One of my favorite childhood games on PC was ZZT. It was a simple adventure game that was solely comprised of ANSI characters, to the point where everything, even the hero, looked like text. It was done so well though that the low-fi angle worked, and even though it wasn’t all that impressive even for the time, it was endearing and memorable. That’s basically how I feel about Tomb of the Mask (Free), which goes for a very similar retro effect, with similar results.
Tomb of the Mask isn’t quite on the same scale, at least at first glance. It’s an endless experience, but instead of running from the usual left to right, you’re ascending up, Doodle Jump style. To do this you’ll traverse straight lines, leaping from wall to wall with quick swipes in any direction. It’s a precise control scheme that once again shows off how deep touch controls can be, and works perfectly within the confines of the game.
Much like Crossy Road, new concepts can arise at any time. Whether it’s figuring out spike traps that shoot projectiles are certain intervals, or enemies that blow up like puffer fish and block a corridor, things are never boring in Tomb of the Mask. And I especially love that as you ascend, you’ll clear specific “levels" of sorts that bring players into new themes, giving off the allure of progression without implicitly stating it.
It’s a retro-style level system that fits the aesthetic perfectly, and honestly, is something that should be the golden standard more often. When players are tasked with a constant stream of the same locales over and over, with no real “end" in sight, even if said end doesn’t exist, tedium will happen. But here in Tomb of the Mask, it’s easy to get sucked into that mode where you need to see the next area, even if it’s just a color scheme. The speed is just as much to blame when it comes to how much you want to keep playing too, since tapping frantically back and forth is not only satisfying, but comes as a second nature the more you play it. We’ve swiped as the chief control method hundreds of times before, but not quite as smoothly as this. I’ve seen the comparison for Downwell in a few cases, which is rather apt, but in this case of course, you’re going “up" the well.
There are times where split reaction time is key, but it’s not just about frantically swiping every direction in sight. For example, spikes may litter certain walls, so it’s up to you to carefully plan out how to circumnavigate around hazards, end up in the safe zone, and do it fast enough to avoid the impending doom rising from the bottom of the screen. There’s even a courteous countdown timer when you return from a pause session, and a hidden tutorial mode in the main menu. It’s taxing and thrilling at the same time, as well as accommodating when it needs to be. And those retro effects I was talking about earlier? They’re surprisingly cheerful for how intense the proceedings can get, with satisfying chirps every time players collect those precious coins accompanied by a lovely soundtrack. And that arcade element really can’t be stressed enough. The high score fills up satisfyingly, coins grant you new bonuses, and lights constantly flash like something important is happening.
I feel like every other game I play these days is ad-supported, and Tomb of the Mask is no exception. The built-in gimmick mostly lies with the death system, where players can choose to bring themselves back from the void by either paying coins or by watching an ad. It’s a very inoffensive conceit, and one I didn’t mind partaking in during a few really good runs.
Then there’s also the Wheel of Fortune, which can grant players extra riches for a 200 coin gamble, and the option to remove pop-up ads for $0.99. I actually don’t like the wheel idea that much, as it preys on a very simple human need to gamble, and the rewards can actually short you in some cases. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker as it’s an optional part of the game, but it could stand to be a little more generous. In other words, it’s a slight blemish on an otherwise stellar package. Plus, I never spent a cent and got hours of entertainment from Tomb of the Mask, but I had one criticism, it would be that the earn rate for coins is too low.
The in-game coin shop is comprised of power-ups (like shields and the like), and there’s also a way to unlock new characters, which come with their own share of traits, by leveling up. It’s impossible to put down, and inspired me to spend entire afternoons trying to be the very best for multiple reasons. Start playing Tomb of the Mask now, and you may never stop.