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Tales of Kenzera: Zau

Tales of Kenzera: Zau

Surgent Studios' first game tells a heartfelt story, but fails to deliver anything new and better in terms of gameplay.

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Ori and the Blind Forest, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Hollow Knight, The Messenger, Rogue Legacy 2 and even this year's Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. We've been blessed with many amazing 2D action/platformers the last few years, so it's hard for new games to break through to the upper echelon these days. Presentation, controls, level design, combat etc. Everything has to be great to please privileged players. That's why I think the fun and enjoyable Tales of Kenzera: Zau will vanish in the shadows of 2024's other amazing games.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau

I feel awful for starting this way, as Abubakar Salim has kept highlighting that Tales of Kenzera: Zau is inspired by the grief after losing his father, but there's nothing special about the game's story. Anyone who has experienced someone close passing away or even just thought about it knows where this tale will go five minutes into it. That doesn't mean it's outright boring. Most of you will be able to relate to the young shaman Zau's journey to defeat and capture three spirits for death himself to revive his father. Each dialogue and boss made me reminisce about my experiences with death, and that will obviously impact some more than others. My only problem with this take on it is that Tales of Kenzera: Zau ends up being very predictable and forgettable, even if it's fun to learn about Swahili culture.

Tales of Kenzera: ZauTales of Kenzera: Zau
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The same can be said about the gameplay. It's important to note that I prefer very reactive characters in platforming games. Some of the best include Dead Cells and Hollow Knight, because the characters react to most of my inputs straight away, no matter the situation. Tales of Kenzera: Zau feels extremely slow and unresponsive in comparison. My commands just take too long to register when playing on PlayStation 5, and it doesn't help that Zau barely reacts when jumping. A good thing for those of you less experienced with these kinds of games than yours truly, because it makes wall-jumping and other more complex platforming sequences easier. For more experienced players, however, it becomes a tad simple and mundane. Having areas with obstacles that feel like filler to reach the 10-hour mark for Platinum hunters on PlayStation is just the expired cream on top.

Still, it's not too bad when you get used to it and play on the game's premises. Running, dashing and jumping through levels without breaking a sweat is kind of refreshing after playing more challenging titles. Seeing the pretty colours and handful of eye-catching environments fly by while a good soundtrack plays in the background is a relaxing experience suited for a calm evening. At least until you come across enemies.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau
"Quick, we need something to avoid the player running straight forward for too long..."

Because an aspect Tales of Kenzera: Zau actually excels at compared to some of its counterparts is the combat. You're not exactly getting a diverse line-up of enemies here, but the system itself is quite fun and engaging. Seamlessly swapping between the Sun (Close quarters combat) and Moon (long distance) masks while mixing in a great dash/dodge, a ball of ice that freezes enemies and the special super attacks that can obliterate anything on screen if timed and used well is enthralling. We're not talking about anything like God of War, Dead Cells or other world-class combat systems here, but it's without a doubt the best part of this game.

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Sure, I've given the platforming some praise, but the flaws don't stop with slow and unresponsive controls that might be the reasons for the somewhat linear and simple level design. An element every so-called Metroidvania game must nail is the map, and Tales of Kenzera: Zau fails miserably in that department. Having tiny versions of the environment represented on the map is kind of cool, but not being able to see or mark areas you can't access yet is an enormous misstep. I would probably have spent a couple of hours more searching for the last few collectibles if it wasn't for the fact that each biome is fairly small and keeps track of how many I was missing in it. Not that this stopped it from being frustrating when going back to an area with a new skill, only to realise the unexplored area required another one I would get later.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau

To make a long story short: Tales of Kenzera: Zau is a fun game that is best suited for those of you somewhat new to the genre and/or want to reflect on the different stages of grief. Anyone looking for more have many better options out there, as unresponsive controls, fairly simple level design and a horrible map are shortcomings you just can't have when the competition offers something so much better. To end by saying something I know many will use to summarise the experience in podcasts: It's a good PlayStation Plus Extra game.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau
07 Gamereactor UK
7 / 10
+
Relatable story. Platforming is easy fun. Engaging combat.
-
Unresponsive controls. Boring level design. Terrible map.
overall score
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Tales of Kenzera: Zau

REVIEW. Written by Eirik Hyldbakk Furu

Surgent Studios' first game tells a heartfelt story, but fails to deliver anything new and better in terms of gameplay.



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