Did you know that you’re wearing a mask right now? You wear it all the time. It might even suit you. Likewise, everyone around you is wearing a mask. Visages are all around us. But are there any strange ones? That’s the question you need to ponder – anything slightly odd about the masks you can see right now? Most likely not. I know where you can go where there are some that do come across as a little odd, though; it’s a game called Strange Masks made by Think Slow, which is the studio name of Francois Nicaise.
These masks…you don’t know them, but they most certainly know you. The one above is the Dull Mask; you’ll get quite acquainted with it if you were to play the game’s 15 level demo (for Windows, Mac and Linux). If you find a connection with the game, then you’ll be glad to hear that it’s already on sale for just 4€/ $5/ £3. A purchase is a one-time thing, and that means you’ll get the upcoming DLC featuring 15 new levels and a new 2Player VS game called Strange Masks Battle, at no additional cost, when it releases soon.
“But when the formation, number and diversity of the masks stacks up your brain instantly switches to thinking of the puzzle map as an environment – in my head I was thinking of each mask as a room.”
Sure, the game may not look like much, but that’s what I thought to start off with. However, I’m wise enough to not trust such first impressions and decided to head straight on in. As you can see in the screenshots, the interface and graphics are minimal throughout. The gameplay is similarly. Your task is to pair up all of the colored masks; at this point a countdown starts and you have to activate enough of the fire masks to open up the infinity portal, with the last task being to work your way back through the labyrinth of masks to the infinity portal before the timer runs out and then that level is done.
It probably sounds confusing, but it’s remarkably easy to understand and you’ll soon get into it. New mechanics are introduced with new masks, ensuring that what starts off as an easy game soon gets much more difficult as you have to consider your movements through the levels and your memory has to become sharper and keener to do that. With 50 levels, two labyrinths and a challenge mode which tasks you with going back through the levels and completing them in with fewer moves than you did previously, there’s quite a few hours of content in Strange Masks if you get into it.
The most peculiar thing started to happen the more I played Strange Masks. I realized that I was soon looking beyond the masks and at the bigger picture. The developer says of the game that it’s a puzzle game – a basic match-the-colors by memory – but that it also combines elements of dungeon crawling. Have you seen the game? It’s just a series of masks being flicked through, right? That’s all I saw before jumping in and giving it a go, and even in the first few introductory levels it remains just that. But when the formation, number and diversity of the masks stacks up your brain instantly switches to thinking of the puzzle map as an environment – in my head I was thinking of each mask as a room.
When you notice this happen you’ll appreciate the marvel it brings, as it reminds you just how amazing our brains are. This is a test of memory, essentially, so your brain absorbs the information you feed it when your first feel your way around – finding the dead ends and viable paths – and then turns it into something you’ll find easier to comprehend and remember. Those who have been playing games for years will probably find this subconscious exercise very easy to slip into as we do it with pretty much every game we play. We’ve trained ourselves to memorize level layouts, item locations, puzzle sequences, shot timings, bug exploits – all of these things. It’s almost scary when you take a moment to reflect over all of the games you’ve played and which you can play out and walk through in your head due to becoming so connected with their form.
Many times I’ve been told about memorization techniques, and the one that sticks out is the one that many magicians and professionals use. That is to associate whatever it is you are trying to remember with an image, so that when recalling or reciting it these images will flash up and trigger you to remember what they’re associated with, and you can do this with long sequences of things too. This has to be what you tap into when playing Strange Masks, as all you’re doing to assorting masks and understanding which one comes after each and what direction they sit in relation to each other. You draw up a map inside your mind.
It’s a pretty amazing little game, if only for cognitive reasons, so I hope that you look through its minimalist presentation and brave the demo, at least. Definitely worth trying out, especially if you’re fond of puzzles and/or memory games in any capacity. And I guess if you’re fond of dungeon crawlers too.