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“Tales Of Kenzera: ZAU” Review


Given how often we hear people talking about books and stories transporting us to other worlds, it’s curious how infrequently it’s used as a story device in video games.

But that’s exactly what happens to Zau in Tales Of Kenzera: ZAU (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, PC), a new side-scrolling action game in which a young man grieving the death of his father reads a Bantu tale written by his dad, only to find himself transported to the land of Kenzera, where, he hopes, he can bargain with Kalunga, the God Of Death, to bring his Baba back to the land of the living.

If only it was that easy.

Or that unique.

Tales Of Kenzera ZAU

That’s because…

— and this is an observation, not a criticism, as you’ll see — Tales Of Kenzera: ZAU is a pretty typical side-scrolling action game. In his quest to find three spirits and impress Kalunga, Zau does what everyone does in these kinds of games: run, jump, double jump, jump at just the right time to avoid being squished, jump from one wall to another to up a level, and so on.

You also have boxes you can move and then jump up onto, as well as platforms you can jump through, both upward and downward.

Combat in Tales Of Kenzera: ZAU is also typical for these kinds of games, as Zau has a mix of ranged and melee attacks. Though it works a little differently here because the kinds of attacks you do depend on which mask you’re wearing at the time.

When wearing the Mask Of The Moon, you have a heavy melee attack, as well as the ability to shoot energy projectiles, which you can aim by holding down the left trigger. Though be warned: you’re limited to eight shots before you have to take a moment to recharge.

Tales Of Kenzera ZAU

Switch to the Mask Of The Sun,

though — which you can do on the fly, including mid-battle — and you do both light and heavy melee attacks, with neither needing time to recharge.

Both sets of attacks work well in Tales Of Kenzera: ZAU, and serve their purpose…though as someone who has a tendency to button mash when attacked, not having to recharge makes the Mask Of The Sun ones more reliable.

Along with their normal attacks, both the Mask Of The Sun and the Mask Of The Moon also have specific powerful, and rechargeable, attacks.

When wearing the Mask of The Moon, for instance, your Lunar Blast sends out the kind of powerful beam of energy usually reserved for destroying rebel planets.

Tales Of Kenzera ZAU

Zau also has abilities…

that aid both combat and navigation. When wearing the Mask Of The Moon, you can throw Bamba’s Stones, which can not only temporarily freeze your enemies, but also any running water, which allows you to run on top of a river that normally has a strong current, or use a waterfall to wall jump.

All of which is why Tales Of Kenzera: ZAU will remind many people of other side-scrolling action games they’ve played. Especially the recent Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown, which shares a similar art style and color palette.

Well, mostly. Because its setting is an Afrofuturist / Africanfuturist one — as opposed to Prince Of Persia‘s Middle Eastern motif — Tales Of Kenzera: ZAU also reminds me of something that doesn’t exist: a Black Panther side-scroller set after Captain America: Civil War in which T’Challa has to come to grips with the death of his father, T’Chaka.

Tales Of Kenzera ZAU

The thing is,

while Tales Of Kenzera: ZAU may recall other side-scrolling action games, real and imagined, its lack of originality and inventiveness doesn’t make it any less fun. In large part because what it does like other games, it does really well. The combat is fluid, the traversal is challenging, and both work really well thanks to intuitive and responsive controls.

In other words, it’s as engaging as any side-scroller you’ve enjoyed in recent years. And yes, that includes yours as well, my liege.

That said, it does have one issue.

There are times in Tales Of Kenzera: ZAU where even the biggest side-scrolling fans might find themselves frustrated. Like when your jump has to be timed so precisely, and in coordination with also hitting a button combo at just the right moment, that when you finally pull it off — after trying far too many times — you’ll feel it had more to do with luck than skill.

Tales Of Kenzera ZAU

In the end,

while Tales Of Kenzera: ZAU isn’t the most original side-scrolling action game ever made, and can occasionally be frustrating, it still manages to be engaging and (usually) effortlessly fun. And may even be cathartic for some people.

Though whether it’ll get you to pick up a book once in a while remains to be seen.

SCORE: 8.0/10



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