Intro: Throughout the history of videogames, various consoles have served as one of the many pulpits for the gospel of film marketing. Videogame adaptations of movies are a strange breed. Motion Pixels will examine one such game each week, dissecting the basic gameplay, the graphics, and how faithfully it adapts the film on which it is based. Some are good, some are awful, and some are just down right weird, but they are all interesting experiments. We will also take a look at other cogs in a given film’s marketing machine. Grab some popcorn and a joystick and let the games begin!
Game/Movie: The Mask
System: Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Black Pearl Software
Year of Release: 1995
Graphics and Mechanics
Continuing our sloth-like climb up the technological ladder, we now enter the realm of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This graduation carries with it a few unsurprising advancements. The first would be the controller settings. The SNES boasts a four-button controller that augments the already semi-versatile two-button setup of the NES and, as if that weren’t enough, attaches two turbo buttons to the top of the controller. Now, if you are reading this column after spending the entirety of the last two decades on an Amish farm then that explanation was entirely necessary for you, and please allow me to extend my warmest greetings. Welcome to the internet!
The rest of us video game geeks know the difference between an NES controller and the SNES controller. The reason I mention it again is that the four-button setup is used to near perfection in The Mask. What I love about this game is the seemingly endless barrage of attacks one can unleash upon one’s enemies using various combinations of buttons. Part of the fun of playing this game is launching into full tornado spins and sending baddies hurling across the screen or whipping out absurdly large guns and obliterating all objects in your immediate vicinity. The Looney Tunes style mallet is also effective for delivering that definitive deathblow when the similarly cartoonish boxing gloves have painstakingly sapped their strength.
All in all the mechanics of The Mask are extremely solid. The button functions are immediately responsive and instinctively assigned with regard to how often they are used; the jump and basic attack buttons closest to the edge for immediate access. It’s mercifully simple to locate passageways, as simply pressing the “up” button will reveal their locations. The one complaint I do have is that, for all the benefit it provides in most situations, the frantic movements of the character tend to make simple, short jumps extremely difficult. Thankfully only one or two actual occasions arise wherein a short jump is necessary so the fault is negligible.
The basic gameplay of The Mask is as much about steering through animated mazes as it is about defeating a steady progression of bosses. The environments, for the most part, benefit from the escalation to 16-bit graphics, in that they are almost fully realized and very interactive. What would have been incidental environment detail in an NES game, a crack in the floor or an air grate on the wall, are now integral elements of navigation. There is one moment wherein the 16-bit upgrade actually causes a problem. I enjoy the fact that the SNES allows for objects to occupy the foreground as well as the area behind your character. However, in the park level, it convolutes the scenery to the point where I couldn’t even tell where the hell I was supposed to go. Take a look at the screen grab below…
Your immediate assumption should by all rights be that there was a glitch and the cartridge required a good “blowing.” But in fact, that is merely the foreground foliage...
...that playfully obstructs your vision as you make your way through the treetops. Annoying…doesn’t quite cover it.
Playing Before Instructions
The Mask, for all its wrong turns and secret passageways, is a pretty intuitive game. Even if you run full tilt like a 9-year-old on fire, odds are you will haphazardly arrive at the end of each level. Much like the aforementioned child bathed in flame, I spazzed my way to the end of each of the first five levels with relative ease. The bosses that awaited me at the conclusions of those levels were another matter entirely, but it never seemed like much of a chore to reach them. Then came the evil, evil sixth level. Like many games before it, The Mask features a sewer level.
Because if there is one thing kids love, it’s the idea of playing in a dank, disgusting sewer. The sewer level manages to take the novel, entertaining maze aspect of the previous levels and mutate it into a wretched, mean-spirited nightmare of wasted time. There is no rhyme or reason to any of the twists and turns and I kept waiting for the Minotaur to show up to smite me.
Playing After Instructions
I searched for walkthroughs online and the few I found were nearly as incomprehensible as the level itself. One set of instructions I read from a well-meaning fan simply relayed a chain of disjointed directions: up, down, right, down, left, up, right, out of your mind. Finally, and beholden to no amount of skill or intelligence, I lucked my way to the exit. If I had to play The Mask again, there is no chance I would have made it out alive, and I wish I were only talking about my green-faced avatar.
Eventually yes, I was able to beat the game. On the first two attempts, the final boss proved to be quite a task. He actually has the ability to shout at you and turn the entire screen into one big punch to the face; draining your health without even having to touch you. It would be like Bowser sneezing and causing you to loose your raccoon ears or fire power. But by simply keeping Dorian on the opposite side of the screen and repeatedly using the giant guns or horn attack, it wasn’t too bad. On top of that, the music notes wafting through the room provide enough health and morph power to keep you going so that helps. The band was apparently unfazed by the clash of the two green weirdoes before them. The reward for this feat was watching a pixilated reenactment of the big band dance number between Ipkiss and Cameron Diaz. Worth it?
Faithful to its Source?
The Mask is a game that sticks remarkably closely to its source material. I’m sure there are those among us who would balk at the idea of adapting a videogame after such a film, but the fact is that the film lends itself very well to the medium of game. The overtly cartoony quality of The Mask is not exactly taxing to recreate in 16-bit.
Jim Carrey’s banana zoot suit-wearing, rubber-faced alter ego is not bound by the laws of the real world and the game utilizes those same cartoon physics with gusto. They capture his Tex Avery-inspired silliness perfectly and nearly all of his antics from the film find their way into the game character’s arsenal of attributes, namely the horn, the mallet...
...and the blurry tornado spin. The funniest part of this is that the player is given the ability to squeeze into tiny vent shafts and survive falls from high-rises without a scratch but has their health routinely drained by alarm clocks, pussy cats, and falling bags of trash.
The game’s levels are almost all inspired by events in the film which, while seeming the most obvious prerequisite for adaptation, is not always something found in movie videogames. It begins in Stanley’s apartment, progresses out into Edge City, travels to Landfill Park, finds him escaping from jail, and climaxes at the Coco Bongo Club for the final confrontation. The game also harbors bosses based on actual characters from the film; Ipkiss’ landlady, the douchebag auto mechanics, and of course Dorian Tyrell. Lovable mutt Milo also makes a cameo or two sporting the green visage himself. Seriously, apart from the fact that game doesn’t begin with my drooling over Cameron Diaz looking the hottest of her career, it’s not a far cry from revisiting the film via the Super Nintendo. As an added perk, your 16-bit Jim Carrey does not speak and we are therefore spared his cavalcade of obnoxious catchphrases. Somebody shoot me!
I worried, just after purchasing this game, that it may have been based on the short-lived cartoon series and not in fact the feature film; a distinction that would disqualify it from this column. But it didn’t take long before the progression of levels and the eventual showdown with Dorian solidified that The Mask is in fact based on the Jim Carrey movie. The game and the cartoon were actually released within two months of one another so it seems the effort to sell the film to kids after the fact was in full swing in the fall of 1995.
Licensed to Sell
Speaking of marketing the film to kids, The Mask also enjoyed a full line of action figures.
I vaguely remember having a couple of these. I seem to recall one in particular that featured Stanley’s face and then, with a pull of his arm, a second face, clad in the familiar green mask, would spring from the chest cavity. That may not have been the way it worked at all, I’ve had several cocktails since then, but that’s what I remember. Here we have the molded plastic representation of the film’s villain Dorian Tyrell. This may mark the one and only time in Peter Greene’s career that he has appeared in a film with its own line of action figures. That is unless I’m ignorant of a Zed action figure with authentic kung-fu sodomy grip.