Tales of Kenzera: ZAU Preview

An unexpected turn in development that’s simply overflowing with heart.

By R3GR3T, Posted 12 Apr 2024

It’s not every day we get to do previews but exceptions exist for a reason. Now, we’ve all been around the block with gaming and seen what’s on offer, every studio has their reasons for doing the work they do, but one studio in particular wants to make a difference where it matters. Meet Surgent Studios, spearheaded by its founder and creative director, Abubakar Salim (Try saying that 5 times fast), this UK-based studio has been around since 2019 and they’ve mostly been dealing in the film sector. However, you’re never really stuck where you are and Surgent Studios took a dive into game development, and we got a little sneak peek at their first release into gaming.


Tales of Kenzera: ZAU, Review, Screenshots, Platformer, Fantasy, Adventure, NoobFeed
 

The release in question is Tales of Kenzera: ZAU, it is essentially Abubakar’s tribute to gaming and his late father along with other loved ones who left too soon, though his vision is to tell captivating stories as well. From what we saw, you’re likely in for a hell of a ride with a lot of emotional twists as the story about the love between a father and son unfolds, as well as the change that comes from loss. We all know that losing someone dear to you is painful, but it doesn’t mean it’s the end, it’s a vital change that we all have to go through and you’ll get to see this transformation through loss from a different but also abstract perspective in Tales of Kenzera: ZAU.

Unfortunately, we can’t share much about the story without risking spoilers, and nobody wants the good part ruined before you can experience it yourself. Instead, we can share a few other interesting details though, and maybe some tiny pieces of the story. Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is at its core, a side-scroller metroidvania that’ll have you playing as Zau, a young shaman who has to learn to find closure with the loss of his father. However, in his grieving state, he chose to make a deal with the God of Death to bring his father back. You’ll have to adventure through the lands of Kenzera to honor your deal but you might also make a few discoveries within as well.

One of the biggest driving factors to the world and the story at hand that you can expect is that a good majority of it all is Bantu-inspired, between the characters, names, and even some of the music all drawing inspiration from the same source. However, the same can be said about most of the gameplay elements we saw too such as the fact that the Bantu are known for their masks and the designs on them, and you can expect the same from Tales of Kenzera: ZAU. Though it’s not just the world design that has Bantu inspiration, you can likely expect the same treatment from the gameplay when it comes to the combat side of things because it’s not just your everyday hack-and-slash.


Tales of Kenzera: ZAU, Review, Screenshots, Platformer, Fantasy, Adventure, NoobFeed
 

Combat in Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is more rhythmic and somewhat like dancing which ties in quite well with the main inspiration of the story but also the world itself. Dancing in itself can also tell a story and based on what we could see, there’s a lot of care and attention to detail when it comes to the animations, especially with how well it plays into the duality of Tales of Kenzera: ZAU. You’re not just living in the present or the modern time of Kenzera, you’ll also explore a land from a time long forgotten where the spirits roamed a lot more freely, but the same can be said about the dangers lurking about. The duality in the world is another major driving force for the main theme of coming to terms with a loss as we would also explore the present and the past, maybe even relive a few fond memories or discover new ones as we go.

Tales of Kenzera: ZAU relies heavily on more traditional Bantu-inspired designs for the world and the characters but there’s also a lot of whimsy attached to drive the duality forward. Though Tales of Kenzera: ZAU also features several beautifully designed biomes in the world and each biome has its own deeper meaning such as Spirituality and Peace or Anger and Acceptance, while these are metaphorical, every bit of creative work that went into the world has a purpose and forms part of the world. However, you’ll get to see these biomes from two different perspectives as well between the past and future, though the differences between the two times are vastly different but still carry the same message as you’ll see that loss affects everybody in different ways also similar ways.

The same duality we see in the world is also quite prevalent in Zau’s powers and combat as he uses two different masks that change up his fighting style namely: The Mask of the Moon and the Mask of the Sun. You’ll likely have to switch between the two masks from long-range to close-range combat, but the same metaphorical duality is still very present and can also carry a lot of hidden meaning such as the passing of days and nights.


Tales of Kenzera: ZAU, Review, Screenshots, Platformer, Fantasy, Adventure, NoobFeed
 

Some of us come for the combat, others come for the new and interesting ways traversal works in Metroidvania. Tales of Kenzera: ZAU will impress with how creative you’ll need to be with getting around and you’d need an open mind with traversal, the world can look winding and somewhat maze-like as well but there will always be more than one way to get to your objective. However, what sets the traversal apart from other releases is how it almost looks cinematic with the more scenic movements while the environmental puzzles can still pose a decent challenge.

Now, Tales of Kenzera: ZAU isn’t all Bantu all the time, there are other cultures and even age groups that you’ll come into contact with, each one with its emotional inspiration and theme. A lot of the creative design comes from real-world scenes and traditional cultures that helped build the world at hand, though the Banty mythology still rests at the heart of what you’ll get to experience in Zau’s emotional journey as he masters his powers.

So, we have to give some kudos to Tales of Kenzera: ZAU’s music composer, Nainita Desai, who went above and beyond to create and compose the music in this upcoming release. She wanted to show a level of depth with the themes at hand that are quite rare to see in other releases through the use of traditional African music and orchestral mixed-in to drive emphasis on the duality themes. However, what stands out is the diversity when it comes to the music and how every piece of music has a part to play in Zau’s journey. We can honestly say, you might just find yourself getting stuck, not because of a puzzle or lack of direction, but for the incredibly touching music.


Tales of Kenzera: ZAU, Review, Screenshots, Platformer, Fantasy, Adventure, NoobFeed
 

Overall, Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is set up to be a release that’ll put a certain Ubisoft release to shame while bringing a lot of much-needed spice of life to the gaming scene. Between the winding world and the duality themes in this adventure, there’s so much to see and experience, and having an equally great story to go with it will make it a must-play for 2024.
 

Jay Claassen (@R3GR3T_3NVY)
Senior Editor, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): Switch, PC
Publisher(s): Electronic Arts
Developer(s): Surgent Studios
Genres: 3D Platformer
Themes: Adventure, Fantasy
Release Date: 2024-04-23

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