Kaze And The Wild Masks PS4 Review – Side scrollers are a dime a dozen, both past and present. However, the occasional title comes along and does something well enough to include it in conversations about the best of the best. Enter Kaze and The Wild Masks. Kaze has just that and what it takes to not only become part of that conversation but also generate its own franchise in the future.
Kaze And The Wild Masks Review – PS4
A Side-Scrolling Throwback
The game opens with Kaze and Hogo at the moment that their home, the Crystal Islands, is overtaken by a curse. Immediately, Hogo is magically placed in a jewelled bracelet, but they manage to protect Kaze from getting affected by the curse. Unfortunately, the rest of the island is in disarray with vegetables of all kinds going on rampages and wreaking havoc. Once the dust settles, Hogo lets Kaze out of his protective aura, and Kaze must find a way to combat the curse and free Hogo.
The inspirations behind Kaze are as clear as day, affectionately acting as a homage to the likes of Rayman, Shantae, and Donkey Kong Country. I thought about these inspirations immediately, since the gameplay mimics them all so closely. The more time I spent with Kaze, though, the more it began to feel like its own thing.
Kaze’s personality is subtle, but it comes across clearly on all fronts, from how her sprite moves to the handful of slightly-animated shots that appear from time to time. She’s motivated as all hell, and her motivation in this scenario is simple: Get Hogo back.
The core makeup of this side scroller is to navigate traps, cross rope bridges with your ears, and bounce on enemies all while on your way to the goal. Like many games of its ilk, Kaze is filled to the brim with collectibles. Crystals as well as four golden letters that spell “KAZE” are scattered across each level. There are also two well-hidden bonus stages on each level that have their own contributions to the overall story.
Completing the bonus stages awards a golden trapezoid, and each one of these applies to your in-game album. With each entry in the album comes another image, and these images contribute to the plot leading up to the game proper. Kaze and The Wild Masks uses no dialogue or text to tell the story, and the need to interpret everything adds to the compelling nature of the overall product. That’s not to say that it’s complicated to interpret, but presenting a story without telling it makes it more interesting to consume.
As the name implies, Kaze uses masks to defeat some bosses and navigate certain levels. Bringing attention to qualifiers “some” and “certain,” these masks only appear in a handful of scenarios, but more on that later. They give Kaze different powers to help traverse maps or fight baddies, such as flight, increased speed, or the ability to swim underwater.
Each one of these masks not only has its own gameplay style, but they also have their own pace. When using the bird mask, everything is paced as you flap by pressing Cross, making navigating its own level of tension. When using the tiger mask, the game demands that you react quickly, and you’re often chased or faced with more enemies to deal with. My personal favorite is the dragon mask, which acts like those on-rails missions from Rayman that are based on timing your actions rather than controlling Kaze’s movements.
There’s no authentic replay value revolving around the masks outside of mastering their unique levels and collecting everything, which is what every level is about. At the same time, the catered experiences make each mask feel powerful and useful. The variety that these masks bring to the game breaks up the formula very well, but there’s still some potential left on the table (for a sequel perhaps?).
The Surrounding Environment
The sound effects and music in Kaze help do a good job of building out the environment. Tracks help keep things moving without drawing too much attention to themselves. At the same time, the bosses’ tracks do their job of amping you up. Effects are the greatest part of Kaze’s sounds, making all interactions, hits, and each gathered item all feel substantial.
Another thing I cannot get enough of is the visual style of Kaze. The hand-drawn pixel art does wonders to the presentation and smooth animations do nothing but compliment the aesthetic.
Enemy designs offer up similar brilliance, as the game doesn’t discuss them in any detail. At the same time, each enemy has a ton of personality that’s conveyed entirely through animations, attacks, and sound effects. The cutscenes play into the pixel-style as well, even if they consist of only still images with select animations.
One aspect of the game that kept coming up is Kaze’s hitbox and how it reflects her actual body. On several encounters, I would slightly touch a hazard or trap, but as Kaze’s foot only slightly passed through the object it wouldn’t cause her damage, giving you a bit of flexibility and freedom as to how to approach situations. It’s very hard to recreate naturally, so don’t depend on it when playing though. It’s a lot of luck.
The flow of difficulty naturally gets more challenging, but each of the zones offers one or two stages that are much harder than the rest. These harder stages appear in the middle of the stage list as well, which makes progression kind of peculiar. You’ll struggle with one mission in the middle and then fly through the rest. These hindrances slow down the experience at times but they don’t ruin it at all.
An Instant Classic
Kaze And The Wild Masks is one of those games that pops up out of nowhere and becomes the game you didn’t know you wanted in your life. Kaze offers up so many aspects to the genre that make the classics so popular, but she still makes way for her own style and personality. Smooth animations, wonderful stylized characters and environments, and a hefty dose of collectibles help to complete the whole package. Kaze And The Wild Masks is a beautiful balance of inspiration and execution, and any side-scrolling fan would be hard-pressed to find a better new IP that’s equal parts accessible and challenging.
Kaze and the Wild Masks releases for PS4 on March 26, 2021, and is playable on PS5 via backwards compatibility.
Review copy provided by publisher.