Kaze and the Wild Masks Review – Good ol’ Platforming

    Title: Kaze and the Wild Masks
    Developer: Soedesco, PixelHive
    Release Date: March 26th 2021
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Soedesco
    Genre: 2D platformer

Growing up as a 90s kid, several platformers with bright radical characters attempted to be the next huge gaming mascot. Kaze and the Wild Masks by Soedesco and PixelHive is a dead ringer for some of these titles. Along with its appearance Kaze unapologetically recalls some of the eras best platforming gameplay and executes it with modern smooth controls. While it might not rival the core games, its emulating Kaze manages to be an entertaining and challenging side-scrolling adventure.

Kaze and the Wild Masks begins with the protagonist Kaze seeing her friend Hugo transformed by a curse. At the same time, vegetables gain strange evil powers and begin to take over the Crystal islands. As Kaze, you must race through the four islands and utilize the power of the magical masks to free your friend and land from the curse fallen on them. Like most of the games that inspired it, the story is relatively unimportant to the overall experience and is merely dressing to get the player platforming.

Each of Kaze’s four islands contains 7 to 8 levels which the player must hop on malicious veggies and avoid precarious pitfalls to which Kaze has a couple of moves up her sleeve to help. The spin attack can take out smaller enemies, but as a trade-off, it can be tough to control as it sends you skidding across the ground, and if you’re not careful, to your death. But it’s a fun and satisfying attack once you get the hang of it.

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You can also use Kaze’s ears as propellers to glide slowly. Instead of just holding down on the jump button to initiate this, you must hold down on the attack button. It stays true to the games it’s emulating, but I wonder if it’s necessary or if it could have been simplified a bit. On the flip side, the ground pound you perform also requires the action button in combination with the down button. This prevented accidental deaths that I have been known to make with other platformers. These will all be subjective and require a learning curve depending on what platformers you may be familiar with but, once you get the hang of them, they work nicely.

Perhaps the biggest gameplay feature in Kaze and the Wild Masks are the occasional masks you pick up. These masks transform Kaze into one of four beasts, each that has unique abilities. The best part about these sections is that they completely change your gameplay. Flying through the air as an eagle or swimming like a shark can at times feel like you’re playing a different game entirely. Sometimes games tend to neglect to fine-tune the controls in smaller sections like these, but thankfully each mask controls extremely well. Masks moments also help with pacing coming into levels at just the right time to switch things up.

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Kaze and the Wild Masks is a difficult game even for those fairly experienced with platformers. Fortunately, you are given the option of two difficulty options: “casual” and “original mode.” The casual mode gives you more lives and more checkpoints. However, the Original mode doesn’t pull any punches, and you will die again and again. Unless you think Donkey Kong Country 2 and Super Mario 3 are complete cakewalks, I would recommend “Casual mode.”

While there are plenty of fun challenges in Kaze and the Wild Masks, unfortunately, it utilizes one of my least favorite retro gaming tropes, which is level memorization required to progress. While a little bit of this is alright, Kaze goes nuts with this concept. I wish there were more levels that you could just potentially beat in one run-through, but Kaze often opts for the former approach. At worst, it can make certain levels feel super repetitive and full of cheap deaths. But there are plenty of fans of this playstyle, and for those gamers, this could actually be a huge plus for them.

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On top of memorization, Kaze and the Wild Masks doubles down on precision platforming. Many levels have you bouncing off enemies continuously where one minor miscalculation will send you back to your last checkpoint. Some levels have you in the air way more than on solid ground. While these can be pretty difficult, you do have unlimited lives. These sections feel even more rewarding when you finally reach that goal line.

One annoyance is that there are too many auto scroller levels where you have to outrun a monster or another hazard. Even the lizard mask you acquire forces you to continuously run, making those precision moments sometimes more tedious than fun. While the idea isn’t necessarily bad, the second half of the game relies too heavily on this gameplay, affecting the nice pacing featured early on in the game.

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Outside of the smooth controls and fun masks, the best part of Kaze is the beautifully colorful art design. Sprite animations and designs are charming, and the backgrounds look like they are straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. It also nails the nostalgic feeling while simultaneously creating its own identity. It really is a joy to look at, and you can tell a lot of love and attention went into creating Kaze’s world.

There is a ton of replay value here as there are collectibles to obtain in each stage. As difficult as Kaze and the Wild Masks, sections like the bonus stages hidden in each level are extremely forgiving. Even if you fail these challenges, you can retry them as many times as you would like. It’s a smart move since the game might be too overwhelming otherwise. These collectibles can even unlock additional stages for each island, adding even more to discover.

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Kaze and the Wild Masks is as gorgeous as it is challenging. Smooth controls feel amazing, and the masks you find truly change your entire gaming experience. While I felt there were too many auto-scroller levels and cheap deaths, there are still plenty of great gameplay moments and replayability to be found. If you want a punishing but rewarding platformer, Kaze and the Wild Masks maybe the humbling experience you’re looking for.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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