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Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review-In-Progress

by Neal Ronaghan - April 24, 2024, 8:35 pm EDT
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The shaman from Kenzera will assuredly challenge the prince from Persia in 2024.

Typically when I play Metroidvanias, I’m not focusing on the story. I love Metroid and I have geeked out over Chozo lore, but at the end of the day, as long as I’ve got some atmosphere amidst the labyrinths, I’m good to go. The strength of Tales of Kenzera: Zau is in its story, which is intertwined through the gameplay, told in a manner that makes the game better by its emotional impact. The quasi-abstract story of loss and grief is the foundation that the tight platforming, great sense of movement, and enjoyable combat funnels all build from. In the process, developer Surgent Studios has made one of the best games of its type in recent memory.

The majority of the game focuses on a young shaman named Zau who recently lost his father. He goes to Kalunga, the God of Death, to try to revive his dad, which takes him on a quest throughout the land of Kenzera to defeat the three great spirits. Each spirit has its parable about death and loss, delivering powerful emotional beats regularly. I did not expect to be near tears during boss fights during this game. While the story is a focus, it doesn’t interrupt gameplay, with most of the cut scenes told economically on the back of incredible writing. Zau also has recurring dialogue with Kalunga while he’s running and jumping around the world.

The platforming and action that accompanies the story is mostly fantastic, as Zau’s maneuverability starts great and gets even better as you unlock more abilities. The combination of a double jump, wall jump, and dash makes platforming quick and fun in an almost rhythmic pattern. While the game holds secret paths and unlockables, it’s largely straightforward for the duration of the plot. Even still, I had a good time jumping around areas I’ve already gone through.

The combat is simple at a glance but has a variety of layers, some of which can be low-key cheesed during certain combat situations. Zau has a sun mask and a moon mask that can be swapped between at will. The sun mask is more aggressive and melee-focused, offering light combos and when you unlock it, a special powerful ranged attack. The moon mask is more focused on defense, with an early stun add-on power as well as a basic ranged attack. Swapping between the two strategically is where the combat starts to take off. It feels great to lay out a mask-swapping plan and execute it to perfection. The only real issue with the combat is the few stretches of too many kill rooms in close proximity. They both slow the momentum down and show the cracks of the combat.

Visually, the art style is overall expressive and pleasant, running well enough on Switch. It's not the ideal place to play Tales of Kenzera, but if you just have access to Switch, it's good enough to experience the greatness this game has to offer. The game has auto-save, so it removes any need for save rooms. The checkpointing is mostly good, though it is hard to find out where the game will leave you when you quit the game. My biggest issue with the checkpointing is when there is a reaction-based platforming challenge. Some of those are side challenges, so the fact they’re meant to be difficult doesn’t bother me there, but when those are in the main story, I felt like I was being punished for not having preternatural knowledge of what was coming next. Lengthy trial-and-error segments were the lowest point of Tales of Kenzera.

Thankfully that low point is the outlier, but this is still overall a stellar video game. Lasting in the ballpark of 8-10 hours, Tales of Kenzera is a well-paced Metroidvania that is a blast to play, featuring novel unlockable abilities, a good challenge, and most of all, an incredible story. Just be ready to shed a tear or two, especially if you’re in my shoes of being a parent to a young kid because hoo boy - that whole father/son element is played to perfection. The story is a true triumph and the gameplay supports it perfectly.


  • Excellent movement and abilities
  • Solid combat
  • Tremendously well-written and emotional story
  • Occasional overreliance on kill rooms
  • Trial-and-error segments

Review initially published on April 22, 2024. Updated with Switch technical impressions on April 24, 2024.

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Game Profile

Genre Action
Developer Surgent Studios

Worldwide Releases

na: Tales of Kenzera Zau
Release Apr 23, 2024
PublisherElectronic Arts
RatingEveryone 10+
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