Friday, June 4, 2021

Kaze and the Wild Masks (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

Kaze and the Wild Masks was released several months ago in a digital-only release. However, it just recently received a launch of a physical version, available at most retailers. This review covers not only this new retail version but also this wonderfully delightful Donkey Kong Country-inspired 2D platformer in adequate depth. Here is the SPC review of Kaze and the Wild Masks.

A magnificent masquerade and platforming party

Taking a quick glimpse of Pixelhive's Kaze and the Wild Masks might give you the impression that it's heavily influenced and inspired by Nintendo's own Donkey Kong Country series of games. Despite the old adage of not judging a book by its cover, your impression would be quite apt. However, just because Kaze and the Wild Masks owes a lot to Rare and now Retro Studios' platforming works, it doesn't mean the game is at all uninspired. What you get with Pixelhive's platformer is a beautiful, well executed game with smooth controls and delightfully designed levels.

While on an adventure of her own, Kaze and her sister stumble upon a sinister sorcerer named Typhoon. Typhoon uses his evil magical powers to transform Kaze's sibling into a spirit, and then vanishes without a trace. Kaze's adventure deals with her needing to re-encounter Typhoon, defeat him, and somehow break the curse that has stricken her sister. 

Bad news for Kaze and her sister, but good news for us, as players, as we get to enjoy some simply divine platforming. Kaze controls very much like Dixie Kong in Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3, complete with a spin maneuver, the ability to twirl her ears to glide as she descends to cross otherwise un-crossable chasms, a ground pound of sorts, and of course plenty of jumps and bops on enemy heads to go around. Most importantly with all of these abilities available to her is that Kaze feels great to control. Her movements are smooth and consistent, and controlling her just feels terrific to do.

Kaze's journey starts off leisurely enough, but quite quickly she'll face a number of perilous platforming challenges.

Kaze and the Wild Masks will feel right at home for anyone who has played any of the Donkey Kong Country games. Levels generally have a central gameplay mechanic to them that is iterated on from the start of a level to its conclusion, usually becoming more challenging as the level progresses. One level, "Lights On, Lights Off" incorporates an original DKC "Stop and Go Station"-style switch system that turns on lights to put crab-like monsters to sleep when the light is on, but of course the lights don't stay on for long. Thus, Kaze needs to hightail past the sleeping crab monsters while the lights are on in order to not take damage before the lights turn off and the enemies awaken. Other levels feature obstacles like a perpetually pursuing tide of toxic water that rises throughout the level that requires Kaze to make haste or fall in the instant-death liquid, or ziplines and gusts of wind that Kaze's ears can be put to work in to make her ride down them and ride up them, respectively.

There's no time to be hanging out with these spiked enemies looming above you, Kaze!

Each main level in Kaze and the Wild Masks includes a wide assortment of collectibles to uncover. There are four letters spelling out "KAZE" to find, two bonus stage portals, and various pink gems to collect. The bonus stages feature challenges like collecting every crystal and reaching the goal, all the while avoiding damage and beating the clock before it counts down and hits zero. One lovely quality of life improvement compared to the Donkey Kong Country series here is that if you fail a bonus stage, it's as simple as quickly retrying to immediately start back inside the stage, rather than being booted out with no recourse to return to it unless you restart the level or perish. 

Slipping and sliding around to nab that golden "K", one of four letters to collect in each level.

Meanwhile, collecting all of the bonus medals in a given world of Kaze and the Wild Masks unlocks an extra level. These are generally more gimmick-themed than what you'll find in the main game, whether incorporating invisible platforms, requiring precise timing to bounce off the heads of enemies over a massive bottomless pit that stretches across the entire level, or including a ride on a lift that rises as Kaze must dodge and endure a bullet hell-like obstacle course. 

The Donkey Kong Country influences don't end with the general base gameplay and collectibles either, as Kaze and the Wild Masks uses similar animal transformations as seen in the DKC series. The only difference instead of entering a barrel to transform into one of many forms, Kaze dons one of the many eponymous masks of the game. Each of the masks presents a new gameplay style to get accustomed to, and this breaking in period is quite easy due to helpful tutorials that organically occur in the levels. From the hawk mask that sprouts a pair of wings on Kaze for her to flap around levels, to the tiger mask that promotes Mega Man X-style air dashes and wall climbing, to the dragon mask that turns levels into a DKC-style mine cart ordeal (though with the ability to double jump and dive, which opens up the fun factor considerably), the masks in Kaze and the Wild Masks are all fun to use for the most part. 

Take flight, Kaze! The hawk is but one of the four masks featured in the game. 

Each of the four worlds in Kaze and the Wild Masks concludes with a boss battle, and much like the levels and secrets designed in the game, these boss fights feature incredibly clever ideas as well. The execution of these encounters is well done, and they never really outwear their welcomes, save for the final boss. That said, the final boss is a more an endurance run, and a culmination of every mask and ability Kaze encountered throughout her adventure.

This particular boss is the root of all problems in the first world.

Speaking of the adventure, Kaze and the Wild Masks isn't too lengthy of a game, unfortunately. I would say clearing it for one's first time might take anywhere between 4-7 hours depending on the player's skill level. Now, this game really ramps up the difficulty, and if you want to 100% complete the game, your time may take longer, especially if you wish to attempt to clear every level and boss battle without taking damage. Additional individual speed runs and online level leaderboards add to the longevity of Kaze's platforming journey, making for a game that very much doesn't linger but could have stood to last a teensy bit longer.

Kaze and the Wild Masks is a lovely looking game. The sprites are immensely detailed, as are the environments, which are visually striking and varied. On the Nintendo Switch version, the frame-rate was never an issue, at least not noticeably so for this particular player, so it really depends on your platform preference for what system to get the game on. Musically, the tunes are inspired--I enjoyed the main theme the most, but every other track is well done. It doesn't quite hold a candle (or perhaps in this case, a carrot) to David Wise and company's musical creations in the Donkey Kong Country series, but then again, very little does so that's not a really fair comparison to make. 

The final world definitely heats things up difficulty-wise--even more than the game already has!

Looking for an entertaining but relatively short 2D platformer that invokes wonderful DKC-style gameplay while adding a few interesting twists of its own? Then, Kaze and the Wild Masks is indeed worthy of your time. It's challenging, it's gorgeous to look at, and it's packed to the brim with exceedingly well done designs in both levels and boss battles. I waited quite a while for the retail release of the game to arrive, but fortunately and blessedly so, my wait was most definitely worth it.

[SPC Says: B+]

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