French studio InnerspaceVR’s first puzzle title A Fisherman’s Tale was a delightful mix of storyline and out-the-box challenges, yet it was over so quickly it barely had time to ground you in the world. The team’s next title sets out to capture what made that 2019 project special whilst building upon it with a bigger, more extravagant world, finely tuned virtual reality (VR) interactions, and a keener sense regarding your place within it. Time to learn and become a Maskmaker.
And a mask maker you do become, because in this nicely woven VR tale you’re introduced as an apprentice tasked with learning this ancient and mystical art form, highly praised at carnival time. You soon learn that mask making isn’t just about creating colourful wooden faces to wear one day of the year, the craft enables you to unlock magical worlds and step inside their inhabitant’s, trying to solve the secret which ails their lands.
Maskmaker is a single-player puzzle adventure that you have to explore to find new resources to use on the masks as well as locating new designs to facilitate travel. Everywhere is locked behind a new mask, from the various biomes to the level design, mixing creative puzzle-solving with creative crafting.
Your hub is the mask maker’s workshop, filled with old tomes, figurines and most importantly the crafting bench where you’ll build all the designs. This is very well laid out with a central moveable head to place masks upon, various small selves to store the items you find and a paint station with mixing capabilities to really give the masks some flair. More than any other area in Maskmaker it’s the workshop that’s definitely had the most love and attention spent on it, with an array of interactive features to play with as the story opens up.
Elements such as the wooden block carving instantly delight, simple yet thoroughly satisfying using a hammer and chisel to notch away at a wooden block to reveal the next mask design underneath. It’s a shame that the feature is only required three times during the entire experience to make the three initial base masks – a further three are then automatically added halfway through your journey – as it worked so well.
Naturally, it’s the building of the masks in Maskmaker which provide the most enjoyable element – that’s not to say the environmental puzzles aren’t fun, just different. Once you’ve managed to unlock everything you have 24 items to adorn the masks with as well as three extension pieces for further flourish. So you can get really creative in this little sandbox area yet this opens up one of Maskmaker’s biggest flaws (or misses), being left to your own device.
As mentioned, in Maskmaker you need new designs to explore with a total of 30 across the various regions. The levels are sparse, with regions like the mountains offering beautiful vistas, yet the only souls are wooden inhabitants who are out of reach. Using a telescope you can copy their mask design, head back to the workshop to build it then put it on, jumping into the new body to continue on. This is the core puzzle loop.
Then as you progress and discover all the masks in a world you’ll be able to switch between them, required to solve the large environmental puzzles. Maskmaker uses this mechanic to great effect, not only in the region you’re in but across all of them. If you happen to get stuck in one location it’s more than likely you’ve picked up a new resource to build a mask for one of the other biomes. There’s a reassuring natural order to the whole process, so there was never any frustrating or tough, head-scratching moments. This means you get a nice flow to the storyline albeit with mostly easy to medium difficulty puzzles.
InnerspaceVR has really ensured you can get involved in Maskmaker, with levers and switches to push and pull alongside the mask making itself. One of the most detailed parts of the process is the painting where you have three primary colours – red, yellow and blue – to mix in a vat with two further tubs enabling you to have three colours on hand for painting. You’re not quite given completely free rein as the masks are split into regions, a quick dab of the paintbrush will fill that particular area. Yet there’s still some fun to be had. As mentioned, you’re always following a design, it’s not until the final moments of the story where it asks you to create your very own. Once you’ve collected everything you could ignore the rest of the story and design away, yet there’s no way to store and save them.
Maskmaker also has a few other VR surprises in store. The studio has really put in an impressive amount of effort when it comes to particular sequences. There are dance moments showcasing excellent motion capture and choreography where you’re also instructed to move and copy the motions, even adding some drumming in for good measure. It’s also worth pointing out the narration and overall storytelling is superb, so you never feel alone in some of the sparser environments.
Now let’s talk about comfort. There’s a lot of walking in Maskmaker so be prepared to cover a fair few miles. You’ve got both continuous locomotion as well as teleportation on hand, with snap/smooth rotation, vignette settings and more so most players should be well catered for. Most of Maskmaker you can stroll around quite comfortably as it’s not a fast title. Annoyingly, moments do crop up like getting into the mine carts where you have to use teleportation, offering no way to walk in. Quite odd considering the rest of the experience.
Maskmaker is very much a slow burner which you need to give time to develop past the first three levels, after which you’ll be rewarded with a rich puzzle experience. It took just over four hours to complete, feeling a lot less because the narrative is so engrossing. Much like A Fisherman’s Tale, Maskmaker is mostly a one and done title, there are hidden memory pieces to find if you didn’t manage to the first time around but that’s about it. Some sort of unlockable sandbox mode after the campaign ends to fill the mask makers store with your own designs would’ve been the icing on the cake. Even so, in Maskmaker InnerspaceVR has created a fine puzzle experience.