Tales of Kenzera: Zau review

by on April 22, 2024
Release Date

April 22, 2024


Tales of Kenzera: Zau is a new Metroidvania from Surgent Studios, an outfit founded by actor Abubakar Salim, most famous for being the voice of Bayek in Assassin’s Creed: Origins. It’s a story built around grief, first rooted in the fierce denial of it, and later in the reluctant acceptance of its place in our lives.

It follows a young man recounting ancient stories of his people as a way to deal with the loss of his father. He envisions himself as a young Shaman, seeking out the God of Death who must be appeased with four great spirits in order to resurrect Zau’s lost parent. It’s a personal story, based on the loss of Salim’s father, and that comes through in every beat of the story.

As Zau, you must quest through areas spread across the chapters, collecting the souls of the great spirits to bring back your beloved Baba. Guided by the God of Death himself, Kalunga, Zau finds himself armed with two magical Spirit Masks, the Masks of the Sun and Moon.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau

The former imbues Zau with power of fire, allowing him to perform devastating melee combos and launch spears of flame to trigger switches and destroy distant objects. This mask is all about offense, and bringing the fight right to the enemy. The latter is powered by wind and ice, allowing Zau to freeze enemies and rivers, and attack his adversaries from a distance.

You’ll switch between the two constantly throughout the game, both in combat and to solve environmental puzzles that impede your progress. Each stage has multiple routes, often leading to hidden collectibles, fragments of memory, and containers full of Ulogi, this game’s version of XP. That said; for a game built so well for exploration, sometimes Tales of Kenzera: Zau fails to give you much that feels worth getting.

There are memories here and there that often amount to a single line of dialogue with little context. Other times you’ll risk life and limb for a block of XP. Now and then you’ll be rewarded with a trinket that you can equip at a workbench to improve elements of Zau’s arsenal or buff one of his abilities, but I reached a point where I didn’t feel like doing the extra challenges or going off the beaten path in case it was just another lacklustre reward at the end of it.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau

Movement is slick and fluid, though, and Zau has a number of abilities such as a double jump, dash, and wall-jump. Getting around the world is simple and feels great, and a fast travel system facilitates all the backtracking that comes with any Metroidvania. The map leaves a little to be desired though. For a start, when you enter an area the map is revealed fully, with no fog of war to let you know where you have and haven’t been. That led to some confusion on a few occasions and seems like a very strange design decision to me.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau doesn’t always feel particularly fresh or original, but it makes up for this by emphasising its story and characters. Anyone who has lost anyone important can relate to Zau’s grief and determination, and his impetuous nature slowly matures throughout the story, showing genuine – if a little clichéd – development. Both your masks have associated skill trees that can be advanced by spending Ulogi, increasing your skills and unlocking new combos and abilities. Special shrines will boost your overall health, too, while you can find new ways to unlock the world simply by exploring and following the story. It’s perhaps not terribly original, but it all works.

Tales of Kenzera: Zau

The world is gorgeous, though. Based heavily on the myths of the Bantu tribes of Africa, each area is rich in colour and detail. From ancient ruins to dark forests, cliff faces wrapped in deadly thorns to rushing underground rivers, the visual variety is impressive. Backdrops, too, are superbly rendered, giving the world a sense of immense scale.

Combat uses multiple combos and charge attacks afforded by the two Masks, and you’ll be switching back and forth constantly, freezing enemies before comboing them to pieces, or hurling spears of flame at distant spirits. Flying enemies can be a pain as Zau’s combos don’t flow as well in mid-air, but on the ground it’s effortlessly fluid. Your dodge takes you right through enemies and their projectiles, while your ability to stunlock aggressors rewards staying on the offensive.


Tales of Kenzera: Zau tells a wonderful story and presents some great moment-to-moment platforming, only let down by a slight lack of imagination in some of the exploration rewards. It certainly feels at times that it puts story first, which is unusual for a Metroidvania but not unwelcome. If anything, though, despite Zau’s occasional quips, it’s a fairly humourless experience. Given the subject matter perhaps that’s not surprising, but it can feel a little po-faced at times.

Ultimately though, Tales of Kenzera: Zau is a well-made, confident adventure with a small but earnest cast, some great voice-acting, and fluid, addictive platforming. It doesn’t take the genre in any new directions, but doesn’t rest on its laurels either, delivering an enjoyable, challenging, and moving experience that will please any fan of the genre.


Looks great
Heartfelt story
Slick platforming and combat


Map isn't great
Doesn't do anything new
Feels a little serious at times

Editor Rating
Our Score


In Short

Tales of Kenzera: Zau is a well-made, confident adventure with some great voice-acting, and fluid, addictive platforming.