If you’re a fan of old-school platformers like Donkey Kong Country, then stick with me for this Kaze and the Wild Masks review! I’ve always adored quality platforming games. The Mario series has long been one of my favorites, but I actually hold the Donkey Kong Country games in even higher regard! So when one of my best friends recommended the DKC-inspired Kaze and the Wild Masks to me, I immediately pre-ordered a physical copy (because physical forever, my friends!).
Once I got it in the mail, it didn’t take me long to tear through this delightful adventure from PixelHive and Soedesco. Now that I’ve completed it 100%, I want to share my thoughts as a long time DKC fan. Let’s get into my Kaze and the Wild Masks review!
A nostalgic 90s throwback
The premise of Kaze (pronounced “KAH-zay”-I was saying that wrong for a while!) and the Wild Masks is pretty simple. Kaze, the titular (and super 90s cool) rabbit accidentally awakens an evil sorceress, which turns her friend Hogo into a tiny spirit and looses an army of dastardly vegetables upon the land. You know, typical video game stuff!
If you’ve played any 90s platformer, you’ll be familiar with the general mechanics. Controlling Kaze through some clever and devious platforming-heavy levels, you conquer four worlds of roughly 6-8 stages each (each including an insanely tough bonus level), culminating in a boss fight. You have a twirl attack to hit enemies, break things, and briefly hover in the air. There’s a few things to collect in every level, and fun rewards for doing so. Pretty straightforward!
Inspiration on its sleeve
Kaze does share A LOT in common with Donkey Kong Country. Level design is often fairly similar. A key collectible is each letter of “KAZE”, just like DKC’s “KONG”. There are two bonus levels to find per stage, and an epic boss fight at the end of each world. You only have two hits before death (with your friend Hogo serving as a Diddy-type bonus hit). Controls are very tight, and Kaze has a frequently used “helicopter spin” similar to Dixie Kong from DKC 2 and 3 to slow your descent after jumps. There’s also a ground pound that reminded me a bit of Banjo-Kazooie!
Is the game too derivative? Perhaps, but I personally don’t think so. First, making a platforming game that is charming, fun to play, controls very well, and is at the sweet spot of challenge, is no easy task. I’ll note here that Kaze’s movements feel very precise, a bit more akin to controls in Hollow Knight or Celeste than playing as the Kong family.
And second, I actually think there’s quite a few mechanics that distinguish the game as its own special entity! That’s what I want to highlight for the rest of my Kaze and the Wild Masks review.
Easy on the eyes
Kaze and the Wild Masks is gorgeous. I found each level’s scenery to be just lovely, and the enemy vegetables are as detailed as they are hilarious! And best, there are multiple animated cutscenes in between worlds and during mask transformations that were beautiful. I’m a huge fan of hand drawn animations (that was one of my favorite parts of the stellar Shantae and the Seven Sirens too!). Kaze herself is awesome-I want to be as cool as her when I grow up!
Additionally, collecting the “KAZE” letters in each stage rewards you with some pretty stunning art that details some of the lore and backstory of the world. Granted, the story still doesn’t make a ton of sense after viewing it, and leaves quite a bit open to interpretation. But I still eagerly looked forward to checking out each drawing after completing a level!
I will say that each world doesn’t quite nail the atmosphere as much as Donkey Kong Country does. DKC 2 in particular is just drenched in atmosphere and really leans into theme of each world in a natural way. Stages in Kaze are a bit more haphazard in their application, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t fun and full of new mechanics! Speaking of which…
A big gameplay deviation from DKC is in the form of the “wild masks”. In several levels per world, Kaze can grab a mask and transform into an eagle, shark, tiger (my personal favorite) or lizard. Each adds a new moveset to conquer a particular set of challenges. The eagle controls similar to Squawks from DKC and is often used to navigate aerial obstacles. The shark is used for swimming quickly and gives you a sort of “torpedo” attack to dash quickly.
The tiger form can climb walls and dash through the air, leading to some very devious platforming challenges. And the lizard form turns Kaze into an endless runner, where you’re “on rails” and cannot stop running forward. The controls for each mask quickly felt intuitive for me, save for the lizard form!
