Kena Bridge of Spirits Review: Finding the Way

Kena Bridge of Spirits is the game that comes closest to the feel of a great Pixar-Esque animated movie. It’s clear Ember Lab put their animation background to good use, but Kena Bridge of Spirits is also an incredible first effort from the game development studio. Kena is a delicious game that emphasizes exploration, and her world feels alive because of it.

Kena Bridge of Spirits Review: Finding the Way

The story follows Kena, a spirit guide, who arrives in a remote village in search of her legendary mountain sanctuary. However, something is seriously wrong in the village; it is infested with a plant-like corruption, and the inhabitants are nowhere to be found except two young children. As a spirit guide, Kena must bring peace to the enduring spirits of the villagers and help them pass through the spirit realm. Kena Bridge of Spirits takes inspiration from a variety of other games, from Breath of the Wild to Horizon Zero Dawn. You explore every part of the village and its surroundings as Kena tracks down three “relics” linked to the memories of every spirit she tries to save. Adorable little creatures called Rot join Kena and are the game’s main collectible, as well as the main way to level up and get stronger. Rot is easily one of my favorite aspects of the whole game as little rascals follow you everywhere and constantly appear. They sit on shelves, dance on rocks, circle around Kena, and more. Kena’s relationship with rot is symbiotic, and the game does a fantastic job of communicating that visually. Of course, the Rot also plays directly into the game’s combat system, which is purposely simple but nonetheless dynamic. Kena has light and heavy attacks, and you can spawn a Smash Bros. style bubble shield. around it by keeping the lock button pressed. These are the basics, but Kena does a fantastic job layering new mechanics and abilities throughout the experience. You’ll unlock a Spirit Bow for ranged attacks, armor-piercing bombs, fast movement, and more. There is a nice variety of enemy types out there, but Kena really excels at her climactic boss fights. Each of the second-to-last enemies in the game has a massive difficulty spike, and some of the late-game bosses made me try a dozen times before I could finally overcome them. The majority of boss fights seem well designed mechanically, but there are a few that pale in comparison to others, like the disappointing and frustrating final boss. While there is a lot of combat going on across Kena, the crux of the experience revolves around exploration and puzzle solving, in which Rot and Kena’s abilities also play a role. When not in use to shoot enemies, the bow can activate crystals or function as a grappling hook in specific cases, while bombs can freeze rocks in place to create platforms. During this time, the Rot can be used to pick up and move items, and certain flowers transform the Rot into a controllable creature, similar to Pikmin. Since Breath of the Wild, I haven’t played a game that’s so rewarding to explore, whether you’re discovering a new Rot buddy, a flower sanctuary, Soul Mail, or just enjoying a great view. There’s a real breadcrumb trail of rewards, and while the game’s systems were what initially appealed to me, the story ended up doing the same. Kena’s tale deals with some heavy emotional themes, like dealing with death and loss while trying to move on. The game approaches its themes with grace and also brings a diversity of characters to the table. Part of what I enjoyed so much about Kena’s story is that she doesn’t get bogged down in the exhibit, but rather jumps right into her core issues and how they’re resolved. The fantastic animation, both in-game and through pre-rendered cutscenes, only adds even more depth to the game’s already touching characters. The best word I can think of to describe Kena is sound. Its design looks a bit dated, but in a good way, and I couldn’t help but have a smile on my face for most of my game. The game never goes beyond its welcome, and despite some obtuse puzzles and frustrating boss fights, it’s an experience that does almost everything right. It might not do anything entirely new or shocking, but it is a comfortable experience that will immediately feel familiar to you. If Kena Bridge of Spirits is Ember Lab’s first effort, I absolutely can’t wait to see what their next project will bring.

Kena Bridge of Spirits: the end result

Advantages

Stunning animation both in-game and in cutscenes Drastically growing and improving combat system Rewarding exploration that feels natural A heartfelt story that elegantly tackles difficult materials

The inconvenients

Some frustrating boss fights that don’t measure up to the rest An obtuse puzzle design that can be hard to understand Kena Bridge of Spirits is a magical adventure, even if it doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary. Its elements fit together well, and it’s breathtaking on PS5. It is reminiscent of the days of PS2 platforms in the best possible way, and despite a few small issues, it stands out as one of the best titles of 2021.
[Note: Ember Lab provided the copy of Kena Bridge of Spirits used for this review.]

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