Tales of Kenzara: ZAU preview: A promising first look
Tales of Kenzara: ZAU will be the first game developed by Surgent Studios, founded by actor Abubakar Salim (Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Raised by Wolves) in 2019. GGRecon recently had the chance to go hands-on with the game as well as attend a round table with Abubakar himself to discuss it. The studio's formation came from the founder's desire to explore his own grief after the loss of his father, and Tales of Kenzara looks to explore these themes in an experience that is “honest and true”.
The demo kicks off shortly after the game has begun, at the beginning when we enter the world of Kenzara as Zau. Zau has bargained with Kalunga, the God of Death, in an attempt to bring his Baba (father) back from the afterlife. The journey will see Zau become a warrior shaman, mastering his abilities as he attempts to complete his task. I only got a glimpse of what Tales of Kenzara has to offer, but am already excited to see more.
A first trip to Kenzara
One of the most profound things Abubakar said during the whole preview was regarding why the studio opted to make the game a Metroidvania because the team behind the game believe it is a “perfect representation of what grief is”. This stuck with me as I got lost, sidetracked and confused while trying to find my way through a mystical land I knew nothing about. It was a perfect allegory. One that I hope remains prevalent throughout, offering constant reminders of how sometimes in moments of loss the only way forward is back.
You don’t mind having to go back when the world you’re dropped into is as visually pleasing as the world of Kenzara. During this opening section, there was so much colour vibrantly popping on the screen at any given moment, and despite not playing for too long, there was already a healthy amount of variety in the locations. Hopefully, this can be maintained throughout the duration of the game to keep things fresh.
The visuals are complemented by music, composed by Nainita Desai, that helps deliver a sense of atmosphere and identity - another aspect I can’t wait to dive into deeper on release. Adding to a strong sense of place is the voice acting, considering the size of the studio and the type of game this is it wouldn’t have been a surprise if there was no voice acting in the game, its inclusion only elevates the presentation further.
The Sun and Moon
As to be expected from most 2.5D Metroidvanias, there will be plenty of hostile enemies to take on along the way. Your weapons in these battles are the Sun Mask and the Moon Mask, which you can switch between on the fly with a simple press of a button. The two masks have different abilities and moves that will help in both combat and as you manoeuvre through the world.
The Moon Mask has a focus on long-range, you can aim and shoot but you can have a limited amount of shots before it needs to recharge; this is when you can switch to the Sun Mask and take the fight up close. Bouncing between the two for different use cases should hopefully go a long way to keeping the combat fresh throughout, and again the colours flashing across the screen only help add to the spectacle.
Prior to jumping into the Tales of Kenzara: ZAU, Abubakar spoke about how this idea of falling “into a wiki wormhole” and the game sparked this desire in people as well as making sure it is still fun to play. The demo delivered on both accounts. Since playing I found myself diving into Bantu culture more, sparked by the intrigue caused by the game and also by how little I know on the subject too - there are few games with as unique a setting as this one.
I hope the gameplay, story and everything else is enough to deliver what feels like an important game, a game that feels like it has something so interesting to showcase.
Then there is the fun. Again, how you upgrade, level and develop will largely influence this so a lot remains to be seen, but from what we have seen so far, there is no reason why it can’t deliver an enjoyable platformer with satisfying combat.
So far this year, we have already had Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown released to glowing reviews, Hollow Knight: Silksong is threatening to appear, and if Tales of Kenzara: ZAU sticks the landing, 2024 could be the year of the Metroidvania. From the myths to the gameplay, environments, and more - I can’t wait to experience more of what is on offer from Surgent Studios' debut game. It’s still way too early to know what else to expect, but for now, this is certainly a game to look forward to.
The game will release on April 23, this year, but a demo will become available before then as part of the Steam Next Fest so you can try it out yourself.