May 28, 2024
Tales of Kenzera: ZAU's release is upon us, here's our first impression of the opening hours of the game before launch:

Tales of Kenzera: ZAU made a splash when Surgent Studios announced the game with a trailer during last year’s Game Awards. After the mystifying visuals and kinetic gameplay were shown off, Surgent Studios CEO and Creative Director of ToK: ZAU, Abubakar Salim, took the time to be incredibly vulnerable on stage. The game is Salim’s journey of grief, after losing his father. Grief is lonely but the ubiquity makes Zau’s journey unanimously relatable.

Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is a Metroidvania that takes place across the stunning yet dangerous land of Kenzera. You play as Zau, a recently anointed Shaman on a journey with the God of Death to try and bring back his father. I’ve spent around two hours on the opening of the game, giving me a good idea of what to expect for the rest of the game.

First Impressions

One of the first things I like to do in a Metroidvania is test out the traversal mechanics and I immediately was pleasantly surprised. Zau starts with a double jump and dash, which bodes well for the ceiling of abilities as I progress in the game. Zau also has the ability of the sun and moon mask, two separate fighting styles that come with their own abilities that you can unlock in a skill tree.

The moon mask’s basic attack sees you shooting from your illuminant gauntlets with a strong melee attack that can blast foes away. The sun mask focuses on melee attacks as you thwack with your firey spears. You can switch between both with a single button prompt, immediately swapping out your role and attacks. There’s one instance relatively early on that felt like a gauntlet of enemies that I had to defeat.

During that moment, enemies had specifically coloured health bars reflective of the two masks, meaning only the colour-coordinated attacks would work against them. This forced me to zip around, pick my targets, switch to the correct power and fight the most bothersome first. It was quite difficult for an early-game encounter, but shows promise in the depth of how the combat encounters will go down.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau - Zau with the Sun and Moon mask.

The Ebb And Flow

Zau’s masks aren’t merely for combat, however, as during my playtime I came across two new abilities during my travels. One of which was the ability to freeze water with my moon mask. This assisted me in being able to jump between walls to reach new heights, as well as not being swept away by rough currents.

Later on, I acquired an energizing spear throw that powered up technology left on the map – opening doors that type of thing. With that said, the power is only active for a limited time, making it almost a race to get to the door before it closes. The platform challenges present in Tales of Kenzera: ZAU are my least favourite aspect of the game so far.

Whilst I was instantly impressed with the game’s base kit of traversal abilities, put into practice is something I’m still trying to get a handle on. It could be that it feels intentionally ‘old school’ by having super specific timings and really strict parameters on your jumping, but when death-dealing platforms still cause you to reset by just breathing on the contraption (I brushed it as it was resetting) it can be a little frustrating.

With all that said, I’m still very excited to explore more of Kenzera, gain new abilities and embark on this journey with Zau. The environments are incredibly vibrant and lush with detail, the voice acting really makes you feel every word being said and the overall gameplay is showing great promise.

Expect our full review for Tales of Kenzera: ZAU very soon.

Tales of Kenzera: ZAU will release 23rd April 2024 for PlayStation 5 (preview/review platform), Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.

Developer: Surgent Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts

Disclaimer: In order to complete this preview, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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