Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death was developed by Zootfly and published by 505 Games. It was released on September 20, 2013 for $14.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.
With the end of the current console cycle staring many gamers in the face, some have moved their attention to either the new consoles or the handful of the triple-A titles still coming out on the 360. If that is the case, fans of the action-adventure genre are missing out on a sleeper Xbox Live Arcade title called Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death.
The developer, Zootfly, worked on Marlow Briggs for quite some time. First they had an agreement to release the game with 505 Games, but financial issues prevented that from happening. Microsoft briefly expressed interest in releasing the title but changed its focus to the Xbox One. Having secured more money, 505 Games came back into the picture and was eventually able to assist Zootfly with the release of the game. However, as of this writing, Zootfly has left the video game industry and switched its focus to casino gaming under the new name IBzoot, as a wholly owned subsidiary of Interblock. But be thankful that before Zootfly left the industry, it was able to leave gamers with Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death. It is a better than average action-adventure title that provides quite a punch for such a small price tag.
Here’s What We Liked:
Less is More – When it comes to the story of Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death, it is very simple at its core, which is a good thing as it doesn’t bog down the action. Eva Torres is a translator, who’s been hired by Heng Long to decipher artifacts that will unravel ancient mysteries and give him more power. Marlow, an off-duty firefighter, shows up to Eva’s work one day (providing her with a moment of clarity) at which point she realizes Heng Long’s evil intentions. When Eva tries to resign from her post, Heng Long forbids it and orders one of his assistants to kill Marlow. The assistant grabs what looks to be an ordinary scythe to strike down Marlow, but unbeknownst to everyone is the fact this relic is a powerful, ancient Mayan killing instrument. Raised from the dead by the Mask of Death, Marlow starts out on his mission to save his girlfriend and put a stop to the devious Heng Long.
God of War-like controls – The action contained in Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is clearly the best part of the game, and Zootfly was smart to give players a familiar control scheme. Players alternate between a two-button attack scheme: normal attacks and the more potent variety; as well as stick-flicking dodge and one-button block systems, which all firefighters turned ancient Mayan explorers need. Marlow will often be attacked by numerous enemies at once, necessitating a need to grab some of them and toss them, or turn the tide by stealing the enemy’s essence to have them fight for him. With the inclusion of the universal jump button, solid responsive controls are in place to guide the gamer to defeating Heng Long.
No Fuss No Muss – As players traverse a series of Mayan jungles and Heng Long’s factory outposts, they will unlock 4 different weapon configurations to dole out some serious street justice. Each weapon comes with three upgrade slots which, when maxed out, turn these weapons into fierce killing machines. The Mask of Death has also bestowed upon Marlow four elemental powers that can be upgraded just like his weapons. As long as players continue to progress thru the story, all weapons and powers will be maxed out by the time you reach the final boss battle.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is not breaking any new ground here. It is a six hour hack-and-slash romp with a relatively cheap price tag. Rather than reinvent the wheel, Zootfly clearly borrowed from previous games. The combat and large action set pieces are a direct result of being influenced by God of War, the puzzles could have been taken from X-Men Origins: Wolverine and the prevalent in-game traversal system is reminiscent of Tomb Raider. Take all these influences and mash them up against their own set of ideas and Zootfly has created a very fun, action-packed arcade title.
Here’s what we didn’t like:
Bugs, Bugs and more Bugs – Yes, there are some of the ground-crawling variety, but what is more prevalent are the kind that live in the code of this game. Having previously documented the struggle that Zootfly had with getting a publisher, it’s possible that some of the last minute money issues might have affected the QA process. On more than one occasion the game locked up, requiring a hard power cycle of the Xbox, along with some noticeable freezing issues that lasted in the 10-15 second range. Unfortunately, there was also a game-ending glitch where the camera position got stuck in an animation, preventing Marlow from being visible as he climbed his way up a large rock wall. In a second play through of this game, this bug, thankfully, could not be reproduced.
Repetition strikes again – Maybe this is nitpicking or maybe this has just become standard practice with games of this ilk, but the rinse-repeat cycle of the same enemy types is abundant throughout the game. Players will encounter over and over again: large and small bugs, soldiers, possessed soldiers, brutes, Mayan juggernauts, Mayan priestesses and maybe a few more. When writing that down, it sounds like quite a varied group of baddies to fight, but over the course of six hours of hacking and slashing through them, it does weigh on the player.
Marlow Briggs and the Mask of Death is a game that might not have been on many people’s radars. However, it is a game that is chock-full of action, platforming, puzzles and yes, even some embarrassing helicopter missions. In the creation of this tile, Zootfly wasn’t trying to make a clone of previous games under the shroud of some super serious storyline. Instead they borrowed from quality games, injected some street humor and capped it off with some downright intense action that’s fun to play from beginning to end.
Score: Buy It