A Fisherman’s Tale was a revelation with its fairy tale story and creative puzzles that used perspective to great effect. It was relatively short but very immersive and certainly left a powerful impression. For these reasons I was excited to play Maskmaker, the latest game by A Fisherman’s Tale developer InnerspaceVR and publisher Vertigo Games.
To be certain, there are welcome similarities that are apparent almost immediately. For one, art design is similarly stylistic and colorful. Maskmaker likewise opens almost like a fable or fairy tale, with a narrator introducing the story of a mask maker in search of an apprentice to carry on the trade. The player seems destined for the role.
But something is clearly amiss as the player witnesses an argument behind a boarded up storefront before being led on a journey to uncover the fate of the mask maker and unravel the secret of what happened. It’s a solid foundation for what follows – a story of magic and mystery that takes the player to fantasy realms ruled by an enigmatic king.
As the player and prospective apprentice, you are bestowed with the keys to the kingdom, figuratively and literally. The mask maker’s shop becomes a training ground for your nascent skills as you learn the trade and its significance, creating masks that, in turn, unlock the different realms you’ll visit on your quest to discover the truth.
In this way, gameplay revolves around exploration, puzzle solving, collecting and mask making. Intuitive controls on the Meta Quest 2 mean actions are simple, quick and satisfying, whether carving a mask, painting it or accessories, wearing it, collecting items or interacting with other objects. Most actions are performed with the side grip buttons to hold and use various objects.
I’m half to two-thirds of the way through the game, to judge by my mask collection and the realms visited, and no action thus far feels under- or over-utilized. I enjoy the process of mask making, including carving with chisel and mallet, adding accessories and painting, as well as puzzle-solving, which can involve using devices that incorporate winches, gears or other mechanisms.
But where the game shines is in its puzzles that require the involvement of more than one character. A Fisherman’s Tale excelled at requiring players to interact with two versions of themselves to solve puzzles – a larger one outside a model replica of their world and another inside it. Maskmaker likewise uses different perspectives to overcome challenges.
Donning masks not only sends players to new realms and different areas within them by inhabiting locals, but switching masks moves players back and forth between those individuals. That’s useful for gathering and sharing resources, and for operating devices remotely. Keeping these perspectives in mind helps elevate some of the puzzles.
These core gameplay mechanics are supported by a useful hub in the form of the mask maker’s shop, where tools and accessories are in easy reach, including boards for respective masks and maps that suggest the materials to be found there. The diverse biomes themselves are easy to navigate and uncluttered, making resource collection easy, but include nice details and beautiful settings.
It’s worth noting that comfort settings include snap turns and a vignette option, which make locomotion easy for me despite open areas having a corridor feel with lots of twisty pathways. The sense of scale is impressive as some locales are in high elevations like mountains or treetops and in that way reminiscent of Wayward Sky on PSVR.
The inspired art design is not only supported by diverse ecosystems but also the structures, wardrobes and masks particular to each locale. Ambient sounds help immerse players, while narration and distinct, quality voice acting help provide context and propel the story, all supported by an unobtrusive but atmospheric score.
I don’t want to delve too deep into the story as I’ve experienced it thus far, but it does raise issues and questions about the masks we all wear and the power of those identities. In that context, especially, it’s interesting to consider the act of inhabiting locals, i.e. others’ identities, in pursuit of your own goals. Besides the central mystery, I can only hope that this dilemma is addressed later on.
I’ve spent hours in the game and already it’s a much larger experience than its 2-1/2 hour long predecessor, and the varied biomes and respective puzzles help keep gameplay fresh thus far. The mystery likewise provides incentive to push forward. Maskmaker has the ingredients to continue InnerspaceVR’s impressive success in the virtual reality space.
The one caveat is that the puzzles thus far aren’t quite as inspired or challenging as those in A Fisherman’s Tale, though it would be hard for anyone to match the ingenuity of that experience. And it’s possible the puzzles could become more complex, as was the case with the other title. Still, the world building of Maskmaker, the care taken, and its use of masks do make for an entertaining journey.
Maskmaker and A Fisherman’s Tale succeed at immersing players in their unique fantasy settings, which are just off the beaten path of our reality. The colorful worlds, evocative narration and engaging puzzles combine for a refreshing experience that bear the distinctive stamp of an original developer that likes to craft unique games that will keep this gamer coming back for more.
(This post was based on a review key of Maskmaker for Meta Quest 2. The virtual reality game also released on Steam VR, PSVR, Oculus Rift and Viveport on December 15.)
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