If you hate clowns and dream of hitting them with a very large, heavy and painful-looking hammer, then it’s very possible that Big Ant Studios has read your mind. I say that because the developer’s latest game, Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom, is all about just that. The game has you beating the shit out of clowns for several hours, all the while listening to some occasionally funny quips.
Unfortunately, the gameplay, itself, simply isn’t that good.
Being that it’s a small and poorly advertised release, it’s very likely that you haven’t heard about Masquerade before. If that’s true, then you’re certainly not alone for the aforementioned reasons. I only knew about it because I covered it through news stories and found it to be mildly interesting. I did, however, go in with trepidation regarding its potential quality.
Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom begins with a slightly campy cartoon, which draws inspiration from the hand-drawn Saturday morning TV shows of yesteryear. It’s got lots of 80s vibes, and despite featuring some relatively basic art, it manages to be intriguing. This art style also continues throughout the game and makes up all of its cutscenes, of which there are quite a few.
The story, itself, centres upon an island with a lot of history pertaining to magical orbs with lots of destructive power. As legend tells it, every being that touched the rotund, glowing balls perished in hideous ways, whether it was by being burned alive, getting disintegrated or being frozen.
After laying dormant for many years, and simply living on in vocalized tales of legend, the orbs’ wondrous powers catch up with their home island and its inhabitants. An evil sect of make-up covered clowns has decided to lay siege to the land and usurp the globes, and is willing to do anything necessary in order to achieve its goal. Whether it’s killing, plundering or simply taking land by force, they’re fine with it all.
You play as Jax: a blue-skinned jester whose muscular physique hovers in the realm of caricaturization. He and his beautiful blonde girlfriend are the main stars of the opening cutscene, as they not only steal something important (that relates to the orbs), but also find that they must outrun and hide from the clowns who’ve landed on their shores and taken up residence in their city.
The poor girl doesn’t last too long, though, as she’s quickly kidnapped and it’s left up to her colourful boyfriend to save her hide. That’s pretty much the gist of things in Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom. Although the game could have done well if it had focused on the orbs, its developers decided to make them an afterthought and turn most of the story into a simple “Save the damsel in distress from the hands of evil” plot. Needless to say, it’s pretty basic, rather uninspired overall, and leaves a lot to be desired, all thanks to a wasted opportunity.
So, how does Masquerade play?
The best way to describe the game would be to call it a 3D beat’ em-up with forgettable platforming elements. Truth be told, the entire thing is just that: rather forgettable.
In total, there are eight different stages, and almost all of them combine both types of gameplay. As Jax, you must go from area to area, beating the crap out of the same old clowns ad nauseam. There’s rarely ever any variety, outside of a couple of basic puzzles, and the combat leaves a lot to be desired. Swing the hammer with X, press LT to roll out of the way (if you can), and try to hit Y every time you see a fist above an enemy’s head. It’s a lot like Batman: Arkham Asylum, City, Origins and Knight, except not nearly as slick or as polished. Words that come to mind include clunky, frustrating and bland.
Most of the three or four hours you’ll spend with this game will involve combat. There’s a ton of it, and it can get pretty annoying when you have multiple enemies attacking at once. Unlike Batman though, Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom isn’t polished enough to allow for fair encounters, and it makes things even more frustrating by forcing you to destroy one or two outhouses during some of its combat scenarios. Said outhouses, you see, are the clowns’ spawning points, and they can spawn upwards of ten of the buggers.
The grunts are pretty simple to deal with, but it can be hard to counter and avoid all of their attacks, even if you try to. Countering one enemy can leave you open to another’s hit, and it doesn’t help that a second type of foe (which stands at the outskirts of the ‘battlefield’ and repeatedly shoots crossbow bolts at you) factors in. A lot of the time, these guys will be out of the camera’s range, meaning that you won’t know that they exist, or at least won’t be able to see them.
Jax doesn’t have any other weapons at his disposal, but he is able to pull off special moves whenever the player’s meter is full enough. In fact, there are three levels of specials, the first of which targets and (usually) kills one enemy. The others can take out small or large groups, depending on how close the foes are to you, and they’re also very helpful against bosses.
Speaking of bosses, each stage concludes with some sort of big bad, but they’re all essentially the same: Big health bars that need to be whittled down as you also deal with two to three grunts. It gets old rather quickly.
I beat Masquerade on normal, which is the middle difficulty of the three available and actually resulted in a pretty humorous moment when three bosses turned into two, because one was told to piss off due to my difficulty choice. Having that fourth wall breaking dialogue included near the end of the campaign was hilarious, and some of the best use of the tactic that I’ve seen in this industry. That’s not to say that the game doesn’t try doing it at others times, because it most definitely does. It’s just that sometimes it works, and other times it doesn’t.
As you can see from the embedded screenshots, this is also a rather colourful game. It’s a visual design choice that carries over from the animated cutscenes, although there’s definitely a noticeable drop in quality when things shift to actual gameplay. Things are seemingly hand-drawn, though, and the Cel-shaded colouring can look quite nice at times. All signs point to this being a budget release, however, and that’s evident on both sides of the presentation, as the audio is also nothing to write home about. It is, however, serviceable.
The game’s performance is also hit and miss. At times it runs well, but there were also many occurrences of noticeable frame rate hitches, especially when I’d swing the camera around during combat. And don’t even get me started on the dated camera, which loves to keep enemies from your line of sight and/or block your sight altogether.
Needless to say, Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom isn’t a title that you’ll see on any Game of the Year lists come late December. It’s a problematic, repetitive and unpolished affair, which likely won’t interest most people.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we purchased.
Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom can be funny at times and has some nostalgic charm to it, but underneath those attributes is a game that is dated, repetitive and frustrating.