When I first laid my eyes on the announcement trailer for Kaze and the Wild Masks, I was intrigued. A platformer with a gameplay hook tied to various masks, each giving the wearer unique abilities? Sign me up. After playing through the adventure, what I experienced was a title that marries its unique ideas with nostalgic nods to the Donkey Kong Country series, sometimes a little too much. However, there is enough of a solid foundation here that makes the game worth playing.
Light on story, beefy on gameplay
Kaze and the Wild Masks has a somewhat mysterious plot. The titular Kaze is visiting a ruin with her friend, Hugo, when she grabs a bracelet that transforms her buddy into a flying red creature and brings a curse upon the land of the Crystal Islands. The altered Hugo teleports Kaze to safety in the nick of time using his new powers. After all that drama, it’s up to Kaze to explore four distinct regions containing a multitude of levels, full of giant vegetables gone bad.
The stages in Kaze are, for the most part, quite varied. Kaze will hop, spin, and hover through each level, which usually contains some sort of gameplay gimmick. There are areas with winds that change direction, caves with flowers that cause deadly foes to become passive for a few seconds, and conveyor platforms that open and close at certain points à la Mega Man. The Wild Masks show up in environments, too, and they add to Kaze‘s personality. There are tiger, eagle, lizard, and shark variants. The tiger and lizard ones are particularly interesting: The tiger lets Kaze climb walls and dash forward, while the lizard turns the game into an auto-runner with sweet jumping and dive-bomb abilities.
Various collectibles and fun boss fights? Oh, joy!
For an indie title that is only four worlds long, Kaze and the Wild Masks does not skimp on collectibles. First, there are the yellow gems that spell out KAZE. Collect these in each level to unlock a piece of artwork that alludes to the creatures behind the masks. Next, there are the red gems that are scattered throughout the locales. Gather at least 100 of these in every stage to view the real ending. Lastly, there are the green gems. There are two pieces in every level locked behind a bonus stage. These tests of wit (which can be replayed right away should you fail) require Kaze to gather a certain number of gems or defeat a number of foes to make the fragment appear. Get all of them within a world to open a hidden stage that’s usually quite difficult, and gather every single one in the game to see a teaser of some sort.
Other points of praise in Kaze are the boss fights. Each one has phases that really test your platforming skills. The last adversary, in particular, finds a way to assess your prowess in both masked and unmasked form. And when you beat them, you get to see a cute image of them exploding and the area’s denizens rejoicing. It’s nice to see my work being appreciated.
Frustration and some unoriginal ideas
Unfortunately, while there is undoubtedly some soul in Kaze and the Wild Masks, there is such a thing as “too much homage.” At the very start, you can tell Kaze is influenced heavily by Donkey Kong Country. And hey, if you’re gonna ape a platforming series, why not copy one of the best? But some of the levels are way too obvious with their inspiration. I counted mechanics straight-up lifted from Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong Country 2, and Donkey Kong Country 3. But what about the Wild Masks? While I adore the tiger and lizard ones, the eagle is so much like Squawks and the shark a copy of Enguarde that I couldn’t help being distractingly reminded of the iconic animals from my youth.
Another point of contention is the title’s difficulty. Being five-six hours long, even with 100% completion, means Hard Mode (figuratively speaking) kicks in relatively early. Stages usually only have one checkpoint and can feel like a slog to get through. Kaze can nab hearts that bring Hugo along for protection, but they don’t stack, meaning you’ll die if you get hit twice. Also, the controls lack some polish. There was more than one occasion where it felt like I stuck the landing on a platform, only for Kaze to miss the jump entirely and fall to her death. Moments of overshooting and undershooting were a little too plentiful for my liking, and there were a few levels that certainly felt like I had to die over and over to memorize patterns in order to pass.
Kaze and the Wild Masks is a nice first start with some mishaps
Kaze and the Wild Masks is a good platformer. I love the idea of masks that transform a character into something new with awesome move sets. The number of collectibles was just right and unlocked cool things. Bosses were tough but fair. And some stages were refreshingly unique.
But there are blemishes within that hold Kaze back from being great. It takes a little too much inspiration from Donkey Kong Country. The controls can be touch and go. And the difficulty ramps up too fast. Also, it’s a short game at a price point of $29.99, which might sour some gamers out there.
There is something here that can turn into a great series. If a sequel gets made for Kaze and the Wild Masks that leans more into its own ideas and tightens up its platforming, there isn’t a doubt in my mind it can eventually become one of the greats.
A review code was provided by the publisher.