Coming fresh out of Xbox’s Summer Game Fest event is Kaze and the Wild Masks. Developer Vox Game Studio crafted a loving throwback to the 16-bit side-scrolling platformers of the ’90s and it shows its many influences. Bringing with it a mixture of tight controls and beautiful 2D graphics, it’s a game that’s worth the time of anyone who wants to dive headfirst into a challenging walk down memory lane.
You play as Kaze, a stylish blue bunny with a flowing red scarf. Kaze is challenged with taking back her island home after it has been cursed and over-run by vegetables gone mad. Along the way, she’ll harness the powers of ancient masks that give her the abilities of air, land, and sea and use them to fight enemies and to navigate obstacles she otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
From the start, you can tell that this game was made by a passionate team with a love of Donkey Kong Country and Sonic the Hedgehog. The visuals are immediately striking, filled with vibrant colors and lively characters. The sprites, backgrounds, and environments are all beautifully crafted to bring back those feelings you got from firing up your Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis but with a little modern flare. The levels also offer enough variety to make each one more visually entertaining than the last, from bright grassy planes to dark spooky caves to arctic tundra. They may not be anything we haven’t seen before, but they’re so well-realized and brought to life that those feelings of familiarity are in no way a detriment.
The gameplay is where this game shines the brightest and also offers a surprising bit of challenge. The platforming is tight and responsive which is exactly what you want from the genre. Kaze’s basic moves are very familiar if you’ve ever played Donkey Kong Country. You have a forward attack that has Kaze spinning into enemies, a downward slam that can be done in midair, and, of course, the ever-reliable jumping on the head of an enemy move.
Where things expand is with the titular Wild Masks. Throughout the stages, you’ll come across masks that imbue Kaze with abilities that will alter your mobility and your attack capabilities. One of the first being a hawk mask that gives you the power to fly and glide. You can use it to navigate terrain that you aren’t able to cross on foot. Others include a mask that allows you to move freely through water and another that allows you to climb up jagged rocks along walls. Each one brings something different to the table and allows you to vary up your action a bit while still keeping it all very fresh and exciting.
Kaze and the Wild Masks borrows elements from some of the best platformers from the 16-bit era and creates an experience that deserves to be spoken of in the same regard as the games that influenced it. A mixture of precise platforming and a beautifully designed world coupled with a reasonable but never frustrating difficulty make this a throwback worth keeping an eye out for when it releases.