Summer 2020 saw Microsoft do something on Xbox that I always wanted to see consoles do: release a bunch of E3 like demos for fans at home to be able to play. There were dozens and dozens of demos put up for independent games that were coming in the future. Quite a few of those demos put some upcoming games on my radar that I otherwise might’ve not paid much attention to. However, one in particular stood out and spoke to me very loudly and that was Kaze and the Wild Masks from publisher Soedesco and developer PixelHive Studios. Kaze is a love letter to 16-bit platformers with Donkey Kong Country in particular being a direct source of inspiration. The Donkey Kong Country games are still to this day some of my favorite platformers of all-time so if you’re a fan of them like I am then you’re going to want to play this.
When you start the game up you can choose to play on two different difficulty modes. I went with the original mode for more of a challenge but if you have any issues with that you can go with casual mode instead which gives you more lives and checkpoints. Once you pick that you’ll watch a short opening scene that features our rabbit hero Kaze and her friend Hogo finding a mysterious bracelet. The bracelet ends up blasting Kaze back and then absorbs Hogo trapping him inside it. We then see Kaze get shot out of the area but Hogo manages to put a protective shield around her to protect her from the fall. From there you land on the world map and you have to help Kaze rescue Hogo. Yes, the story isn’t anything memorable but it isn’t really in games like Mario or Donkey Kong Country either so I’m not going to knock it really for that.
Once you enter the first level, you’ll find that this is a very easy 2D platformer for anyone to pick up and enjoy as the basic controls boil down to move with the stick or D-pad, jump with X, and perform a spin dash attack with square. You’ll also find that you can jump and press square to have Kaze spin her ears like a helicopter for a short glide just like Dixie Kong did in DKC. You’ll also be able to perform a ground slam by pressing down and square which can be used on enemies or to collect crystals hidden in the ground. As for what you’ll be using your attacks on there are no crocodiles in this world so instead you’ll be fighting vegetable enemies. How you defeat them also feels very much like Donkey Kong Country as you can use your spin dash with square or jump on them. If there are multiple enemies you can even bounce off one and onto the next and so on in the same way you did in Donkey Kong Country. Green spiky vegetables move back and forth and can’t be touched with your normal attacks just like the bees in Donkey Kong Country. Some people might find that Kaze feels too much like a rip off of Donkey Kong Country but as someone who just wants more of those games, I had no problem with it.
The levels are all really well designed and there are plenty of collectibles to find within them. There are pink crystals you can pick up as well as four golden letters that spell KAZE hidden about just as there was the KONG letters. Each level also has two hidden bonus stages each one rewarding you with half of a green gem if you beat it. They usually just have you collecting all the gems or defeating the enemies within it. A nice change here when compared to Donkey Kong Country’s bonus stages is that if you fail them you can immediately retry it rather than having to play the whole level over. Collecting the collectibles rewards you with gems for each level that end up unlocking art in an album that sheds a bit more light on the story of this world.
Besides going back and trying to find any collectibles you missed after completing levels another thing you can do is replay them to complete a time trial. If you can finish the level within a certain time limit, you’ll earn a gold medal and online leaderboards are present to show you how your time stacks up to the rest of the world for each level. Kaze isn’t a long game so I appreciated that these little extra things were here to help encourage some replayability. Getting in and out of levels only takes a few seconds and that goes for whenever you die as well so you’re never waiting long to get right back to it when you mess up.
The last part of the gameplay that I haven’t touched on is the masks that you find that bring some more variation to the experience. There are four of them in total and each one gives you a different ability. The shark mask will have you darting through water, the eagle mask lets you fly through the sky and shoot projectiles, and the tiger mask lets you perform wall jumps. Each level that you get to use these is designed around them and I enjoyed the different gameplay style that each one brought to the table.
Visually the game is beautiful as each level is wonderfully colored and there is a lot of variety from jungles, snowy artic areas, underwater adventures, and more. All of the enemy sprites are well done and Kaze has some nice animation work including several idle animations and a funny one that she does if you move her too close to an edge. The soundtrack is another stand out area in this game with a score that once again reminded me very much of what David Wise did in Donkey Kong Country. There’s a lot of variation throughout so I never was hearing the same thing to get tired of it. Sound effects are done well too from the sound of every collectible you pick up, the whirling of Kaze’s ears through the air, or her just yawning when standing idle. Finally, those interested in the trophies will find 26 of them including a Platinum. It’s a pretty easy list with the hardest ones being to beat all levels without being hit and completing the game in under two hours.
Kaze and the Wild Masks is a must-play game for any 2D platformer fan and especially those who loved Donkey Kong Country. The controls are smooth and responsive and the difficulty gradually builds and never felt unfair. Every level looks great and sounds great and it made replaying them to hunt down any gems I missed much more enjoyable. I can’t speak highly of it enough and when we get to the end of 2021 it deserves to be in the discussion for best platformer of the year.
*Kaze and the Wild Masks is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. PlayStation 4 version reviewed on a PlayStation 5. Review copy provided by the publisher for this review.
Kaze and the Wild Masks$29.99
- Fun, responsive, and challenging platforming gameplay
- Lots of collectibles to gather and replay levels for
- The masks help add variation to the gameplay
- Outstanding art work and soundtrack
- Absolute love letter to games like Donkey Kong Country
- Wish it was longer
- Some may feel it borrows too much from DKC