Tales of Kenzera: ZAU – Preview
The EA Originals program has been running for a few years now and delivered some wonderful titles, most of which have come from either existing studios or known developers that are trying something new. Surgent Studios is not only a new studio, but its founder Abubakar Salim is also a first time game maker, does a passion for making a personal story in game form make for a good game? Thanks to EA and Surgent Studios, we got to play the game and so far, things are looking very good indeed.
Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is a personal journey about loss and dealing with the grief that comes along with that and while the story is about Zau and the passing of his father, grief does come in many forms. There is obviously a lot going on with the story, but given that the build we played was only from the opening section, there isn’t much we can talk about here. The basic premise is that Zau upon losing his baba, has preyed to Kalunga to return his father back to him. Knowing that Kalunga, the god of death, won’t just do so out of the kindness of his heart, Zau sweetens the pot, promising to return to him the three spirits that have eluded him until now. Kalunga is not convinced that Zau has what it takes to undertake such a journey and deal with the hardships that come along with it, so he decides to tag along, at least at the start and that is where we get to take control of Zau.
The gameplay is metroidvania based, the developers have stated that from the outset, and the moment you start to play, you will see they were not kidding. Zau is a warrior shaman so he knows about spirits and the stories that have been passed down through his father, but he is not an almighty being yet. So he has taken the Moon and Sun masks that his father once had, each providing abilities in combat and outside of it. The Moon mask is used for long-range combat, think of it as your gun, it has a shot count before it reloads, so you can’t just spam attack. The Sun mask is your melee option, it uses a spear and lets you get close to lay the smack down upon spirits that block your way. Each mask also has a special ability that you can use, in the demo the only one we got was the Moon masks, Bamba’s Stone, which freezes any water it comes into contact with. Kalunga explains the origins of the Bamba’s Stone when you obtain it, so I won’t say anything more about it.
Coming off of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, I knew exactly what I wanted the gameplay to be here, and it delivered. Unlike Prince, Zau can stop on a dime when running and even runs without being prompted to, but he can also double jump and climb like a pro. So far combat has been limited to encounters, entering into a room and then having to deal with a few enemies that spawn in, with progress being stopped until you defeat them. Where combat came alive for me, was in the swapping between the masks, as you can only have one equipped at a time, thankfully a single button press swaps them. With the Sun mask on you can wallop the nearest enemy, then swap to the Moon mask and shoot the enemy on the other side of the screen who was taking shots at you. Combine all that with some solid dodging and jumping, and combat felt fluid enough that I didn’t feel like I was fighting the game to do what I wanted.
I also discovered a host of hidden nooks, some of them had statues that offered up things that I assume are Bantu proverbs. Given that there are likely going to be more in the full game, then its highly likely they will have more secrets to discover. As I said earlier, I also got the Bamba’s Stone power, which froze water, that means water rushing across the stage, or falling from on high. This opened up a lot more platforming and discovery opportunities than I thought would be there and while soon after getting that power the demo did come to an end, it does provide hope that there will be some really fun and complex platforming later on.
Tales of Kenzera: ZAU has the basics for a good metroidvania down, the combat is fun and being able to swap between the two different attack options means you can adjust if one is not working for you. There are some fun platforming elements early on and while not hard, it does bode well for some great challenges later on. The only part that concerns me right now is the story, as there is just not enough time to get to know Zau before the demo ended. The game is set to release in April, so there isn’t much time left before the full release and so far, I am very intrigued on how everything is going to play out.
The game is set to release on April 24th for Switch, with the game listed now on the eShop.