Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 12/30/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Kaze and the Wild Masks is a game that I added to my Amazon wishlist on a whim months ago and then promptly forgot about until I unwrapped it Christmas morning (thanks, mom). I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of game Kaze was when I added it to that wishlist aside from “platformer,” but having finished the game, I’m extremely glad I had that whim to add it.
Kaze is a love letter to Donkey Kong Country. The core gameplay is very similar; you run forward and platform your way through levels, taking out enemies along the way by either jumping on them or attacking into them. There are various collectibles you can get in each level; two secret areas that each unlock one half of that level’s green emblem, red jewels which unlock the level’s red emblem if you collect at least 100, and four golden letters that spell out K-A-Z-E exactly like the K-O-N-G letters in Donkey Kong Country. This game makes absolutely no effort to hide the fact that it’s half DKC clone, and it’s all the better for it because the parts that are distinct from DKC help to highlight the parts that are similar. The DKC inspiration and elements that are distinct work hand-in-hand to create an experience that’s colorful, enjoyable, and perfectly walks that tightrope line between copy and homage.
For those who aren’t as good at or patient with platformers as some, there are two difficulty settings. The lower setting has more frequent checkpoints in levels (although they can still be several minutes apart) and allows you to take an extra hit before dying from full health. There is also, as has become fairly common in platformers these days, a mercy option that eventually triggers. After a certain number of deaths in a row, the game offers to let you skip the level. You don’t keep any of your collectibles from that level, and it won’t have the level marked as complete, but it will allow you to proceed to the next level (you can always go back and replay older levels). This way, if there’s a part that just gets more frustrating than fun for you, you can still see the rest of the game’s admittedly fairly shallow story (bad guy curses friend, you go on a journey to beat the bad guy and saves friend) without pulling your hair out.
The visuals in this game are absolutely stunning. It’s bright, it’s colorful, and it’s all the things we love and miss about 16-bit and 32-bit 2D platformers with all of the quality of life improvements that we’ve come to expect from modern games. The controls are also buttery smooth, as well. If you die in this game, it’s always your fault; I didn’t find one single instance where the controls got me killed or a level was outright unfair. Some of the bosses are merciless and truly challenging, but they’re never unfair. The music is also delightful, although it can feel a little bit generic sometimes. Still, while the music may not live up to the standard Rare set with Donkey Kong Country, everything else in the game does. The movement mimics DKC, the collectibles mimic DKC, and even the animal helpers from DKC are mimicked in mechanics with the different masks that give you the ability of whatever animal the mask depicts (hence the “wild masks”).
Kaze and the Wild Masks is truly a fantastic platformer. What Freedom Planet was to classic Sonic the Hedgehog, Kaze and the Wild Masks is to classic Donkey Kong Country. With that said, if you loved Donkey Kong Country on the SNES, you owe it to yourself and your sense of nostalgia to try Kaze and the Wild Masks. It may not have the nostalgic charm that Donkey Kong Country does, but it’s absolutely standing toe to toe with classic DKC for gameplay, and that’s not an accolade to be given lightly. The game isn’t quite perfect – I would have liked to see the developers try a little bit harder to make it a bit more distinct from Donkey Kong Country or flesh out the characters’ personalities and the story a bit more as Freedom Planet did – but it’s a DAMN fine platformer and well worth playing.