Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom – hands-on

Game code provided by PR.

Big Ant Studios are better known for their sports games with a notable catalogue that consists of cricket, rugby, an assortment of racing, and even a lacrosse game; so you’d be forgiven for being shocked to learn that they were releasing a 3D action-adventure featuring a horde of angry mobster clowns. That’s just what they’re doing with Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom on the twentieth of April, however, and we’ve managed to take a look at a preview build.

Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom is the story of Jaxx, a blue-skinned hammer-wielding jester, and his journey to rescue his sidekick, Comedia, from the aforementioned clown army who seek the Druid Orbs, artefacts of immense power. In the preview build, we got to see the first level of this journey: a fairly straightforward series of combat encounters and platforming sequences.

Jaxx fights a lot like Batman does in the Arkham series rather than a more traditional action game, and it’s executed pretty well. Each hit of the attack button delivers a punch or hammer blow to your clown adversary, and you can switch your target at will by pointing Jaxx in another clown’s direction, chaining these attacks together into as outlandish a combo as you can get.

There are a number of obstacles in racking up large combos, however, that give the combat challenge. The first is the fact that you can’t attack an enemy while they’re on the ground, so simply spamming the attack button won’t do any good as you’ll eventually wind up swinging Jaxx’s hammer above the downed enemy; you’ll need to switch your target to keep the combo going and return to the original clown when he’s back on his feet. The second obstacle is the clowns themselves as they’re not going to just stand there and let you smack them, they’re going to smack back! Much like the Arkham games, you deal with this by hitting the counter button when a fist appears above their heads, the successful execution of which racks up another point to your combo and allows Jaxx to keep on pummelling away. You can also roll out of the way without the combo bonus if you deem it too risky to go for a counter. To a large extent, the combat comes down to timing.

While this combat is executed well, it’s going to live or die by the enemy variety in the full game; players will find it too easy to deal with the same enemies over and over again once they learn their attack patterns. We hate to keep hammering on the comparison, but that’s a problem the Arkham games themselves stumbled into. The preview level did introduce a ranged enemy, however, and a video preview at the end of the level showed a few new clowns, so hopefully the full game will indeed have a few more enemies to throw into Jaxx’s path and force players to mix things up.

The other core component of Masquerade is the platforming, represented in this build by some simple sequences that mirror the combat’s focus on timing: a series of platforms moved back and forth, tasking the player with navigating them by timing their jumps accordingly. Hopefully the full game offers something more challenging and exciting, but it’s good to know that it actually works as we had no problem pulling off the required jumps.

The most concerning part of the level was the design. It was fairly pedestrian and, for the most part, a straight path with little in the way aside from the brief platforming sequence, and a few boxes laying around that can be smacked with Jaxx’s hammer in hopes of finding one of the ten baubles, the game’s collectible item. Since this was just the game’s first level, however, later stages might have a bit more to offer. There’s certainly enough core mechanics and ideas to facilitate that.

Based purely on the preview build, Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom really shines in its presentation. Before the level, the game’s story is told through an animated short with a great colourful art-style that sets the game’s tone of ridiculous humour. Character design also exhibits this with the clown enemies, Jaxx himself, and the exaggerated nipples of Comedia. Some might naturally find this off-putting, but it serves as a tongue-in-cheek callback to the pin-up girl tattoo art-style it seeks to evoke rather than any pandering, so it shouldn’t get in the way of anyone’s enjoyment of the game. The only thing that might be off-putting is the game’s humour as some might find it quite juvenile, but it definitely strikes the right chords it aims for so it is – at least in this first level – quite successful all around.

The gameplay itself also looks wonderful with a clean, cartoon-like art-style that fits the overall tone perfectly. The one thing that really stands out here is the facial animations on the clown enemies during the brief cutscenes before some encounters; they are of an exceptionally high fidelity and lend the accompanying lines of often outlandish dialogue a huge degree of added humour. It would be hard to imagine that this wouldn’t continue in later levels since the technology is already there, so it should be safe to assume the full game will┬átake advantage of this.

Overall, Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom‘s preview build shows a great foundation for a game that should satisfy fans of 3D action and platformer games with the minor caveat that the humour might not be to everyone’s taste. Should the full game offer even more than what’s on display here such as upgrade paths for the combat, then it might even turn out to be something of a sleeper hit despite the stiff competition it faces during its release month of April.

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Written by Adam S

Hailing from Parts Unknown, Adam grew up with a passion for three things: Videogames, anime, and writing. Unfortunately his attempts to combine the three have yet to form Captain Planet, but they have produced some good byproducts.

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