STAFF REVIEW of Kaze and the Wild Masks (Xbox One)

Thursday, March 25, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Kaze and the Wild Masks Box art While I grew up in the early days of gaming, some of my fondest memories and franchises come from the classic 16bit era. Just like how shooters and Battle Royals are commonplace these days, back in the 90’s it was all about platformers with games like Sonic, Mario, Mega Man, Bubsy, Donkey Kong Country and Crash Bandicoot to name a few, each of which had a special something to them, as they still hold up quality wise all these decades later. Kaze and the Wild Masks clearly took inspiration from the classics and has recreated an experience just as good as if it was from the original era itself. Kaze and the Wild Masks takes that fast paced classic 16bit platforming action from the 90’s and puts its own spin on the formula, resulting in an experience that brought me back to those days as a kid when I was glued to the TV on my SNES or Genesis.

Normally games in this genre don’t rely too heavily on a narrative, and it’s not really any different with Kaze and the Wild Masks either. There is a light story revolving around something about the Crystal Islands becoming cursed, so Kaze needs to save her friend Hogo, only to find that vegetables have gone enraged and will attack her on sight. You’ll find special masks that transform you into legendary guardians and give you powers as you try and restore order to your home islands. Much of the lore is actually hidden behind finding collectables, so you may miss out on a few details if you don’t spend the time to find everything in game.

The opening world is akin to Sonic, being green and lush, teaching you how to jump, float and spin. Many enemies can be defeated with the spin attack that slightly lunges you forward, while others will only be able to be defeated by jumping on them due to their teeth. As you work your way to the end of the stage at the right of the screen, you’ll battle carrots, corn and other vegetables that eventually can shoot at you with fireballs. While they aren’t difficult themselves to defeat, the handcrafted worlds are done well where you’re going to have to time your jumps just perfectly if you don’t want to get hit.

While the majority of the levels are linear in design, going left to right, there are plenty of secrets and collectables to find for those willing to risk falling into pits or getting hit by strategically placed enemies. While you could easily get through Kaze and the Wild Masks in a single sitting if you didn’t care about any of the collectables, it will take much longer to find everything, not even including the Time Trial challenges that unlock once a stage is beaten.

Rather than having a cluttered UI on the screen, instead, your sidekick Hogo indicates how much health you have by its color. Of course falling into a pit or something will instantly kill you, but you’ll be able to refill your health with hearts you find throughout the levels. Each world consists of about seven or eight levels, culminating in a really fun and challenging boss fight before moving onto the next island in your airship. Like most games in the era, worlds will vary in styles from jungle, ice, lava and more. Eventually there will be some stages that rely on timed run-away sections which were challenging but fair. There are even some stages that feel ripped right out of Donkey Kong Country with its barrel blasts, bringing back some serious nostalgia.

Actually, not once did I really become frustrated with my time in Kaze and the Wild Masks, and this is due to the perfect controls. A platforming game with poor controls can absolutely kill a game, so thankfully this isn’t the case here. Even with underwater sections, everything felt precise and smooth, even when having to make quick evasions and perfectly timed jumps. With 4K 60FPS, Kaze and the Wild Masks is simply a smooth experience all around.

While you want to get to the end of each stage, you’ll also have side objectives of finding the letters K-A-Z-E, collect 100 gems, find and complete both bonuses stage challenges and then the Time Trials as well. This means you’ll most likely be playing levels numerous times to find everything, and while I didn’t obsess about finding and collecting everything, especially in the later and more challenging levels, being able to take a break from repeated dying in a stage and trying again later adds longevity. Completionists will be kept busy with plenty to do.

Something I didn’t even know was a feature until later on in the difficult stages is the ability to skip levels if you die repeatedly. On Casual difficulty, dying over and over again will eventually prompt and ask you if you’d like to skip the level and move onto the next. Of course you won’t get to keep any of the collectables and will have to go back to get them, but this was great for my daughter who simply wanted to try a new level when unable to beat a specific level or boss. And yes, this goes for boss levels as well, so anyone on casual mode can progress, even to the end if they require the assistance; a feature my daughter and I really appreciated.

While the majority of the game will have Kaze running and jumping to get to the end, every few levels you’ll find a mask that when donned, transforms you into a mystical creature with unique powers. You’ll get to experience being an Eagle, Shark, Lizard and Tiger. Being the eagle allows you to fly by tapping the jump button and shoot a projectile. Being the tiger means you can dash quickly in a direction and wall climb. Sharks can swim very quickly and indefinitely in the water but I enjoyed being the lizard the most. The lizard auto runs without being able to slow down or stop, reminding me of the great boss levels from Rayman Legends. These sections of gameplay are catered to the animal you currently are, changing things up and breaking the monotony of the standard levels.

If you simply glanced at Kaze and the Wild Masks you might even guess that it was actually from the 16bit era. Yes, of course it looks a bit shinier and prettier, but the pixel art is top notch and wonderfully done. The color pallet is bright and gorgeous, as are the smooth animations from Kaze’s moveset and enemies. The level variety and massive bosses are simply enjoyable to look at and take in, as the atmosphere overall is simply well done in every way. The same goes for the audio, where it may not be quite as memorable, but the soundtrack themes are fitting and changes to set a mood and tone based on what’s happening on screen or what level you’re currently exploring.

Kaze and the Wild Masks brought me back to a simpler time where I just enjoyed playing a memorable platforming game. It pays homage to numerous classics but makes a name for itself along the way. While it may not gain the same level of appreciation and following as the classics, it can certainly hang in there with the best of them. If you yearn for those 16bit glory days of 90’s platforming, Kaze and the Wild Masks will bring back those waves of nostalgia while giving you plenty to strive to collect.

**Kaze and the Wild Masks was reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.7 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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