The action platformer Tales of Kenzera: ZAU was recently announced at the Game Awards. We found out more about the potential story highlight in an exclusive interview for our preview
Games like Celeste or Ori and the Blind Forest have long since proven that platformers have more to offer than elegant jumping passages. Metroidvanias in particular can be fantastic vehicles for emotional stories, as studio boss and actor (including AC Origins, Black Mirror, Raised by Wolves) Abubakar Salim reveals to us in a DACH-exclusive interview.
For him, Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is full of memories of his father, of long video game sessions together. It is a declaration of love for gaming as he experienced it as a child and the culture of his family, which has its roots in Kenya.
But even without nostalgia, you can expect action-packed battles, fluid jumping passages and a touching story to come. Here’s a closer look at the newly announced single-player adventure for story fans
Table of Contents
A cheerful game about death
Salim lost his father to cancer and then decided to process his own story of loss in a video gamebecause gaming created a special connection between him and his father:
“My father introduced me to gaming at a very young age. One of my earliest memories is playing Sonic on the Megadrive with him. We took turns, it was a shared activity that really bonded us together.
It started with that and later expanded to stories about my grandfather, who was a nganga, a spiritual healer. A shaman, so to speak, about whom my father told all these crazy stories that inspired me from an early age
But the biggest impetus for the game was the loss of my father, who was like my best friend. We had a connection that I can never share with anyone else and Tales of Kenzera honors that in a special way. “
Ghosts, enemies and companions
This very personal experience is closely linked to the story of Tales of Kenzera: ZAU. Main character Zau also loses his father and has to deal with his grief afterwards. Instead of accepting the loss, the young hero forms an alliance with Kalunga, the god of death.
As Nganga (a spiritual healer, as we have already learned), he roams the mystical lands of Kenzera, which are overrun with spirits, and is determined to bring his father back from the dead. To do so, he must bring down three powerful entities (as well as many smaller enemies). However, you will meet allies along the way who will stand by your side. The characters and plot are inspired by African Bantu mythology
Hellblade as role model
Game mechanics and story should often go hand in hand and both deal with Zau’s grief. This becomes clear in the healing stations, for example:
“There’s an element in the game called Reflections – points where you can recharge your health. This is actually an absolutely standard mechanic. But in the meantime, you experience key moments where the hero talks about the grief he’s going through. He opens up and for me that’s vital; don’t close off your pain, share it, talk about it and say how you feel. “
However, the actual fun of the game should not be neglected. For Salim, games like Hellblade have already shown how this can be combined with the pain of the main characters and an emotional story about loss.
Deadly Mask Dance
The dynamic and fast-paced battles in the trailer are almost reminiscent of a rhythm game and are inspired by action-packed titles such as Devil May Cry. The focus is on two masks: the sun mask and the moon mask. In African Bantu mythology, both represent life and death and also symbolize how quickly the change between joy and pain can take place in the grieving process.
At the same time, however, they bring different fighting styles with them, which you can quickly change and combine. For example, you can freeze time – and your opponents – with the moon mask or rain down deadly spears on them with the sun mask. Over time, you will unlock new mask abilities that will make it easier for you to fight and progress through the game world, through which you jump, glide and climb.
Battles and platformer passages should be “accessible, but still difficult to master”. Tricky combos will feel rewarding, according to Salim.
“Metroidvanias are perfect for mourning “
The 2.5D game world is surprisingly colorful and not at all dreary It should be full of life and confront you with shamans, ghosts or supernatural creatures from the Bantu culture. Two hub areas anchor you in the world, but you roam through different regions such as rich forests or barren steppes according to the Metroidvania principle and gradually unlock new routes and areas
For Salim, this also closes the circle to Zau’s personal journey, as he grows and finds new joy in life:
“Metroidvanias are the perfect genre for embracing grief. They throw you in somewhere, you have no idea and you have to gradually learn to deal with the situation.”
What exactly this journey looks like and which paths the hero takes is up to the player, which is something only games as an interactive medium can achieve. Tales of Kenzera: ZAU is scheduled for release on April 23, 2024 for PC (Steam, Epic, EA App), PS5, Xbox Series and Nintendo Switch.
Conclusion of the editorial team
The interview with Abubakar Salim felt more like reminiscing together. Anyone who has been playing games all their life associates so much nostalgia with the medium, be it, as in my case, trying out the first Sims together with a friend and herding my Nintendogs under the Christmas tree or, as in his case, discovering the hobby together with his father.
The fact that Tales of Kenzera is so closely linked to him as a person, his memories and also his culture makes me curious about the game. For a story game in particular, it is so important that the story has a soul, vulnerability and the courage to deal with more serious topics – especially because grief and loss inevitably play a big and important role in all our lives.
It remains to be seen how well the actual game can capture all these facets and whether it will succeed in linking them to the actual fun of the game. The fast-paced battles and dynamic jumping passages from the trailer whet the appetite for more, but for me it all depends on how precise the controls are, how fair the save and healing points are and whether there is enough challenge in the battles.