting and admirable, its delivery could use some work.
Maskmaker is a talky game – there’s a lot of narration and exposition and it often plays out whilst you’re jumping back and forth between worlds. Just on a practical level, it’s incredibly easy to accidentally cut someone off just as they start talking or at a pause mid-monologue by removing or putting on a mask too soon, and there’s a lot of waiting around for someone to finish their sentence before you feel you can move on. Its environments tell enough of the narrative to often negate a lot of what is being said and the experience would be better rounded had it left some of it — much like the mime performance it draws inspiration from — unspoken.
If there’s one element Maskmaker really does hammer home, though, it’s very literally the crafting. It doesn’t truly come alive until the game’s latter half when you’ve unlocked all the tools, but when it does it’s a pretty magical experience. You start out by sculpting moulds with a chisel — a trick borrowed from Firebird: The Unfinished and just as engaging today — before mixing paints, adding components sourced from the game’s worlds and even using a brush to color-in specific sections of a mask.
There’s a wonderful authenticity and atmosphere to it, capturing fleeting moments of real VR embodiment as I sat and surveyed a mask on its stand, filled in missing spots and reached behind me to pick up decorative trinkets. It’s an absolute highlight and strangely fulfilling work; I could have done it all day.
Maskmaker is peppered with magic moments but also padded with more routine and familiar gameplay, plus a heavy-handed narrative. Its best moments achieve an intricate balance between body-swapping puzzling that helps lift the veil on some of the story’s deeper themes, and I would have happily spent hours more making masks in the welcome confines of its workshop. But the game often feels like it’s presenting puzzles for the sake of it and could have helped its story breathe by stripping back some of the exposition.
For more on how we arrived at this score, read our review guidelines. What did you make of our Maskmaker review? Let us know in the comments below!