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August 2022

Kaze and the Wild Masks

Platform(s): Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Platformer
Publisher: SOEDESCO
Developer: PixelHive
Release Date: March 26, 2021


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PS4 Review - 'Kaze and the Wild Masks'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on March 26, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Kaze and the Wild Masks is a colorful 2D platformer where you journey through the Crystal Islands in 90’s classics platformer style.

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It might seem easy, but creating a 2D platformer is much tougher than it looks. The classics are classics because they had the right combination of visuals, gameplay and strong design to stand out among the Aero the Acrobats of the world. Kaze and the Wild Masks is a classic in spirit because it captures the same brightly colorful and charming platforming that made the Genesis and SNES home to some of the best platformers. The result is a game that's both classic and modern, and it does wonderfully at both.

In Kaze, the titular bunny girl and her sibling explore an ancient ruin when an evil curse is unleashed. Her sibling is sucked into a magic ring, and Kaze almost meets the same fate but is saved at the last minute. Now she must return to the ancient ruin and find out who unleashed the curse. The story is told mostly using stills and artwork, but it is still adorable in its own way.

In an homage to old-school platformers, the challenge in Kaze is in using your basic move set to get through dangerous obstacles. By default, Kaze can only dive, jump, hover, and spin, and all of that is done using only two buttons. It's a simple move set, but it's also very versatile. Kaze jumps on enemies to defeat them or spins directly into them, but it can be dangerous to mistime either. As in Donkey Kong Country or Crash Bandicoot, you can die in one hit but can collect an additional heart for safety, so you need to be careful.

Each stage is filled with collectibles, including a gem for completing special submissions within the stages, a gem for collecting smaller gems throughout the stage, and a gem for collecting the K-A-Z-E letters in the stage. These gems can unlock additional story content or new stages to play, so it's worth it to collect them. Some are easy to obtain, while others involve finding secret areas to get the prizes you need. It's a genuinely fun collect-a-thon with the right combination of encouragement and having a reasonable number of collectibles.

The titular masks are not a big part of the adventure. Instead, similar to Donkey Kong Country, they serve as stage-specific power-ups that alter how the stage plays. One lets you fly, another lets you swim, and so on. Each mask has a distinct control style that you need to work around. For example, the flying mask is introduced in a level full of deadly brambles where the challenge comes from timing your flapping action to get past dangers without accidentally ramming into a wall or ceiling.

The masks feel very similar to the animal pals in DKC, and that's both a positive and a negative. The positive is that the stages feel curated and specifically built around the masks, so there's no doubt that they are essential for the stage. The downside is that it means they're relatively rare and not integrated into the core gameplay in the same way that a Mario power-up would be. It's a testament to the quality of the mask-related gameplay when the biggest complaint I have is, "The masks don't come often enough."

That kind of sums up Kaze. The game is just darn fun. It doesn't break any molds or shatter any barriers, but it captures the genuine fun of old-school 2D platformers in a way that I can only compare to an offering like Shovel Knight. If you told me that Kaze is a prettied-up version of a Genesis or SNES classic, I'd believe it. It might feel overly familiar if you're a die-hard platformer fan, but players would still wholeheartedly enjoy the experience.

Difficulty-wise, Kaze hits a nice sweet spot. The default difficulty can be hard but not overly so. I never felt like I died a cheap death that wasn't my fault. There are death pits and deadly spiked enemies, but they feel fair instead of cheap or cheesy. There's an easier difficulty mode with additional checkpoints if needed, but I would recommend trying it on the normal difficulty. Even if you're playing with a younger gamer, which Kaze seems perfect for, it should be as fun as it is frustrating.

It's helped by Kaze's phenomenal hand-drawn art style. Everything from the main character to her variety of goofy vegetable-based foes look stellar. It's a game that is a delight to see in motion in a way that pure 3D games have difficulty matching. It also means that Kaze has its own style and personality, which helps it stand out among other platformers. The music isn't quite as catchy as some of the best out there, but it does its job well, and the sound effects (an often overlooked aspect of attempts to create retro 2D platformers) work delightfully well, adding just the right "bounce" to actions.

If you enjoy 2D platformers, you will like Kaze and the Wild Masks. It probably won't become your new favorite, but it will scratch the platformer itch. It's charming, fun, and well designed. The worst thing I can say about it is that it feels too familiar at points. Kaze is a must-have for anyone who appreciates 2D platformers, and even if you're only mildly fond of them, you'll still have a great time with Kaze.

Score: 8.5/10

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