Tales of Kenzera: Zau finds deeper meaning in the Metroidvania formula

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 Zau stands pinch 2 elemental items.EA

We’re only 1 period into nan caller year, but I’m calling it now: 2024 is going to beryllium nan twelvemonth of nan Metroidvania.

The 2D action-adventure genre, inspired by nan Metroid and Castlevania formula, is already having a banner twelvemonth acknowledgment to Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. That’s only nan beginning. With games for illustration Ultros, Animal Well, and (hopefully) Hollow Knight: Silksong around nan corner, there’s a bully chance that 2024’s “game of nan year” will beryllium thing from that celebrated genre. But it’s 1 point to make a fun, rewarding Metroidvania; it’s different to understand really that look tin reenforce a bigger image idea.

That’s precisely what Tales of Kenzera: Zau aims to accomplish. The caller title from Surgent Studios doesn’t conscionable usage nan genre because it’s successful fashion. Rather, it’s been cautiously selected to reenforce its communicative astir grief. I saw that firsthand successful an early demo of nan project, which balances slick action and platforming pinch thoughtful, imaginative decisions that could make it a caller golden modular for nan genre.

Sun and moon

My demo would driblet maine adjacent nan very commencement of nan adventure. I’m quickly introduced to nan titular Zau, a young shaman who is trying to bring his begetter backmost from nan onshore of nan dead. Armed pinch 2 weapons representing nan powerfulness of nan sun and moon, he sets disconnected connected an escapade done picaresque 2D adventure. It’s already clear that it’s going to beryllium a communicative of self-discovery arsenic nan leader learns to unrecorded pinch his grief, understand Bantu culture, and unlearn immoderate of his brash tendencies.

From a axenic gameplay standpoint, Tales of Kenzera is already nailing nan basics. My satellite limb gives maine entree to long-range arrow shots that I tin quickly motorboat into enemies. By holding a trigger down, I tin free-aim my limb conscionable arsenic I tin successful Metroid Dread. By switching to my sun powers pinch a speedy bumper tap, I get entree to immoderate powerful close-range slashes that tin juggle enemies into nan air. If you’ve played Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, nan speedy and versatile strategy won’t consciousness excessively foreign.


That determination has immoderate circumstantial intent extracurricular of simply giving players weapons pinch different ranges: “To maine it’s this equilibrium of life and death,” Surgent Studios laminitis Abubakar Salim told property successful a roundtable discussion. He explains that each limb represents nan “balletic” creation that group tin spell done erstwhile experiencing grief, while utilizing nan sun and satellite symbols that are important to Bantu culture. He describes nan satellite powerfulness arsenic representing nan thought of taking successful and examining a space, whereas nan sun is much of a furious chaos.

That reasoning doesn’t conscionable widen to combat — and that’s what makes Tales of Kenzera truthful promising. During nan roundtable pinch nan press, Salim teases immoderate of nan ways that nan escapade subverts definite video crippled staples to reenforce its thematic points. No constituent of its creation seems random aliases simply location because that’s what’s expected.

“One of nan things I’m proud of is nan reflections, which is simply a measurement of expanding nan player’s health,” Salim explains. “Normally successful a Metroidvania, you spell to these things, you cod them, and you move on. What we wanted to research was really sitting nether a Baobab character and talking astir really you consciousness arsenic nan only measurement Zau tin summation his survivability. This play connected really talking astir wherever you’re astatine emotionally, aliases not moreover talking astatine all.”

Rethinking nan Metroidvania

It’s not agelong earlier I rotation into nan basal Metroidvania loop. The first large complication happens erstwhile nan brash Zau tries to pursuit a kid disconnected a statement bridge. He quickly scampers crossed it, only to person it autumn isolated and nonstop him sliding down a bid of flowing rivers. The extremity of nan demo? Get backmost to nan different broadside of nan bridge. That elemental task takes maine done a winding bid of 2D caverns filled pinch optional collectibles, for illustration perk-granting trinkets and scattered bits of lore. In classical Metroid fashion, my demo culminates successful maine getting a typical power-up: an arrow tin of freezing water, allowing maine to wall jump up waterfalls to return to nan surface.


While nan loop is instantly straightforward, it’s different area wherever Salim stresses that there’s an affectional thought guiding it. In a property roundtable earlier receiving entree to nan demo, Salim collapsed down why a Metroidvania format was precisely nan correct lucifer for his individual story.

“We’re really, genuinely utilizing nan Metroidvania elements to correspond grief,” Salim says. “This thought of losing yourself. You’re getting thrown into this world you person nary thought astir and nan longer you walk clip successful it, nan much comfortable you get pinch it, moreover though it’s still dangerous. All nan devices are location for you to use; it conscionable takes you clip to get utilized to it. That’s why we chose this platformer style; to me, it feels nan closest to this thought of going done nan travel of grief. Because it does drawback you by surprise. You person nary thought what you’re dealing with, and everyone’s condolences is different, but you are benignant of successful power of it.”

It’s not that ideas for illustration that are instantly evident successful my demo aliases radically alteration nan game. I’m still doing immoderate basal tasks that look passim nan genre. One optional platforming situation has maine dodging spikes successful a constrictive stream path, ducking nether low-hanging rocks, and air-dashing complete obstacles to scope a trinket astatine nan end. I’m besides amassing accomplishment points arsenic I spell that fto maine unlock caller combat techniques for my weapons, putting an accent connected nan aforesaid benignant of powerfulness maturation nan genre is built on.


It’s nan small specifications that guidelines out, though. In nan roundtable discussion, I inquire Salim if location were immoderate ways that nan squad needed to subvert nan Metroidvania look to amended show nan story. Salim launches into a level creation breakdown, which makes it ever clearer that nary determination has been made present without immoderate benignant of thematic intent.

“One of nan things I wanted to effort and debar was making nan crippled consciousness arsenic ‘gamey’ arsenic possible,” Salim tells Digital Trends. “For example, avoiding nan thought of creating a occurrence biome and a h2o biome. I really led into nan thought of: What feelings is each biome inspired by? The Highlands, which is nan first large conception you’ll research successful nan afloat game, really comes from a spot of worry and holding on. You’ve sewage each these floating platforms because there’s this large wind brewing, and essentially, that hostility causes this area to person a batch of jumping and leaps of faith.”

Details for illustration that person maine convinced that Surgent Studios has thing typical connected its hands. Tales of Kenzera: Zau isn’t conscionable your mean indie genre crippled pinch a weighty taxable grafted connected apical of it. It’s meticulously considering really crippled mechanics and interactivity pass to players, moreover if those decisions won’t ever beryllium perceptible to nan mean player. And if nan nuances are mislaid connected some, astatine slightest they’re getting a tightly-made Metroidvania pinch immoderate satisfyingly fluid combat. No matter which measurement you portion it, we could beryllium looking astatine a defining genre classical successful nan making.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau launches connected April 23 for PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

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