- Amazing visual presentation and character animations;
- Challenging and evolving boss battles;
- Simple, yet effective platforming mechanics.
- Regular battles become a button-mashing chore;
- Cutscenes feel disjointed from the actual game;
- Linear world with little rewards for exploration.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits feels a lot like an animated film. It features cute, big-eyed creatures called Rot that follow you around, it has emotional moments that will tug at your heart strings, and it also features a mysterious setting that unfolds with every hour you spend in it. It’s a joy to behold that’s instantly evocative of recent Pixar films with its level of charm and skillful animations.
However, Kena isn’t a movie – it’s a game that may look beautiful, but plays like something we have seen before. But that’s not a huge drawback, no. Because there is so much action, challenge, and wonder here that it keeps you entertained until the very end.
Kena is an enjoyable adventure that mixes familiar elements with the occasional difficulty spike to shake things up. It plays it safe with simplistic combat and an old-school format, but its impressive presentation ultimately lulls you into its world nicely. Its cutscenes tell a story that leaves you curious for more, so here’s hoping that this is just the beginning of great things to come.
The story starts off with Kena on her way to a mountain shrine after her world has been engulfed by toxic corruption zones caused by an unknown force. As a spirit guide, she also has the ability to see spirits and guide them to the next life. Her skills are put to good use throughout her journey, as she will run into characters whose family member, dear friend, or loved one’s spirit has gone missing. In order to call them and free them from corruption, Kena must explore their home land, purify it, and collect artifacts that help that spirit reclaim who they are.
Each chapter features characters with their own tragic stories, and the game features plenty of cutscenes and dialogue that keep you involved in their plight. We felt emotionally invested in some characters mainly due to the dazzling animations featured in cutscenes, with facial expressions that truly capture pain, joy, or heartache. What’s even sadder is that these characters are already dead, so you are simply helping them find peace.
In fact, these passing characters have much more depth than the protagonist herself. Sure, you do eventually discover more about Kena and her own troubles, but during the first part of the game, she doesn’t even feel like a character with her own personality – mainly because she doesn’t say a lot, and if she does, her lines carry little impact. It’s somewhat disconcerting that dead characters show more life than she does early in the adventure.
Battling it out
Kena plays a lot like an old-school 3-D adventure game, and has you visiting different areas on your map, ridding them of enemies, and moving on to the next one. It’s the kind of linear experience we have all played in some shape or form, but there is plenty of inventive platforming elements and combat mixed in to provide excellent pacing and keep you focused on your objective.
While you’ll mostly be running through natural environments like forests, mountainsides, and caverns, the game features enough verticality to gives your world lots of depth, size, and dimension. You will find yourself climbing up cliffs, shooting switches in order to open doors, and using bombs to create timed platforms to jump across. Your actions will repeat over time, but the allure of finding out what’s next should keep you going.
Enemy battles are simple and focus primarily on melee, with some long-ranged attacks and projectiles that you unlock as you play. Utilizing the shoulder buttons, you can dish out light or heavy attacks, dodge, or put up an energy shield, which, if timed perfectly, lets you parry an attack.
Making your way to your destination means you are bound to encounter scripted battles that will require defeating every enemy in order to move on to the next stage. It’s nothing new, and what often comes with these battles is a tendency to simply mash buttons to get through them as quickly as possible. Enemies don’t do much in the way of melee attacks, either, and the lesser goons don’t put up much of a fight. After a while, these battles are more of a nuisance than a challenge.
Bosses, however, are a completely different pair of shoes. In addition to the big bosses at the end of each storyline, the game fiendishly throws in more formidable enemies that will keep you on your toes. Here, your otherwise useless parry attacks take on much more import. These foes are stronger, have a large health bar, and feature attack patterns that will force you to strategize your best approach. Health recovery areas are limited during these encounters, so knowing when to use them is part of the strategy in and of itself, and makes for a refreshingly fun challenge.
Rot till you drop
Besides just using your spear, bow, or bombs during battles, you can also utilize the cute and fuzzy creatures called Rot that inhabit your world. Each area is filled with hidden Rots to find, so the completionist lot will sure to spend time combing through every corner of the world to find them all. Not only do they follow you around everywhere you go in the most adorable fashion, but in battle, you cast them at enemies to bind them without a second though. Later on, you can unlock abilities like the Rot Hammer to do even more damage.
The more Rots you collect, the stronger your courage meter becomes, allowing you to summon them in battle more often. And when you’re facing off against a boss that just keeps dashing into you, your best bet is to have your little friends slow him down. These multi-talented Rots can also be used to solve simple puzzles that involve purging areas of corruption. Your only reward is currency, which you can use to purchase hats and other accessories for them.
And that’s one of the issues you will encounter while “exploring” the land in Kena. Because the game is linear, you have to follow a path to progress with the story. You can always go back to uncover areas you may have missed, but besides unlocking health upgrades and currency, your efforts won’t amount to much, as the game keeps things very simple. If cute hats and accessories aren’t your thing, don’t waste your time purifying everything around you unless it’s mandatory.
As we mentioned before, Kena is a beautiful-looking game. Its world is filled with vibrant forests, running streams, and clear-blue skies that are revealed after you purify the darkness that surrounds you. Cutscenes are effortlessly acted and truly showcase Ember Lab’s roots in animation, but they run considerably slower than the rest of the game. It’s a small complaint, but this causes them to stand out like a sore thumb for all the wrong reasons, as they feel disconnected from the rest of the game.
Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.
Despite occasional flaws, Kena is an enjoyable adventure that mixes familiar elements with the occasional difficulty spike to shake things up. It plays it safe with simplistic combat and an old-school format, but its impressive presentation ultimately lulls you into its world nicely. Its cutscenes tell a story that leaves you curious for more, so here’s hoping that this is just the beginning of great things to come.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com