Tales of Kenzera: ZAU Review

There are times when we get an interesting backstory to how a game is made, and what it has been inspired by before we even play it. 

In Tales of Kenzera: ZAU that backstory is very moving indeed, with game director Abubakar Salim telling of his late father’s passing; the inspiration for the game. The true dedication and exuberance by Salim when talking about this project is infectious, as are all the other contributors; from games design to the outstanding composer. It’s one of those games you just hope will be good, especially once you’ve learnt about how it came together.  

Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is a Metroidvania game about coming to terms with grief and loss. It is a story within a story, and the game starts in a futuristic city set in the land of Kenzera. Here a grieving son reads a story about a shaman named Zau who makes a bargain with the God of death to get his father back. So off they both go on a magical quest full of danger, myth and adventure. 

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A wonderful storytelling experience

The storytelling is fantastic all the way through. The relationship and writing between Zau and the God of death is warm, funny, and poignant at all the right times. The tales and world-building from African culture are well imagined, inspiring, while being thoroughly absorbing at times. There are some amazing characters you meet along the way.

However, there are parts of me that feel sorry for Tales of Kenzera: ZAU, if only because we’ve just recently had a similar game in Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. That is a stronger Metroidvania adventure.  

Gameplay-wise you control Zau through a series of biomes and levels with main goals to achieve and secrets to find. The gameplay is fast and furious. Exploration-wise you zoom around, jumping off walls, double jumping in the air, sliding under obstacles. You will soon need nerves of steel to avoid traps and death, using your head to carefully plot your way through the levels. 

And as in games of this genre, there are places you will find on your map that require you to come back later, all when you have the requisite skills to tackle it. There are special areas called ‘Echos’ to find which reveal parts of the story for you to listen to and read. There are also some really nice set pieces, like a chase section through a shadow land that is extremely impressive. 

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Take in the world around you

The combat works great, allowing you to make the most of two distinguishable styles, according to the different masks you wear. The Moon mask gives a different skill set but is more ranged-focused and the Sun mask brings forth more hardcore melee tactics. Each one has a special attack which you can use sporadically. I enjoyed switching between the two different styles and combat overall is fast and fun. It does get more challenging as you progress but at all times Tales of Kenzera feels a bit more forgiving than other games of this type. You get special skills as you progress too – like the ability to freeze enemies which is a handy tactic to have. 

Visually, Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is charming, full of vibrant colours and fascinating biomes. The characters and enemies close up aren’t anything amazing, but on the whole it does a good job. Mostly, I liked the little cutscenes and there’s no doubt that the game can handle the fast furious pace of the action well. 

And soundwise is an amazing score by Nainita Desai which plays beautifully with the action but also adds to the wonder, engaging with the environment. The voice acting is superb as well, which gives the script verve, life and comedy throughout. 

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Thrills and spills

Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is a Metroidvania that comes with a heartwarming story, lovely visuals, and exciting gameplay. The main problem it has is that of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown sitting in the background – that has more tricks up its sleeve. But if you want a shorter experience, maybe a less challenging one complete with a ton of thrills and spills, then Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is a good option to have. 

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