The lizard-themed levels definitely took me the most attempts of any from the game. Getting the hang of timing and how you should utilize the double jump and dive attack was fairly time consuming! I could definitely see folks who don’t have a lot of patience for platforming getting frustrated in these sections. But once you master the controls, they’re very satisfying to complete.
Collectibles done RIGHT
I really feel like Kaze shines here. There are the perfect amount of collectibles in each stage, with great rewards for each. The clear screen of each stage summarizes what you collected in a very visually appealing way:
First, there are the KAZE letters, which like DKC are either hidden or placed in tough-to-reach spots in each stage. Like I mentioned, gathering them all unlocks a piece of art detailing the lore of each story. I really looked forward to checking these out!
Second up is gem collecting. More akin to coins in Mario or bananas in DKC, these are scattered all over the stage. Your goal is to pick up 100 to get the big purple gem. Nearly every stage has a handful of extras, so you don’t need to quite nab them all, which is a nice cushion. There’s no “lives” system in the game, so this ends up giving you a reward at the ending if you collect them all!
Bonus rooms for the win!
Third, completing the two (well hidden) bonus stages in each level nets you a green gem. Collecting all of the green gems in a world opens a very tough hidden level, which has a truly unique mechanic and no checkpoints. The first world’s secret level, for example, has invisible platforms. You have to use context clues and a bit of trial and error to know where to jump!
I haven’t seen many a Kaze and the Wild Masks review discuss the brilliance of the bonus stages themselves. Having only two per level makes them manageable to find and track. Completing one nets half the green gem, and if you get the right half, you know you missed the left half earlier in the level! I really enjoyed that-it gave me a subtle hint as to where to look. I didn’t consult an online walkthrough a single time in my journey to 100% because the game is structured so well.
And perhaps best of all is that each bonus stage is a unique challenge that’s quite a bit of fun! I adore DKC: Tropical Freeze but the bonus rooms were repetitive and fairly dull. Point to Kaze and the Wild Masks!
Tough but fair?
The first few stages of Kaze are a whimsical breeze. But then the heat gets cranked, hard and fast! The game becomes pretty punishing in the second world, and never really lets up until the end. There are few things that mediate the difficulty and make it tolerable, though.
You will die in Kaze and the Wild Masks. A LOT. But hey, there’s no lives system! And you immediately respawn to try again, without loading screens or being booted from the level. Each level has at least one checkpoint (save for the secret level of each world, and for bosses) to soften the blow. It’s all very similar to how Cyber Shadow makes its difficulty manageable.
Another very appreciated support is when you fail a bonus room. You’re immediately given the option to try again! I seriously loved this feature. First, it lets the bonus rooms be more challenging since you can immediately get a redo. Second, the retry prevents you from having to play through an entire level just to take another shot at the bonus, a problem that has forever plagued the DKC series. I really looked forward to the bonus rooms!
Then there are the bosses! They’re pretty dang tough across the board, and the final boss will put your platforming chops and mastery of each mask to the test. But none of the boss fights overstays its welcome, and I had a great time battling through each.
Should you play Kaze and the Wild Masks?
If you’re up for a challenge and enjoy classic platformers, then YES! The game only took me about 6 1/2 hours to 100% complete, so I understand the $30 price tag may be a bit high for more casual platformer fans. Especially when there are a plethora of “short and sweet” Switch games available for cheaper. Nab it when it’s on sale!
To close out my Kaze and the Wild Masks review, I’m going to be bold: I really love this game and think it’s of Donkey Kong Country caliber! It doesn’t reach the heights of my absolute favorite platformer Donkey Kong Country 2 (check my DKC 2 retrospective!) but I was smiling the whole way through, and couldn’t put the game down. I sincerely hope a sequel is in development with more masks to vary the gameplay and perhaps a lengthier, more lore-driven adventure. We’ll see!
Will you be checking out Kaze and the Wild Masks? If you’ve played the game, what would you say in your Kaze and the Wild Masks review? Let me know in the comments below!