In our Game Over, Man! series, we explore the history of video games that are based on movies, one game at a time. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1995’s The Mask for the Super Nintendo…
1994 was a breakout year for everyone’s favourite rubber-faced actor Jim Carrey. Not only was he the titular character in the box-office success Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but as the lovably stupid Lloyd Christmas in Dumb & Dumber, and the mild-mannered bank clerk/green-faced lunatic superhero Stanley Ipkiss in The Mask. This hat trick of comedy movies cemented Carrey’s career, and are personal favourites of mine.
Out of the three movies, only one recieved a video game tie-in, which arrived in the form of a Super Nintendo game in October 1995. For those who aren’t familiar with the story, The Mask centres around Stanley Ipkiss, a luckless bank clerk in the fictional setting of Edge City who discovers a strange, supernatural mask that transforms him into a crazed superhero. The film was based on the Dark Horse comics series of the same name, but opted for a more family-friendly, cartoonish approach than the violent, bloody nature of the source material.
The first thing that is noticeable about the game is that it doesn’t give you any cutscenes or backstory to inform you of what the hell is actually going on, save for a quick introduction sequence of the mask itself. For fans of the movie, who this is primarily marketed towards, this isn’t too much of an issue, but for those who aren’t too familiar with the story, this is somewhat of a confusing ride. Who is this green-headed man? Why are there clocks bouncing around? A few little summary paragraphs or digitised stills from the movie wouldn’t have gone amiss here.
The basic gameplay in The Mask sees players guide “Big Head” through a series of maze-like levels, defeating enemies and eventually facing an end of level boss. Collectables come in the form of green hearts that replenish health, spinning M’s that refill ammunition and stacks of cash that add points to the player’s high score.
Attacking enemies can be done in a number of ways. There’s a default punch attack (complete with comically oversized boxing gloves), a mallet (perfect for smashing alarm clocks), the oh-so-subtle “squeeze gently” horn (which decimates all on-screen enemies), drawing a serious number of guns (this time with no “bang!” gag flags popping out of them) and the iconic whirlwind attack. With the exception of the punch, these attacks use up varying amounts of ammunition, so must be used strategically if there’s not many powerups to refill the meter. Using up all the ammo isn’t too much of a problem though, as it slowly refills to a point automatically, much like the blaster ammo does in Earthworm Jim.
This variety of attack methods adds a lot of charm to the game, as they do a great job of calling back to some of the funniest moments in the film. The problem here is with how effective they actually are when it comes to using them in combat. The punch attack is possibly one of the weakest attacks I’ve seen in any video game, as it takes a lot of button bashing to defeat even the most basic of adversaries. The mallet is inaccurate at the best of times, and the onscreen wipeout attacks use up so much ammo that you’ll only use them sparingly. The other major gripe with these attacks is the lack of any on-screen instructions of how to actually trigger them. By no means am I suggesting that the game should be holding my hand all the way through, but having at least a list of what the controls are would be a massive help, instead of having to blindly test out every single button at the start of a playthrough.
Each of the levels in The Mask are obstensibly based on various locations in the movie. Ranging from the apartment building where Ipkiss lives to locations such as a construction site and the Edge City bank, there’s plenty to play through here. Usually, this would be a massive boost to the game, but there’s some issues that ultimately hold it back.
The levels here are huge, sprawling mazes that are laid out in a confusing way, so players may find themselves getting lost on numerous occasions throughout the course of the game. There are moments in the game where the layout of the buildings are downright baffling, almost to the point of Wayne’s World-like rage. This is made easier when you discover that you can use elevators and warp through air vents, but again, this information is never officially relayed to the player at any point.
This isn’t helped by the lack of variety of actual enemies to fight either, and the ones that you do face physically push you back to a point where it becomes infuriatingly difficult to get any offense in whatsoever. This is especially annoying when it comes to fighting enemies that have guns, as taking a single bullet will launch you away from them, taking a sizeable chunk off your health at the same time.
The bosses that players will encounter are all familiar faces from the movie, such as the evil Dorian Tyrell, the rip-off merchant auto-repairmen and Ipkiss’ angry landlady Mrs. Peenman. The bosses don’t require any major strategies to defeat, just to bash away at them with whatever attacks that you have handy.
When it comes to The Mask‘s graphics, things are pretty unspectacular. The character designs are colourful, wild and wacky for the most part (especially for the main character), but the visuals of the background scenery and buildings themselves are a bit of a letdown. For a game that was released in 1995, everything here looks somewhat dated, which is a massive hiccup for a game based on a move that had already been out for over a year by that point.
The sound is also a bit disappointing too. The soundtrack to the movie was a fun collection of spritely jazz club music and the hilarious “Cuban Pete” musical number, but the game has absolutely none of that charm and liveliness in its level music. There’s also a lack of soundbites of quotes from the movie. This is where I’m quite torn about the game; on the one hand, I’m really glad that there’s not an overload of annoying 16-bit digitised Jim Carrey quips constantly blaring out, but on the other, the almost complete absence of them makes the game feel a bit limp.
Overall, The Mask succeeds in its attempt to remain faithful to the silly mood of the movie, with some recognisable characters popping up as enemies and a few special attacks that directly reference some of the movie’s most memorable moments.
It’s unfortunately let down by a number of flaws that are too big to completely ignore. The combat system is unbelievably poor, the level designs are downright confusing at times, and the game fails to teach you any of the moves that you’ll be needing to utilise as you make your way through Edge City.
The Mask isn’t the worst movie tie-in out there, but by no means is it the best either. By all means check this out if you’re a big fan of the movie, but it is far from essential.
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