EA have announced Tales of Kenzera: Zau, a side-scrolling metroidvania from Surgent Studios, the developer founded by voice actor Abubakar Salim. It's being published under the EA Originals label, and is inspired by the myths of African Bantu cultures. It's also something of a memorial project, shaped by Salim's own experiences of grief, though you might not get that impression from the trailer, which is a blaze of magical battles and aerial stunts.
In Tales of Kenzera, you play a young shaman who bargains with the God of Death to save his father from oblivion. You'll call upon shamanic powers bestowed by the Sun and Moon to defeat restless spirits, bypass a variety of traps and deadfalls in frenetic platforming sequences, and plumb the secrets of a vivid, techno-fantastical backdrop. There's also a levelling system of sorts, with points to spend on skills.
The game is being made with the help of the Ridley Scott Creative Group and celebrity tabletop show Critical Role. Its score is the work of Nainita Desai, a TV and film composer who also created music for Sam Barlow's Immortality.
You might recognise Salim as the voice of Bayek from Assassin's Creed: Origins. Speaking to Gamespot in an interview published after tonight's announcement, he reflected on how the story of that game shaped his approach to Tales of Kenzera.
"I think grief is one of those universal feelings that we're all going to go through in some way, shape, or form," Salim said. "And I think for me, it is funny, right? When I was doing Assassin's Creed, as you say, there was a form of grief there that really kind of came across in a way of anger and a way of vengeance. And I think, it is one of those [stories] where it is one perspective, and it worked in that setting and it worked for that character.
"But I think what I really wanted to do was be in the driving seat and tell a perspective of grief that was honest to me, and that was honest in regards to a sense of the journey that I've gone through. And I feel like, especially just how messy, and how chaotic and crazy grief is; it isn't one shade, it's multiple, and depending on where you take it from, that's also part and parcel of it all."
Salim also described the metroidvania genre as "the perfect encapsulation of what grief is", because it's about circling back to initially blocked paths armed with new insight. "You're thrown into an event or a space or a place that you have no idea how to maneuver or work or figure out and everyone's experience is very unique to their own," he explained. "But what this space does have when you look into it a bit more, and spend time with it, is a sense of tools that you can then use to backtrack and go and work with what you're experiencing."
Tales of Kenzera is out on 23rd April 2024. I'm intrigued by Salim's characterisation of the metroidvania, and will be keeping an eye out for more.