In a time of triple-A shooters and unfinished fighting games, one company comes through with the long forgotten classic 3D mascot platformer. That company was Insomniac, with the new Ratchet & Clank. Around that same time, Big Ant Studios released their own game, the title of the article, and I’m sad to say that it’s a very poor experience all-round. I wanted to like it. I tried to like it, but the poor implementation of the Rocksteady Batman combat system and infuriating camera controls do a great disservice to Jaxx and his quest to save Comedia. This is our full Masquerade The Baubles of Doom Review.
Look and Feel
The game is initially presented rather well. The comic cut scenes with full, light hearted voice acting struck a pleasant chord with me, leading me to overlook the choppy frame rate at the beginning as they load in. I also liked the cartoon clown world in which you take control of a blue, muscle-bound Jester. It all seemed like a nostalgic nod to the days gone by.
All of that changed when the game began in earnest, however. The attack collisions with the enemies don’t fit well. The camera is a nightmare. The environments begin to look repetitive throughout the 8 levels and I became less and less inclined to forgive the issues. The game shows significant problems during the final boss fight when, if you’re too close to a certain stomp attack, the screen struggles to render the rippling shock-waves that follow.
Jaxx is a Jester just because. The army of invading clowns are clowns just because. Comedia has hard nipples at all times just because. I’m not too concerned about any of this really, and I did like the idea of Jesters vs Clowns, but Big Ant don’t realise this concept well at all. What could have had a good meaning in a well-developed world just becomes a run-of-the-mill “CRAZY COLOURFUL CHARACTERS!” game. Whatever charm it initially had wore off quickly.
Jaxx the Jester is a Nathan Drake-like treasure hunter, searching for the legendary Druid Orbs. They’re said to be “the most powerful pair of balls in the entire realm”. A force of evil clowns invade the realm to seize the orbs and enslave the people, because why the hell not, right? Clowns! It’s what they do. Entertain kids at parties, occasionally star in terrifying horror films and invade realms for unfathomable, unexplained power. After Jaxx and his lady-friend Comedia steal a map to the Druid Orbs from the Clowns, they’re pursued, and Comedia is taken captive. Now Jaxx, in all of his blue glory, must save Comedia because she’s Comedia, and that’s what Jaxx has to do. That explanation doesn’t make much sense right? Good. Because neither does the game, so you might as well feel the same way during the review.
Again, if the game were any good, I could forgive a pointless story. The voice acting is actually really good in my opinion. I like the stereotypical hero tone of Jaxx. I like Comedia’s laid-back vocals and how she doesn’t come across as a whiny damsel in distress. Stereotypes all around with Italian-American clown goons, quintessentially British platoon clowns and a big ol’ muscle-bound Red Russian. Top it off with a gun-crazed Texan clown and you’ve got yourself a whole buffet of obvious goons to bounce about town. I thought the dialogue was well-written, if meaningless, and I just felt the charm it had was wasted on this game. With what few parts there are to like, it can’t plug the holes in this sinking ship.
Straight up: the gameplay is terrible. Just awful. I shouldn’t even dignify it by going in to more detail. I will, but honestly, you don’t even need to know any more. It’s an atrocious Batman-like with none of the expertise behind it. The platforming sections were almost as bad thanks to the camera with its own maniacal thought process.
In Masquerade The Baubles of Doom, you control Jaxx as he follows a mostly linear path to the end of the level. With his sledge-hammer, you mash away at the enemies until they’re knocked out. When they try to attack you, a golden gauntlet pops above their heads and you have the chance to counter. You can only counter one enemy at a time, however, and the prompt also appears above projectile-shooting enemies that actually CANNOT be countered in my experience. By defeating enemies, you’ll earn red noses (actually a good idea for currency) that upgrade Jaxx to learning new special moves. These moves are basic and once unlocked, all combat actions charge the meter. As it upgrades, you can attack more enemies by charging the attack to the higher level. The problem is, there are only three levels and the red noses have literally no other use that I could see. Quite possibly the most limited upgrade path I’ve ever witnessed.
The platforming sections are reminiscent of a Playstation 2 game, except those games positioned their levels and camera a little better. Or a lot better. Just better. The way Jaxx jumps is also very floaty and he has no grip to prevent falling if you just fall short of a jump. For some reason, water is deadly to the Jester, so you know…. there’s that. It doesn’t even do the very basic elements of platforming right, so I suppose we can breathe a sigh of relief that the team didn’t attempt any of the more complex ideas found in today’s games.
Again, the largest offenders in this game’s gameplay happen to be the counter system. How are you going to take the Batman Arkham combat and cut out everything that made it worth doing? You’ll feel it the worst in the lack-luster boss battles. You typically take on waves of enemies and follow it up with a boss and two goons. These enemies will attack you frequently, but the A.I decides to attack you at the same time and you have literally no defense against that. The game includes a dodge-roll that is, quite possibly, the worst dodge-roll in the history of video games. In this day and age, a dodge-roll should be much more fluid than the rigid, ineffective mess that is Jaxx’s dodge-roll.
Ultimately, for whatever reason, they’ve taken two fun concepts in the Rocksteady combat system and general platforming and managed to make them terrible. The game just isn’t fun to play, but if you’re enjoying it, more power to you. You’ll enjoy finding the hidden baubles (10 in each level), the hidden chest of red noses you won’t need in each level and the high score of 5/5 stars, a rating I’d be surprised to see this game ever get.
A devil’s advocate argument could be “this would be a suitable game for kids”, but Ratchet & Clank exists. The timing of this release, even if it were a better game, couldn’t have been worse.
If Big Ant returns to this world, and it seems like they intend to, I would hope they drastically revise the combat and visual performance. Fix that damn camera and give Jaxx a wider variety of combos. If you’re going to try and do Arkham combat, do it right. Either way, I see promise in the characters and I like the Jester vs Clowns idea, but this game simply isn’t worth the time or money it’s asking you to invest in my humble opinion.
*Correction: caught this before the review launched, but you CAN counter archers. At close range only. Seriously. That kind of invalidates the need. Nevertheless, it does exist. Just letting you know if you decide to take the plunge….
Game: Masquerade The Baubles of Doom
Review Format: Playstation 4