90’s platformer homage Kaze and the Wild Masks hits almost every platform next week. But does it soar like a rebounding hedgehog, or crash like a bandicoot? The Finger Guns Review:
The 90s platforming scene was brimming with animal mascots. We had blue hedgehogs that were nothing like hedgehogs, 2-tailed foxes, red echidnas, purple dragons, bandicoots of all things, a family of destructive apes, a croc, a gecko, and whatever the hell a Klonoa is. But what animal was the scene missing? Alright yeah, definitely missing a pangolin, but what I was getting at was a rabbit.
PixelHive’s new 90s homage platformer Kaze and the Wild Masks, stars a rabbit named Kaze. It’s a pixelart adventure full of the type of 2D platforming made famous by Sonic and Donkey Kong, but its closest modern comparisons might be Shantae or Rayman. It’s got a gem collectathon, flying and swimming levels, angry vegetables, and enough of that same 90s spirit to make you wanna dust off your pogs.
Kaze certainly looks the part, but does it play well? Does it have the flair it needs to stand shoulder to shoulder with the greats of the genre? Let’s take a look.
Kaze and her friend Hogo seem to be a pair of tomb raiders (so same tut and scornful glare to them as Lara Croft, celebrated thieves stealing priceless artifacts) on the cusp of finding their fortune. However after breaking into an old temple, a powerful ring spirits Hogo away and locks him inside said ring. When the evil force in the temple awakens, Hogo’s soul, from inside the ring, protects Kaze and sends her flying from the Temple as the dark force tries to destroy her.
He may have saved Kaze’s life, but Hogo created a hell of a lot of work for you to overcome to get back to where you started. You need to get back there if you’re ever to reverse the curse of the ring and free your friend. You also seem to have unleashed a swarm of killer tomatoes and other veg to prowl the Crystal Islands, so better deal with that too. Let’s get to jumping.
It’s a simple premise, but no simpler than any other platformer. That same simplicity does mean there not a whole lot of depth to the narrative or the world, but then there’s only so much you need to start bouncing. I’m not sure how coherent it all is; what is the curse, why were Kaze and Hogo there, what has that got to do with enraged vegetables? These types of questions are never answered, but then why are the mushrooms alive in Mario – if you start questioning everything in a platformer the whole edifice crumbles. Kaze and the Wild Masks does no worse or better job than those greats it homages. It’s not about the story; that’s just an excuse to bounce.
Kaze is a 2D platformer with all the pros and cons that may mean to you. Kaze may be a rabbit, but for the most part she does run like a human, rather than bouncing constantly. Your task is to get from the far left screen to the far right screen without dying, and you have a jump command, and a spin command to do it. Playing as a rabbit, that’s all your moves.
A plethora of killer vegetables are placed in your way to make this more difficult, but it’s generally the platforming that will have you cursing, not the enemies. They are well-animated in vibrantly detailed pixels and each has a correct way to attack, forcing you to jump on their heads or spin them rather than allowing both commands to be used on any enemy.
Having only two commands may seem simple, but Kaze’s ears make up for it. They’re kind of fantastic ambidextrous appendages. Two massively long ears that drape down her back like hair, they can be used ‘Tails’ propeller fashion to glide and fall with style, or as weapons during the bandicoot-like spin. If there’s a rope or a hanging ring, they are able to grip like an extra pair of hands. Kaze ends up almost like an insect with six limbs and this holistic approach to her character design is just great to see.
Add to this the Wild Masks of the title. In a good two thirds of the levels, you’ll come across an animal totem and a mask suspended in mid-air. Grab the mask and a magical transformation occurs that changes up Kaze’s moveset, and her ears. The Eagle mask is possibly the starkest, changing those ears into wings that Kaze can use to flap through updraft wind-filled sections, and a projectile to replace spin. The Shark mask gives her ears little fins and awards infinite breath underwater as well as a boost, and then sets you off into underwater swimming sections.
Third is the Tiger mask which gives Kaze claws for wall-climbing and another boost instead of spin. And finally the Frilled Lizard mask, which changes the ears into the frills, and completely changes gameplay into endless-runner mode, including a double jump and dive.
All the masks add necessary and appreciated variety to the whole package and mean that each level is different from the last in a good rhythm. The mask sections are usually also where the game gets really difficult. The endless runner lizard sections in particular require absolutely perfect timing throughout and will definitely take dozens of tries for even the best players.
