Falling far under the radar, Big Ant Studios' latest effort Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom is a rapid-paced brawler that is inspired by the slapstick comedy of 90s action-adventure classics.
Divided into eight main acts, the game sees you tiptoeing across a minefield full of jack-in-the-boxes, dashing through a Total Wipeout-inspired assault course and taking down waves upon waves of red nosed, make-up smothered warriors. You take control of Jaxx, a blue-skinned hulk of a jester, who is on a quest to save his comically named girlfriend Comedia after she is taken captive.
Masquerade's pleasing visuals effectively mirror its light-hearted tone, as they are bright and charming with a cartoony feel. Each act begins with an animated short that is certain to evoke nostalgia for those who grew up on 80s and 90s Saturday morning TV shows. The animation and the overall graphical style blend well together, allowing for a smooth transition between gameplay and cutscenes.
The majority of this three to four hour adventure is focused heavily on combat, with a few puzzles and platforming sections peppered throughout. A boss battle stands in your path at the end of most acts, adding an extra element of challenge. Sadly these battles aren't too memorable, as you'll find yourself merely pitted against larger versions of enemies that you've fought numerous times before. Aside from one act where you're tasked with taking on a pack of chattering teeth, typical enemies lack serious variation, making for a number of painstakingly dull encounters.
Similar to Batman: Arkham Knight, combat consists of pummeling your foes into the dust, racking up combos, and countering impending attacks. Besides the oversized hammer strapped to his back, Jaxx has no other weapons at his disposal and only knows two basic attacks. Your worst enemy during combat isn't the clowns themselves but instead the camera, as your attackers rarely all fit on screen and you'll often find yourself guessing when to counter. Most of the time when countering attacks you're unfairly left wide open to oncoming blows, which is frustrating and makes it incredibly difficult to attain large combo streaks.
After knocking your opponents to the ground, their red noses will be removed; collect enough of them and you'll be rewarded with a new special move. Laughably, your enemies will swoon upon unlocking an attack, as they instantly drop what they're doing, gather around, and shower you with applause. While these attacks are useful to take out enemies in one hit, they are pretty disappointing, existing only as a series of gradually more powerful charged attacks.
From hidden treasure chests to mysterious golden baubles, each act has a number of collectibles that require you to venture off the main path to hunt down. Especially in the case of the baubles, these collectables lack purpose and its unlikely that even the most disciplined of completionists would be willing to return to find them. To make matters worse, in order to get all of them you need to parade around knocking every box and barrel in sight, and there seems to be almost no in-game benefit for collecting them.
Much of Masquerade's slapstick humour feels painfully unfunny and unashamedly juvenile. Admittedly, we found it hard not to crack a smile when catching Jaxx kicking up the dirt and cursing after being continuously killed, but many of its nonsensical jokes are otherwise hard to endure. Its overall tone also appears to be somewhat confused, as a slew of lowbrow jokes typically follow its many childishly immature scenes.
Although it may be undeniably pretty, Masquerade: The Baubles of Doom suffers from a number of glaring flaws that prevent it from being a worthwhile experience. A clunky combat system, misdirected humour, and stale repetitive gameplay are just a few things that will likely diminish any amount of enjoyment that you may be able to draw from this sadly mediocre effort.