Tales of Kenzera: Zau is an upcoming Metroidvania adventure game created by Sergent Studios. The team is led by Abubakar Salim who is best known for his previous work on the Assassin’s Creed series as well as some acting gigs in TV shows such as Jamestown and Raised By Wolves.
Watch this preview below:
Now you have likely heard about Tales of Kenzera: Zau already. That’s because the game made a splash at The Game Awards in December when it was first announced. But underneath the whole Metroidvania approach, Tales of Kenzera is an exciting game due to its setting. As a South African, there’s a lot going on under the surface that I can’t wait to dive into. That’s because this game is heavily inspired by Africa and its culture – something that seldom happens in video games.
First off, it is important to discuss what Tales of Kenzera: Zau is about. After losing his father, Zau sets off to find Kalunga, the God of Death in order to take his spirit back. Essentially, bringing him back to life. Anyone who has lost something or someone they loved would know this pain. Even for a moment, we have all thought “What if I could bring them back”. It is a heartbreaking realisation and a typical stage of grief everyone goes through.
The loss of his father, named Baba in the game, is also inspired by Abubakar Salim’s real-world loss. Well, “inspired” isn’t really the best word to use here but the game’s story is about loss, grief and that journey we all go through processing it. Abubakar says going into Tales of Kenzera: Zau, he knew he wanted it to hit home and touch on a sensitive topic.
Throughout the game, we’ll learn a little bit more about Zau’s grief and how exactly he lost Baba. Even in the demo I played, there are various lore drops which gave me insight into a sickness his Baba suffered before his passing.
Of course, Kalunga isn’t directly linked to any African God of Death but the African setting draws inspiration from various cultures on the continent. This goes for both the design of the world and the various tidbits of lore around the game. For example, the demo saw me find Bamba’s Stone, which was able to freeze water letting me run up waterfalls and even across streams to reach new areas.
Bamba’s Stone belonged to a Shaman named Bamba who saved his village of Ikakaramba by throwing a stone from the highest peak at an incoming flood. The throw was so hard that it quelled the waters and saved his village. Sure, this story might sound a little farfetched on paper but it speaks volumes for the African culture and the folklore across the continent.
Even living in South Africa, you come into contact with these wonderful stories all the time. Most infamous is, of course, the Tokoloshe. The dwarf-like spirit has haunted South African children for decades. People believe it arrives during the night to scare children and in order to sleep peacefully, you need to put your bed on bricks.
Zulu people are especially known for sharing the superstition about this fictional character. They believe shamans conjure up Tokoloshe to harm enemies. The Tokoloshe also eats people’s toes when they hang off the side of the bed. Again, this has heavily influenced the world and even resulted in movies and songs.
In Tales of Kenzera: Zau, the Tokoloshe is a small annoying little creature that attacks you and explodes into a cloud of smoke when killed. It isn’t as deadly as say the fictional African creature but it is pretty cool to have in the game.
It speaks volumes for what kind of experience we’re in for when Tales of Kenzera: Zau releases. I personally can’t wait to dive into all the fictional stories on offer here and explore the lore which again, will offer something wildly new in comparison to your everyday game.
Apart from its heavy African paint, Tales of Kenzera: Zau is your typical Metroidvania game. The game encourages exploration and backtracking to previous areas to overcome previously-locked rooms and locations.
When it comes to combat, Zau is equipped with a Sun and a Moon mask. These masks can be switched at any time and offer completely different combat styles. For example, the Moon mask relies on ranged attack damage. He can shoot enemies from afar with a blue spirit-like attack. I was also able to use Bamba’s Stone while wearing the Moon mask. With it, I could freeze enemies in place.
The Sun mask, on the other hand, is a melee-focused attack style. it relies on close combat attacks and its heavy attack can flip enemies up into the air. I was able to switch between the two masks while in combat meaning I could shoot, hit an enemy into the air and quickly switch back to the moon mask and freeze them. A combo like that requires a lot of practice but it is fun to pull off.
Zau also has a robust skill tree that evolves his attacks as the game goes on. It was limited in the demo but it will be interesting to see how versatile the playstyles go later in the game.
My only concern I have is how close Tales of Kenzera: Zau is to the most recent Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. The games are pretty much the same thing when it comes to the gameplay loop. One is just based in Africa. So I worry about Metroidvania burnout at this stage.
But we do have a few months to go before Tales of Kenzaru: Zau releases on 23 April. I can personally tell you that the African inspiration will be a heavy driver for me in this game. Everything from the voice work to the lore and the world has a touch of Africa. That alone makes me very excited to play it. It feels almost personal to a certain degree and I am also excited to see what the rest of the world thinks of our home.
You can get your hands-on on Tales of Kenzera: Zau yourself during the upcoming Steam Next Fest. The exact demo I played will be available to test out. I highly recommend giving it a go. The demo will be available on 5 February only on Steam.