It’s no secret that the indie market is chock full of “retro-inspired” platformers that can be enjoyed for a little more than the cost of a fast-food meal. Being able to truly capture what made the 8 and 16-bit era special is by no means an easy task, and for every game that gets it right in almost every way (Shovel Knight, Sonic Mania, Shantae)…it seems that there are dozens of shoddy products peddled out in the name of nostalgia.
When I first found out about fluffy mascot platformer Kaze and the Wild Masks, my expectations were heightened by the fact that the game was directly inspired by two games that made my summer vacation as an 8-year-old- Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country. I was lucky enough to get in on the closed beta, which had about an hour’s worth of content to explore.
First impressions are important, and Kaze delivered on this part. Whereas so many of its contemporaries are content to settle with sprite art that looks like it could’ve been done in Microsoft Paint, this game boasts the attention to detail present in Shovel Knight and Freedom Planet. The vivid, pastel-like color palette brings out the vibes of a Super Nintendo sidescroller, as do the goofy expressions of the anthropomorphic vegetables you’ll be bopping on the head. One thing in particular that I adored (and which you can see in action during my look at the Vine Valley stage down below) was how Kaze uses her ears to climb across vines, as well as pick up objects to toss at her adversaries.
None of this matters in a 2D platformer unless it’s also satisfying to control and progress through. Again, Kaze took me by surprise and I could tell that the programmers and level designers took notes from the right sources. Everything from doing Kaze’s spin attack (which also grants her a short speed boost similar to Donkey Kong’s roll move) to bouncing off monsters’ heads in succession is satisfying to pull off.
Fans of the Donkey Kong Country trilogy and later Rayman installments are sure to be fond of Vox Game Studio’s approach to level design. Each stage revolves around some sort of mechanic, be it bouncing jelly platforms or tripping lights to halt the progress of fast-moving monsters (Stop and Go Station from the original DKC, anyone?). It’s introduced in a relatively harm-free environment at the beginning of the stage, with more challenges and hazards layered in to create challenging platforming scenarios. Replay value is boosted by the fact that there are two bonus rooms to sniff out in each stage, as well as mini-awards given to players who can collect enough diamonds (this game’s equivalent of coins) and make it through unscathed.
While Kaze wields the difficulty curve of a Donkey Kong Country title, it does have the modern sensibilities of Rayman Origins/Legends in that the lives system is axed. The player has as many tries as he or she needs, and checkpoints are never too far apart. Admittedly, I died a handful of times on the last two stages of the demo, but I never felt frustrated thanks to knowing I wouldn’t ever be booted back to the title screen. It’s the best of both modern and retro platformer design at play here.
Kaze and The Wild Masks is expected to release sometime this year on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. While there’s no word of a Switch port, I definitely wouldn’t rule it out with how successful platformers have been on the console. In the meantime, you can check out the game’s official Twitter page. It’s updated fairly often and full of lovely clips.