I must admit it’s taken me a while to ‘get’ Maskmaker.
Innerspace’s follow-up to A Fisherman’s Tale doesn’t have as instantaneous a hook as the mind-bending exploits of its predecessor. In comparison, Maskmaker’s premise of world-hopping masks that teleport you to different biomes felt concerningly more familiar – it’s a concept already well-explored in apps like Virtual Virtual Reality.
But, having finally watched it in action, something dawned on me that helped those worries subside. Maskmaker might not be an instant lightbulb moment, but it is something I didn’t expect: a VR Metroidvania game.
Metroidvania Comes To VR
If you’re not familiar with that term, it refers to a subgenre of games that — as the name suggests — was popularized by the Metroid and Castlevania series. The idea is simple; you have a big, wide world to explore, but you can’t reach all of it right away. Some areas will be inaccessible until you get new abilities, and you’ll have to keep them in mind to come back and explore later.
Maskmaker takes this concept to heart. Each of the game’s eight biomes is populated with guardians – lifeless husks that spring into action when you embody them. It’s a tangential link to A Fisherman’s Tale; a world of puppets that are yours to manipulate. To do this, you have to first find them on the map, then use a Spyglass to ‘record’ their mask type. Taking control of them requires replicating their mask back in your workshop and then putting it on, teleporting you into the given guardian’s body.
This, it seems, is easier said than done. Maskmaker’s crafting isn’t just simple avatar customization and nor is it a case of chopping down trees and mining away at rocks. Innerspace instead takes a far more organic approach that’s in-touch with the world around you; at one point in the demo the player spots a mask with pink feathers. It’s not immediately obvious just how you’d go about securing them until the player sees a bird circling around a mountaintop. Sure enough, following a trail up to the top rewards you with a nest to pluck your prize from, which you can then take back to the workshop.
Even with your mask made, though, the puzzle isn’t over. Embodying the guardian finds you stuck mid-way on a lift, and you need to return to your past body and find a way to turn it on before you can fully progress. Clearly, Innerspace is looking to flesh out its puzzles as fully as it can. Coming full circle, there are going to be times you come to one guardian and simply can’t find the materials you need to become them until you progress elsewhere in the game. I’m not expecting this element to reach the map-marking depth of the genre’s best games, but that touch of naturalism, of finding resources in authentic and logical ways, suggests to me Maskmaker has something of its own to say for the Metroidvania.
There’s other reasons to remain hopeful, too. The actual process of crafting in the game, for example, looks enormously satisfying; a culmination of experimentation and VR-specific interactions that go far beyond combining resources on a menu. You can chisel masks into shape, for example, and mix colors to get the right tones before applying them to specific sections of your creation.
What might be most impressive, though, is what you do with the mask once you’ve finished making it up. To teleport to a biome, all you need to do is lift the mask to your face. The transition, at least in this demo, was instant and as seamless as you could hope. Now, granted, this was shown under a controlled environment and I haven’t put the system through its paces myself, but even if you can transport between one biome and the workshop at a time like this, it appears quite magical and an admirable technical feat (which could likely explain why the game hasn’t been announced for Oculus Quest just yet).
It’s all the more tantalizing when you take a moment to breathe in the world, too. Maskmaker is, simply put, beautiful, owing some debt to the wholesome grain of A Fisherman’s Tale, but spreading its influence across the globe. Each biome is diverse, from deserts to snowy villages and tropical swamps. There’s a sort of minimalism to it that I expect helps worlds pop in VR, but it’s the unapologetic color palette, one of simple, clean-wash textures that I find the most striking. Paired with the game’s fondness of sprawling vistas, I expect Maskmaker to be another visual treat.
In fact, if you couldn’t tell, I’m pretty optimistic that Innerspace is putting the finishing touches on what will be another odd little VR gem. Maskmaker is out on April 20th on PC VR and PSVR. Get it on the calendar.