There always seems to be a vocal audience clamouring for retro platformers. Whether it’s a ‘make Sonic great again’ sentiment or people desperate for another Donkey Kong Country, the voices have always been there. Indie studios are all too keenly aware and the latest to try and bring some 90’s nostalgia back are PixelHive Studios. Kaze and the Wild Masks is a definite homage to old Rare platformers and, whilst they get movement and control right, there’s a sense they’ve possibly overdone it.
Kaze is a rabbit whose homeworld of the Crystal Islands has been cursed. This has led to a habitat full of angry vegetables and their friend also needs saving. There’s plenty of motivation here, despite the game’s fairly simple, slight animated cutscenes. The menacing enemies carry a great deal of charm. From bazooka-wielding tomatoes to burly carrots, they have a great, distinctive design to them.
Kaze has four islands to conquer and each appears to have their own colourful motif. The opening has some vibrant greenery and there’s a token poison world with is much darker in tone. Obstacles and enemies stand out and platforms are always clear to the eye. The pixel are on Kaze and the environment really does a good job of looking clean and detailed. It’s a very pleasant aesthetic that does allow the visuals to stand out.
Gameplay is fairly predictable. Kaze progresses from one side of the level to the other whilst collecting gems, letters and crystals. The letters present the largest nod to Rare’s previous work with the game firmly steering you towards collection rather than completion of the levels. Of course, finishing levels does move you on to the next but crystals unlock bonus levels, items in the album and completionists will spend hours trying to get everything.
Kaze and the Wild Masks controls very well. To begin with, you have a consistent jump, a basic attack and can hover using your bunny ears. It’s responsive and does allow for some tight challenges. Enemies can be jumped on or attacked and sometimes you can use them to gain extra height to progress. None of that would work if the controls weren’t up to the task. Jumps do require precision. There is little margin for error on some of them and it did lead me to being surprised when a jump fell short. The tools are there but I sometimes lacked the skill to take true advantage of them.
These are supplemented by the titular Wild Masks. With four in total, these alter Kaze’s moveset to add double-jumps, flying, swimming and wall climbing. Whilst they all aid in traversal, they’re introduced at very specific intervals. This removes any potential experimentation and effectively makes sections of the level specific to those powers. It’s a shame the player wasn’t given more freedom over that. It does change the pace from the usual, sometimes hurried, platforming but it feels restrictive at times.
The stern challenge does ramp up rather quickly with your first few levels teaching you the basics before really asking you to step up your game. I find it a little uneven and, with dozens of levels on offer, the final third can feel entirely catered towards being chased. There’s a significant amount of stages that add time pressures and it’s clear they want speedrunners to tackle Kaze and the Wild Masks.
Mechanically, there’s a lot of variation on offer. Steam can rise to give your hovers some assistance, vines can be crossed and ladders can be climbed. Wind at your back will make you move faster. These all give the levels a fresh approach. It’s considered although I did certainly feel they threw everything they could at this.
Mercifully, there is a casual mode that adds more checkpoints, allows you to suffer an extra hit and, should a level become too much, you have the option to move on. Unfortunately, I do find the checkpoints can occasionally be too far apart. At it’s best, the gameplay has a smooth movement and the chase levels give proceedings a great sense of rhythm. At its worst, it can lead to a frustrating experience. The lack of a smooth build to the campaign did make me feel the final stages were a real slog.
There is a phenomenal amount of effort and thought on display with Kaze and the Wild Masks. The platforming is precise with some great detail taken to give the environment a look and theme that bleeds into the level mechanics. It feels diverse and the masks do add to this variety well. It’s a pity the game is so eager to ramp the challenge up. Those wanting a stern test will be catered for and there is some smart execution on offer.
+ Smartly executed level design.
+ Casual mode allows less experienced players to see all the game has to offer.
+ Bright and detailed environments.
- The masks powers are used in a surprisingly restrictive manner.
- The back stretch is catered heavily towards timed challenges.
- Features an unsteady learning curve.