The actual minute-to-minute gameplay is not all that new or innovative, but Kaze is more of an homage than a game trying to push the envelope. The closest comparison platformer I have played is Rayman, specifically Legends and Origins. Those games re-wrote the rule book on 2D platformers and Kaze and the Wild Masks has been reading that book for the last few years and learning its lessons. This game feels almost like a third Rayman game we never got. It’s in the precision jumping sections, the almost entire levels without a single platform to actually rest your feet, constantly bouncing from enemy to ring, to rope, to slide, and a single mistake ends your run.
That frantic, pulsing reaction-based platforming that really exemplified the latter halves of the Rayman games is what Kaze is going for all the way through. It’s exceptionally precise and demands insanely quick reflexes, but when you get a section right, your brain pops with that same endorphin rush. If you are missing those Rayman games and have played them to death like I have, this is probably the platformer you’ve been waiting for.
The only minor issue I had with the gameplay was the controls are a little too simplified. You could use a NES controller and you’d have enough buttons. Jump and spin are mapped to X and Square on the PS4 and every other mask mode uses the same two buttons, just replacing the commands with their own powers. It would be fine, were it not for glide. Jump with X and hold square to glide, however that’s the same button combo you’d use to jump and spin like Crash Bandicoot. Because of this, that move is just not present in this game.
A tiny bit of different button mapping would have solved this and allowed for spin to be circle for example. Not being able to jump and spin left me unable to deal with enemies in the way I wanted to on numerous occasions. Its fine, every scenario can be completed just fine as the game is beautifully designed without that move. Fortunately each mask section is designed to have that mask on you at that moment. We know how frustrating and strange it can feel to map everything to just one or two buttons, locking out other moves, from the recent disastrous Balan Wonderworld demo. Kaze does not have that problem, but only because the levels have been designed to accommodate the moves and button maps, rather than just opening up the control scheme more.
Its possible the developers felt the precision platforming sections were actually too hard with multiple buttons and other moves to get in the way, and this is the result of some streamlining.
When you’re not platforming and snuffing out vegetables, you are doing what platformers do best – collecting things. Each level has three collectathons going; the purple gems, of which you need a hundred, the four letter tokens that spell out KAZE, and the two halves of a green gem, acquired by completing hidden bonus stages. Each bonus stage is a single challenge in a single room, such as killing all the enemies without hitting the ground, or collecting all the crystals in the time limit.
Every bit of collectathon in Kaze has been tried and tested in other games, and here it never really puts a foot wrong. It’s a challenge to get everything, but that just drives replayability and that one-more-try attitude.
Kaze and the Wild Masks is a vibrant and colourful platformer, featuring some lovely pixelart locations and character art. Kaze is wonderfully expressive and fluidly animated, which makes the game really pop, and makes it a joy to watch as well as play. Her ears are the star of the show.
I didn’t feel the same way about the still image artwork used in the cutscenes. It was okay, but it doesn’t sparkle like the pixelart does, and every now and then Kaze’s expressions look odd. It really doesn’t detract from the experience, it’s just personal preference.
There’s also a pretty nuanced and well done soundtrack in here. As you’d expect there’s plenty of the bouncy, tribal platformer riffs that have been made famous by the likes of Crash Bandicoot, but there’s a number of tracks that actually reveal more depth the more times you hear them. They are quite atmospheric and melodic at the same time, particularly the theme song and the ones you’ll find in the dark and underground levels. Kaze also has a host of little yelps and action sounds that all work well and round off the sound design.
When I reached the end and completed the final boss, I did feel that overall it was a little short-lived. It is an indie title, with around 20-25 levels, many of which will need to be played a few times for the gems and the time trials. However, the gems only really earn you some artwork, and there’s a trophy for doing the whole thing in 2 hours, which makes me feel like it’s a little on the skinny side.
Kaze and the Wild Masks is a really well put together little platformer that will scratch the itch you’ve had since Rayman Legends. The pixelart on display is fantastic and the level design will remind you of the armless one’s recent games. It’s also really difficult but in the right way.
Great sound design, music and graphics make this platformer a pleasure to play and highly recommended, even if there’s not a huge amount to come back to after your initial run.
Kaze and the Wild Masks bounces right into that 2D platforming void left by Rayman. It’s full of vibrant level design, challenging and varied gameplay, ambidextrous ears, and lovely pixelart that will satisfy even the most demanding players. There’s not a lot left to do after you’re done, but the experience is a good one. Perhaps we’ve found a new platforming mascot?
Kaze and the Wild Masks releases on March 26th 2021 on PS4 (reviewed on PS5), Xbox One and Series S/X, Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam, and Google Stadia.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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