Tales of Kenzera: Zau (2024) Game Review – An emotionally challenging and physically demanding game


Tales of Kenzera Zau

“In loving memory of those who touched our lives. This game is a tribute to their enduring spirit.”

So begins this new Metroidvania from Surgent Studios and publisher EA Games which is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X and S. 

As you might expect after reading Tales of Kenzera’s opening line, you’re in for quite an emotional ride with this title. While it might appear to be yet another side scroller with combat and parkour mechanics, it’s actually deeper than you might imagine, with an engrossing storyline that explores themes of grief and death.

Will you be crying into your hankies after this one? You might, especially if you have recently lost someone close and want nothing more than to revive them. It’s this aspect of grief that can hit us all, as death is often very hard to bear.

This is the certainly case for the game’s protagonist, a young shaman named Zau, who makes a bargain with Kalunga the God of Death to bring his deceased father back from the land of the dead. 

To win back his father, Zau is handed a task by Kalunga. The hot-headed young man must deliver three spirits, each of which helps him deal with his grief during the game’s 10-hour journey.

Of course, collecting the spirits isn’t particularly easy. The same can be said about managing grief. But Zau, who is confident in his abilities, thinks nothing of the challenge ahead of him, so desperate is he to see his Baba (father) again. 

Zau is a nimble fellow, able to run, jump, and climb with relative ease, and he picks up new skills during his journey that help him open up previously inaccessible areas.

His abilities come from the masks that he wears which pertain to the sun and moon. Each one grants him combat moves that are used to take down the hostile spirits that get in the way of his progress.

Combat comes in the form of light and heavy attacks, as well as special abilities that can be accessed by pushing two buttons simultaneously (L3 and R3 on the PS5). One ability, for example, is a powerful light blast that takes out all enemies in its path. As you can imagine, this ability, like the others, can be very useful, especially when you’re outnumbered. 

Zau can level up throughout the game, thus improving his abilities and making him stronger. New skills can be learned by collecting trinkets that provide powerful boosts, though you need to choose which you equip carefully as you can’t use all of them at the same time. You will need to explore the levels to find some of these, so be prepared to go out of your way occasionally if you want to try out every boost the game has to offer. 

Tales of Kenzara is fun to play, though there are times when frustration sets in. Early on in the game, you gain the power to freeze water, which allows you to perform wall jumps up previously inaccessible waterfalls. Bouncing from one wall to the next takes quite a bit of practice, though there were times when my button presses didn’t seem to correspond to what happened on screen. 

Wall bouncing wasn’t the only frustration I encountered. Some of the levels are quite labyrinthine in nature so it was sometimes difficult to know where to go. There is a map that points to the designated target. But as the game encourages us to go off the beaten path to find hidden collectables, there’s a very real possibility of getting lost occasionally. I certainly did, although my sense of direction has never been that good anyway!

In terms of difficulty, this isn’t an easy game to play. Even when playing on the ‘balanced’ difficulty mode, the game is overly challenging at times, with enemies that are tricky to defeat and traps that promise a quick death if you’re not quick with the jump or dash button. There is a ‘relaxed’ mode that provides an easier gaming experience, though this is mainly attributed to combat rather than an avoidance of the pitfalls that can hinder fast progress. 

After getting used to the controls and traversal mechanics, the game does get easier. Within a few hours of play, you’ll be leaping, gliding, and dashing around the game’s levels without breaking much of a sweat. Combat becomes easier too once you know the enemy attack patterns and which enemy types to prioritize.

Environmental hazards can still be a pain, however, especially as they are sometimes out of sight until you’re almost upon them. But once you have memorized levels, you’ll have fewer moments of trouble, so it’s rare that you’ll be stuck on a particular level for a long period. 

In terms of graphics, the game is pretty to look at, with a colourful world design and lots of little details that make each of the game’s areas unique. The rousing orchestral score adds to the atmosphere, especially in combat situations where the escalating rhythm of the string instruments adds to the excitement and tension of enemy encounters. 

But for all that is good about the game’s graphics, music, and occasionally thrilling gameplay, it’s the narrative that is the real selling point of the game. There are loads of Metroidvania games that look, sound, and feel good, but they are often lacking in story.

This isn’t the case with Tales of Kenzera Zau, which has at its heart a deeply moving tale about loss. As such, it’s Zau’s inward journey that will stick with you more than the dance-like battles with his enemies, so expect to feel a surge of emotion when his long and arduous journey eventually comes to an end. 


Read More: Tales of Kenzera Zau Game Length and Trophy List

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  • Verdict - 7/10

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