Retro arcade-inspired mobile game tries to straddle the chasm between paid-for and ad-supported gameplay. Does it succeed? Let’s take a closer look.
Price: Free to download
Subscription: Expensive but optional
Size: 33.6 MB
Update! We first reviewed Tomb of the Mask more than 4 (four!) years ago. While games don’t tend to update as often as utility apps, it’s worth providing an update in the context of Apple Arcade and the changing landscape of freemium games. Having said that… we were far too busy to be picking up a game like Tomb of the Mask this week…
So what’s new? You know, not a lot gameplay-wise. But that’s not unexpected – it was challenging and addictive then, and it remains so. A frankly exorbitant premium pricing service has been added – $8/week or $100/year, ouch! – but if you play the game as it was intended, without buying cheaty respawns every time you fail, we’re pleased to report this is an entirely unnecessary extra. Though it’s a crying shame there’s no cheaper way to remove ads. Importantly, though, the game is still fun, still (sort of) free, and still leaving us chasing that high score.
Revised rating: Still captivating, but the new IAP leaves a sour taste. ★★★
Our original review, written in March 2016, is presented in its entirety below.
Like a more manic, uncontrollable and hyperactive Pacman, Tomb of the Mask embodies the same retro-appeal as the 80s arcade classic, but if you think the game will also embody pure entertainment aesthetics, you might be disappointed.
The game requires players to move a little character around an endless environment, collecting dots and powerups – much like Pacman – to add to your score. However, the gameplay differentiates from those kinds of arcade games in its pacing – for fast-paced pickup and putdown on the toilet or on the bus action, the developers have ensured that controls require a player to simply swipe in the direction they want the character to go in, and that character will go that way very-fast, until it hits a wall, or a dangerous obstacle. Once you’ve made your decision there’s no turning back, but those decisions become harder and harder as the obstacles become more plentiful. Oh, and you can’t stop to take stock either because pressure continues to ramp up – if the screen catches up with you from the bottom, the game also ends.
So, that’s where the gameplay differentiates from arcade classics, but the pretence you could be in front of a joystick and a couple of sticky buttons comes crashing down when your game ends and you’re asked whether you want to give up or watch a video ad to keep going. So… our top score might depend on whether we can be bothered to sit through a 30-second commercial for Clash of Clans? That’s not how skill works!
But, of course, Tomb of the Mask is a free title and the developer is entitled to make money. Is it their fault that this might well be a more efficient way to do it than charge a flat fee? The question instead becomes, is Tomb of the Mask still a good and worthwhile game despite this, or is it simply a vehicle for advertising? We’ll take a shot right now and say it’s a worthwhile game. There’s an attention to game mechanics that makes its unbearably, stressfully fun and fast-paced. If you know someone else with the game and they have the high score, you will keep playing it until you claw it back. You just have to lay out an ‘honor’ code when it comes to those video-ad based extra lives – i.e. ensure one of you isn’t watching videos so you can keep going and the other is trying to get by without any resurrections.
Those aren’t the only way to get to that high score though – there are also a number of power-ups, from shields to magnets – to grasp at extra dots and coins. The main menu also allows players to ‘spin the wheel’ for 200 coins – hard-earned currency gained from each level. There’s a chance you could win 600 extra coins or a set of three shields, but you could also lose it all. Gambling. It’s a tough way to make a living.
As for the game itself, shields and power-ups can only take you so far – it’s far more about mental ability and concentration and fast reactions. Players that spend a lot of time with this game might well find power-ups, or watching an ad won’t do such a good job anyway. The game locks you in, and once the spell of concentration has been broken by being hit be something and having to restart, the chances are you’ll fly straight into another object once you restart. As a result, we’d say Tomb of the Mask is an incredibly, retro-throwback that is, remarkably, free. It’s entirely possibly to play the game without playing, and if you want to play against mates, it’s easy enough to lay down groundrules. But it’s just as fun playing on your own because you will continue to beat your own score. Each turn you take your skill level rises, and each time you reach a new level, your score multiplier will rise – meaning your scoring potential gets better each time you play.
Tomb of the Mask is one of those games that is on the fence when it comes to the concept of a throwaway iOS title and doesn’t grab you straight away – but for us, thanks to its addictive high-score chasing approach, it’s already fallen on the side of long-term replay value.