Mask Off

HIGH Pitch-perfect platforming and level design.

LOW It’s hard. 

WTF We really need a new Donkey Kong Country game.

I play a lot of platformers. They’re probably my favorite genre, and have been since I was a kid. One of the best in the genre, 1995’s Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, left an undeniable impression on me back then — it fundamentally improved on everything that made its predecessor so beloved and remains one of my favorite titles of all time. While I’ve enjoyed plenty of platformers since then, nothing has come close to matching it in terms of gameplay and level design… until Kaze and the Wild Masks

As a side-scrolling 2D platformer, players will control the titular Kaze, a rabbit who fights evil, anthropomorphized vegetables that have disrupted her village. She’ll run, jump (and occasionally float) through challenging levels and collect the occasional trinket in a bonus room or two. The hook comes in the form of masks that allows Kaze to take on the abilities of certain animals, like a tiger mask that allows her to dash mid-jump and cling onto walls. These masks add plenty of variety, and are used effectively during the boss battles. 

Levels are intricately designed, both aesthetically and in terms of play. The pixel art is amazing and the detail on environments like gorgeous jungles, dark swamps and the remains of a war-torn castle was always a treat. Character animations are just as good, especially in the way they react to being attacked — some of the facial expressions are hilarious.

Traversing these levels is enjoyable thanks to how fluid the movement is, and the controls are tight in a way that complements the level design. Kaze can jump, ground-pound and perform a floating maneuver in which her ears act like propellers. It’s easy to get into a rhythm while moving around, like all great platformers.

Something else I appreciate about Kaze is that it’s easy to recognize its influences — I loved seeing rows of floating enemies that can be used as platforms, objects that launch Kaze to different parts of a level, and bonus rooms centered around collecting items or defeating enemies in a specific amount of time. There are even hidden letters scattered around each level that spell out K-A-Z-E — all of these things are reminiscent of DKC, but in a good way as developers don’t follow this template much anymore.  

Like the platformers it’s inspired by, difficulty is a huge part of Kaze. Fortunately, there are plenty of options here. The easier difficulty setting was full of healing items and generous checkpoints, and there’s also an option to skip levels if the player keeps dying, meaning that they’ll never be stuck and unable to progress.

Overall, Kaze and the Wild Masks is an exceptional 2D platformer that iterates on the systems and concepts of its forefathers to create something special. It’s a great title, and one that even the most creative minds at Nintendo should take note of. 

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is published by Soedesco and developed by PixelHive. It is currently available on PS4, XBO, Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 10 hours were played in single-player and the game was completed. 

Parents: According to the ESRB this game is rated E for Mild Fantasy Violence The ESRB’s site states: This is a side-scrolling platformer game in which players help a bunny on a quest to rescue a friend. Players traverse platforms and hop on and/or use spin attacks against vegetable enemies (e.g., bouncing eggplants, chomping corn cobs). Enemies cry out and disappear amid puffs of smoke when defeated. When boss characters are defeated, they are seen exploding in a brief animated sequence.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are visual cues for everything, though text cannot be adjusted. There are no audio cues necessary for gameplay. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the controls are not remappable

Cj Salcedo
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