Tales of Kenzera: ZAU Review

Tales of Kenzera: ZAU isn’t the most fleshed-out metroidvania I have played but its humble approach to the genre combined with its emotional story gave this game a bit more personality than I expected. Tales of Kenzera: ZAU follows the sad tale of Zau who has entered the spirit realm to try and bring back this father who tragically passed away.

Zau befriends Kalunga, the God of Death who agrees to help with the search for his father’s soul under the condition that he tries to save the other Gods in the realm who all have their own current issues. As a result, Zau sets off across an African-inspired land to see exactly what ails them.

The Africanacity in Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is likely its strongest feature. The game is set across a world heavily inspired by African culture and folklore. So much so that exploration throughout the world is a joy on its own even if there isn’t any real reason to explore the area.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review

Various biomes feature iconic African-styled houses and temples. Vegetation, while leaning more toward the fantasy element at times, also calls back to the wilderness. Elephant trees are scattered around the background with Boabab trees being a staple in the game’s asset library. The great marshes feature dilapidated African villages that have all succumbed to a strange new poison that eats away at the earth.

Sure, Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is a fantasy game and everything about the world design has been purposely pushed towards that. However, this game’s setting is genuinely beautiful to see on its own. Not to mention the true African characters you meet along the way who have been designed after various tribes. This includes the Ndebele and Himba.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review

But Tales of Kenzera: ZAU isn’t a visual experience on its own and in fact, relies on its metroidvania inspirations to carry its true gameplay. If you have played any other game in the genre before, this is a cookie-cutter replica of them with some trimmed meat here and there.

Zau is equipped with two masks. The Sun and Moon masks. Of which, I could switch between the two at any time. Each mask then plays into the game’s core mechanics, be it exploration or combat. The Sun mask gets an exploration perk where I could throw a spear into a lock which triggered a countdown timer on a door ahead. I then had to race to that door before that timer else it would shut.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review

The Moon mask, on the other hand, froze water and let me jump up waterfalls and dash across certain lakes. Other unlockables include the ability to dismantle obstacles and pass through walkways. Sadly, while these unlockables are enjoyable to use, they didn’t offer much challenge.

There are some Trials in the game which tie in perhaps one or two of these perks but even in the later areas, these were a bit easy to get through. I was hoping for some challenge rooms where I had to quickly swap between all these abilities to trigger doors, freeze floors, bash through walls and run to the end without dying. That wasn’t the case.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review

Tales of Kenzera: ZAU doesn’t give you enough time to enjoy these features. The frozen water unlock, for example, lasts only a few minutes and is tied to the first act in the game.

Most of these unlocks can also be used in combat. The frozen spear can freeze enemies and the Sun mask spear can set them on fire. But again, there are only a few combat moves I tended to use. I mainly stuck to hitting enemies into the air and juggled them in place for a bit.

It also helps that I found a Trinket which gave me bonus spirit for these attacks. I also mainly stuck to this Trinket alone because the rest felt a bit underwhelming. You also only unlock new Trinket slots much later in the game with one being right near the end. So it makes the third slot pretty pointless if the game is almost at the end. There’s no new game plus to take these builds into either.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review

This is a common issue I found with most of the game. It has the makings to be something bigger but has shortened down the fun resulting in a watered-down metroidvania that is over before it gets good. No really. At the end of the game, I finally had some cool attacks to perform, could bash into enemy shields and destroy them instantly and felt pretty badass. Sadly, this lasted about 20 minutes and I was done with the game. The Skill Tree was fully unlocked at the same time too.

The same goes for exploration. The world itself is beautifully crafted but there’s very little to do and see. The odd Trial offered a few deaths here and there as I attempted to get to the end without dying but they were all pretty basic. Enemies are also far and few between with only a handful of different types to face.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review

Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying Tales of Kenzera: ZAU had to be a 20+ hour game. I am just informing you on how limited the experience is in scope.

Regardless of these few shortfalls, Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is an enjoyable game. I finished it in around 8 hours, did an hour of cleanup and unlocked my Platinum trophy. Considering the asking price of the is just around R300, I would say it is the perfect asking price.

I think the biggest selling point here, beyond the weekend sit-through, is the tale Zau wants to tell. The representation it wants people to witness and that alone, makes this a game you don’t want to sleep on. We seldom see games with so much African love that it is hard to say no here. Even if you’re not in Africa, this experience is one-of-a-kind.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review

Tales of Kenzera: ZAU doesn’t change the landscape for metroidvania games. Its African influences alone make this a big deal as it is a rare find in gaming. For around R300, you can’t go wrong. You can finish this game in a day, maybe two at the most. While its gameplay is forgettable, its story hits the high notes and explores emotions we all have or are going to experience at one point.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau Review

I personally found some of these messages quite hard to digest. Especially around letting go of loved ones. I suffer from severe complicated grief. Everything that goes through my mind when I experience loss, was fleshed out in this game. It is a relatable story covered in a charming setting.

This Tales of Kenzera: ZAU review is based on a code sent to us by Surgent Studios. The game launches on 23 April for PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC. You can pick it up starting at R314.


Tales of Kenzera: ZAU doesn’t reinvent the metroidvania genre and if anything, is quite watered-down. However, its emotional story and refreshing African influence deliver a surprising yet short game that I high recommend you all play at least once.

Marco is the owner and founder of GLITCHED. South Africa’s largest gaming and pop culture website. GLITCHED quickly established itself with tech and gaming enthusiasts with on-point opinions, quick coverage of breaking events and unbiased reviews across its website, social platforms, and YouTube channel.

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