Tomb of the Mask is much akin to the mobile classic Pac-Man 256. Instead of starring a rotund dot-muncher, you control a flea-like being that hops from wall to wall, while the entire game has been squashed flat and seemingly squirted into a ZX Spectrum.
The story, such that it is, involves you seeking adventure, blithely wandering into a tomb, and finding a strange mask suddenly glued to your face. In the best tradition of classic comic books everywhere, the mask bestows superpowers on the wearer; and by superpowers, we mean the ability to rapidly bound about your surroundings.
This is just as well, given your current predicament. The tomb isn’t dead, you see. It’s packed full of deadly bats, strange floating faces that explode into ginormous gurning puffer fish, snakes that burst from walls, gun emplacements, surfaces composed entirely of spring-loaded knives, and hovering monkey-like craft intent on bombing you into oblivion.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s an always lurking and utterly relentless wall of lurid glowing death. Needless to say if it catches up, no natty mask will save your tomb-raiding life.
So, yes, this is another endless twitch-oriented survival game, but it has more than enough charm and smarts to stick around on your iPhone. The visuals, in all their eye-searing glory, elicit a nostalgic twang for anyone old enough to have experienced Sir Clive’s rubber-keyed wonder; but the delicate pixel art helps Tomb stand out among countless other App Store titles. And the vibrant colours at least make it easy for you to differentiate the game’s hero, the many enemies, and walls.
The real star of Tomb, though, is the combination of tight controls, smart level design, and always having death a few steps behind.
These combine to create a game of quick-thinking, precision and recognition. As you flick from wall to wall, you’ll start noticing patterns emerge in the procedurally generated challenges — sections of tomb you’ve seen before — but a moment’s hesitation is always enough to end your tiny Lara Croft wannabe. Get into the zone, grabbing coins and infrequent power-ups, regularly avoiding death by the narrowest of margins, and Tomb becomes an exhilarating, exciting mobile effort among the best twitch-based offerings on the platform.
There are times when you’ll wish Tomb was a little more retro, though. During repeat play, the freemium trappings — watch a video to regenerate, or pay coins to continue (that you can buy via IAP, natch) — become all too clear.
You’ll wish for an alternate mode with three lives, like in the old days, and a high-score table free from scallywags buying their way to the top. But such shortcomings won’t stop you having another go and cursing your thumbs when they again send your little masked kleptomaniac hurtling into a wall of cyan blades.