I’d been meaning to check this one out for a while. It didn’t help that I didn’t even have the name right (it’s actually called Mark of Kri). But I found a used copy for $12 last week. In fact, there were about a half dozen cheap used copies on the shelf.
Which is a damn shame. What a great piece of work! Not many gamers appreciate the difference between artwork and graphics, but this is an example of stellar artwork. I love the fresh cultural context (vaguely Asian/Mongolian?), the animation, the little ring-tailed ferrets crawling around the inn, the voicework, the sound (there are some really cool effects playing under the “music”, which isn’t music so much as atmosphere). Mask of Kri manages to fully realize someplace new without resorting to the same tired look and feel as so many other games.
The combat system is great, too. Very gratifying to learn, without being too complex. You can draw a sword and wade into a crowd of bad guys and really feel like you’re in the fight rather than just mashing buttons. I love the way the AI reacts to you. If you violently dispatch someone, all his buddies rear back for a while, scared of you. I wish more games would do something like this to reinforce the idea of Player as Total Bad-Ass.
The developers struck a great balance between stealth and good old-fashioned ass-kicking. Compare this to something like Splinter Cell or Thief, where you have to be afraid all the time because you’re so frail. Stealth is often preferable in Mask of Kri, but there’s nothing wrong with knocking a few heads from time to time.
I like the way they use the Spirit Familiar to address camera issues and to lay out the level design for the player. You can fly a bird around to check out the level ahead of you. This gives you a much better sense of where you’re going, what you’re doing, and what’s in your way. The level design is ultimately as guided as Splinter Cell, for instance, but it doesn’t feel as limited. You can unlock some arena challenges which are pure combat, with all the weapons and no sneaking around.
I went to wumpus’ favorite site, GameRankings, to see how Mask of Kri fared and was disappointed to see it woefully underrated by some of the bigger sites. I get the sense that it might be a fairly short game, which might account for some of the low review scores, but I’d rather play ten hours of Mask of Kri than twenty hours of Metroid Prime. The save system (you have to find and use ‘save scrolls’) might annoy some people, but it hasn’t been a problem for me.
Anyway, Mask of Kri is one of those games like Cloaca 2 that’s been on my ‘try to get around to it one day’ list. I’m glad I finally got around to it. Now I might even remember to call it by its actual name.