If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then the folks who worked on the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy must be blushing their socks off right now. Kaze and the Wild Masks pays homage to the SNES classics in just about every way you could imagine resulting in a game that will be immediately familiar to fans but every bit as enjoyable too.
Kaze and the Wild Masks is your typical ’90s-style 2D platformer – your adventure separated out into individual levels, these all entered through a series of linear maps. Even the story feels right in line with those older titles – someone in danger leaving it up to our lead to make their way through level after level and save the day. Environments are nice and varied taking you through snowy clifftops one moment then poisonous wastelands the next while the enemies you face come in the form of evil vegetables (a rabbit’s worst nightmare, I imagine).
Of all the Kong family, Kaze herself controls very similarly to Dixie, her ears acting as a propellor (similar to Dixie’s hair) and her attack more of a spin (again similar to Dixie). Controlling her feels great, her movements nippy but always accurate. Fans of the Donkey Kong Country series will even notice the increased momentum Kaze builds as she spins into successive enemies in a row. And yes, you can even spin off a platform and jump in mid-air (just like in Donkey Kong Country).
Levels continue to throw new mechanics your way, no two ever using the same idea again (maybe at the very least evolving a previous idea). Expect to see everything from momentum-building winds to rising poison to enemies that can be put to sleep so long as you hit certain flowers. While a lot of the game’s ideas feel overly familiar, thanks to some strong level design and the satisfying controls they’re a delight to revisit.
You’ve probably noticed I’ve mentioned Donkey Kong Country a fair bit in this review, and with good reason. With every new level, I couldn’t help but find myself pointing to an idea or mechanic and saying “I remember that in Donkey Kong Country.” And I’m not just talking big obvious similarities either like crossbows acting as the game’s version of shooting barrels or the fact you’re collecting four letters in each level to spell out Kaze’s name. It’s even in the little things that had me grinning from ear to ear, proud that I’d noticed something that only a fan might pick up on. One of the earlier levels for example looked remarkably similar to the thorny vined stages featured in Donkey Kong Country 2. The only thing missing was Stickerbrush Symphony playing in the background. Or the way Kaze would hang from floating rings with her ears, again in a similar fashion to the way Dixie Kong would with her hair. There are so many winks and nods both obvious and subtle to be found in this game fans will get a kick out of finding them all alone.
The ‘Wild Masks’ mentioned in the game’s title pop up in various levels, each one providing Kaze with a handful of abilities when worn. Once again, my mind goes back to the Donkey Kong Country games where animal buddies would fill that same role. The eagle mask allows Kaze to flap and fly through the air (spitting out projectiles to attack) while the shark mask lets you swim through water with a handy torpedo dash. The tiger mask also allows Kaze to dash (this time on land or in the air) but also cling onto walls. Lastly, the lizard mask forces Kaze into constantly running forwards essentially playing out like the mine cart stages of – you guessed it – Donkey Kong Country. While the masks merely act to offer more opportunity to inject all-too-familiar ideas, they do provide welcome variety with every appearance adding new ideas and finding fun ways to make use of their abilities.
Getting through a level is one thing, but obtaining 100% will require a little more effort. The aforementioned collectable letters are just one objective you’ll need to complete along with gathering 100 gems – levels rarely having much more than your goal so missing out on a bunch could prove a problem – and finding and completing two bonus rooms (again another Donkey Kong Country feature), these tasking you with defeating X number of enemies or finding X number of gems. After this you can even race for the fastest time in time trial, an option that goes on to highlight just how well built these levels are for speedrunning, Kaze able to dash through a level stringing together enemy bounces or skip chunks entirely.
The game does a pretty decent job escalating its difficulty at a steady rate without ever spiking unfairly or unexpectedly. I did find a handful of levels though where the checkpoints felt a little too stretched apart, a simple (and easy to make) slip to my death resulting in me having to re-tread large chunks of the stage. Bosses too – while certainly challenging and enjoyable – can border on frustration especially when dealing with some of the latter and longer battles.
Replace its lead rabbit with an ape in a red tie and you might even say that Kaze and the Wild Masks is Donkey Kong Country 4 in disguise. But, at the end of the day, its lack of originality doesn’t hurt just how much fun it’s been making my way through this eight or so hour adventure. The Donkey Kong Country trilogy was fun for a reason and Kaze and the Wild Masks serves as an excellent reminder of why that was.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by SOEDESCO