There has yet to be a Castlevania game where, upon starting, my initial question was, “Should I use a photo of my butt?” Yet that was something I was quickly confronted with in Square Enix’s new fearless vampire killer app, Bloodmasque.
Like a lot of other publishers, Square Enix has been trying to figure out how a long-playing game fits on a mobile device, but up until Deus Ex: The Fall, they’ve had their audiences spending more than playing. Bloodmasque, an original action horror game set in 19th century Paris, represents the developer’s latest bid for something fulfilling and original: at once an action RPG, a sprawling gothic tale, and a circus tent full of mobile trends.
The most barkered feature of Bloodmasque is the first thing it walks you through. This is not a cinematic of the Parisian streets plagued with blood-suckers, nor is it a flash of optimizable Square Enix weaponry, nor is it even the option to use actual currency to buy in-game “rubies.” Bloodmasque begins with stretching and pulling any three images from your phone to create the face of your slayer, who will then tromp through the streets of Paris and interact with other stretch-faced stake-holders.
Alas, I did not use a photo of my butt.
I debated using my butt. I debated using a photo of Danzig. I debated using a dog’s butt. But, sadly, Bloodmasque warns, repeatedly, that inappropriate or copyrighted material slapped on your character’s mug would have some sort of undefined recourse. You have three face slots for three moods, and because my brother and I recently had a discussion about the Queen’s sourer face on the new 20-dollar bill, I had a hunch that the regal figure would do just fine as my night stalker.
I was right. With her tinted face wrapped around a 3D model, the monarch looks like Patrick Stewart in night vision. It’s a goofy and whimsical feature that begs for shenanigans and gut-busting–but it’s something usually found in sharable photo apps, not a gothic RPG. If you look at mobile gaming as a puzzle that hasn’t quite been solved yet, Bloodmasque is a bunch of pieces cavalierly wedged together: combat is lifted from Infinity Blade and Horn; in-game currency usually falls short of purchasing what you need; exploratory missions turn into surreptitious grinding; interactions take on the feel of an MMO. In my travels I met many snapshots of men and women, decked out in customizable outfits and coiffures and giving tongue-lashing wazzup faces in victorious battles. We slaughter together, united by goofiness.
If mobile gaming is a puzzle that hasn’t been solved yet, Bloodmasque is a bunch of pieces cavalierly wedged together.
There is also a greater narrative, told through videos and moody artwork, about your clandestine group of hunters trying to turn the tides in a France run by bloodsuckers. But there’s a big problem: you, the purported protagonist, are more a spectator and foot soldier to the tale than an active participant. Whatever skin you’re in is a pleasant diversion from Square’s usual roster of blondes (though don’t worry, they’re still in there), but it also makes you an everyman, taking away any gravity from your presence. Even your party members, gathered from a database, are throwaway accomplices. Without characters to care about or stakes in the story, there’s barely a role to play in this role-playing game.
Unless you have dreamt tirelessly of a game about a butt-faced vampire slayer. In which case: good hunting, brave soul.