Tales of Kenzera: ZAU wallpaper
May 12, 2024

Join Zau on an emotional journey through grief, as you embark on a difficult quest in our Tales of Kenzera: Zau review!

From the first reveal trailer, Tales of Kenzera: Zau looked promising, promoting a new metroidvania with a deep story. Surgent Studios have clearly worked hard to deliver on this concept. As their first game under the EA Originals publisher tagline, the passion for this project is clear, headlined by the voice of Bayek (Abubakar Salim) in AC Origins.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review fire and ice masks

A tale of fire and ice but with less betrayal!

However, does this live up to the tall tale or will the book remain closed on this chapter? Find out in our Tales of Kenzera: Zau review!

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review – Story

Let us open the cover on this emotional journey as you begin playing, not as Zau but as Zuberi. Living in a futuristic city, he mourns the recent death of his father, who left a book he wrote. This is the Tale of Zau, set in the mystical lands of Kenzera, who also has lost his father or Baba. In this tale, Zau and his father before him are both shaman, who wield powerful masks that grant them powers.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review futuristic city

Is that the Jedi temple??

Not being able to bear the loss of his Baba, Zau calls upon Kalunga, the God of Death to bargain for his return. He strikes a deal with Zau and will grant his wish, if he can put to rest the three great spirits of Kenzera. His journey takes him across all manner of environments, from jungles and caverns to lava filled mountains, all whilst trying to cope with his grief.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review Zau speaking with Kalunga

You begin at the tree of life…

Zau engages and overcomes all five stages of grief through exploration and boss battles which culminates in a heartwarming, yet somewhat predictable, ending. As the game suggests upon completion, it may be true that “Every story begins at the end of another”.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review Zuberi and Mama

Anyone who has lost a close one will feel something in this game.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review – Gameplay

Every Shaman in Kenzera uses masks to enhance their latent powers and use them for the betterment of their people. In this case Zau, has two, a mask based on fire and one of ice. This yin/yang gameplay element is more than just a metaphor as each mask has different abilities and styles. The Sun mask focuses on melee combat and D.O.T attacks whilst the Moon mask hurls projectiles at enemies with an additional ability to freeze them.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review platforming

Run! Jump! Dash! All the staples are here!

Your basic abilities consist of jumping and dashing, however the combat lacks a block or parry mechanic, resulting in zipping from enemy to enemy rather than focusing on one at a time. This makes each encounter feel all over the place as you end up dashing to avoid attacks whilst trying to avoid other enemies. It just doesn’t quite gel and takes a while to get a good routine down. However, additional abilities unlocked further down the story does help this somewhat.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review beam attack

KA-ME-HA-ME-HAAAAA!

Conceptually, Tales of Kenzera is a metroidvania, although how well it works compared to other similar titles is questionable. The map is less interconnected and more, run from Point A to B, with a few side pathways to solve a puzzle on your way. The backtracking is also a bit of a let-down as some areas contained no enemies or additional challenges which made the game slightly less engaging.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review world map

Half of the whole map, it looks big but most areas take around an hour to complete

The challenge sections of the game where you go through an obstacle course of sorts to obtain a new talisman was a good break from the main story. Although some of them made for very frustrating encounters, with hit boxes from spikes or lava too sensitive meaning each run had to be absolutely perfect. Whilst this annoyance was fleeting, the overall gameplay was smooth and rather enjoyable, if not a tad simple.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review skill tree

The skill trees for the Moon (Ice) and Sun (Fire) Masks.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review – Graphics/Performance

The 2.5D world of Kenzera is stunning, with an almost cartoonish style combined with exciting colours, every level beams with intensity. Each location has meticulous detail in its surrounds and puzzle execution, for example being in a forest area gives you mushroom pads to bounce off whereas the volcano area throws hazards at you in the form of lava and hot air.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review visuals

Time to play, “The floor is lava!”

The bosses in Tales of Kenzera are equally well designed although not much can be said about the common foes you face. Whilst they are not necessarily bad, they are quite basic with very limited types. Any new introductions are just the same character model with a shield or different attack, which means by the end of the game or even the middle for that matter, you know how each enemy attacks.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review bird boss fight

Polly want a cracker? A really big cracker?

Overall the performance (on PS5) was very smooth and the controls were very responsive. There weren’t any noticeable frame drops in any action heavy sequences even though all the particle effects made it difficult to tell enemies and Zau apart. One issue, especially in parkour challenges where you had to time moves to the second, seemed trickier due to a really small hit box as more often than not, death would follow an unlikely collision with an obstacle.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review visuals

Spikes = death

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review – Audio

As you explore the wonderful land of Kenzera, you will be met with a fantastic backdrop of ear pleasing music. It combines the sounds of the African Bantu people along with a generous helping of synth under tones. Nainita Desai does an amazing job of following Zau through his grieving process and presenting it to the player. This soundtrack is accompanied beautifully with wonderful voice acting from every character, making you feel their pain and loss every step of the way.

A plus for PS5 players comes from the DuelSense controller that emits sounds when performing special attacks as Zau. Additionally, the voice echo collectable emits from the controller, making it actually feel like an echo. Another intricate sound design comes from your mask you have equipped as the fire mask will exude flame like sounds when jumping/dodging and ice resonating with those specific moves too.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review giant skull

This does not bode well…

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review – What Else?

Unlike most metroidvanias’ that boast side missions with extra areas you may only find if you explore, Tales of Kenzera: Zau features almost none of this. There are a few collectables in the forms of talismans, health upgrades, voice echo’s and even a handful of combat challenges but most of these can be found along the main path. They can even be completed as you go with very little of them requiring a return to that area once you have unlocked a certain ability.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review giant tree

These tree locations increase your health which is definitely worth seeking out!

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review – Conclusion

If you want a poignant tale of a man coming to terms with loss then Tales of Kenzera: Zau is for you. The story is the main focus here and although combat isn’t perfect it still contains more than enough fun and challenge for any player.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau review climb to the summit

Some peaceful saying, I just wanna fight!

Unfortunately the side content is severely lacking and most talisman upgrades barely help, however if you don’t want to spend over 20 hours on one game then this is perfect. Some sort of spiritual sequel (no pun intended) with a bigger focus on combat and exploration wouldn’t go astray but the Tale of Zau is just fine just on its own.

So, why should you play Tales of Kenzera: Zau?

  • Simple and Fun Metroidvania
  • Engrossing and Emotional story
  • Amazing music and African lore

But why shouldn’t you play Tales of Kenzera: Zau?

  • Combat lacks finesse
  • Backtracking through areas is generally boring
  • Not much side content

A review code was kindly provided by Surgent Studios for the purpose of our Tales of Kenzera: Zau review.  You can check out our latest reviews here and if you haven’t already, be sure to join the Qualbert Discord to find out about the latest game and review updates!

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