Kena Bridge of Spirits review: a game you’ve played before
Kena: Bridge of Spirits – now available on PC, PS4, and PS5 – is the debut game from California studio Ember Lab, which previously specialized in making animated shorts and commercials. No wonder then that the most successful thing about Kena: Bridge of Spirits is its character designs and animations. The titular protagonist Kena (voiced by Dewa Ayu Dewi Larassanti) feels like a Studio Ghibli heroine designed by Disney, Pixar and Laika. Kena is accompanied everywhere by tiny, cute little creatures that can best be described as furry black colored Minions (although they aren’t goofy fools). Some of the supporting characters are really adorable too. And all of them look their best in Kena: Bridge of Spirits Photo Mode, where they pose, say cheese, and come to life.
All in a universe inspired by Asian cultures, mainly Japanese and Balinese. Inari fox statues dot the landscape, torii gates are taken from Shinto, and the pretty score of the gamelan orchestra in the background of the game (especially when Kena is exploring) involves collaboration with the ensemble. Baliense Gamelan Çudamani. But Kena: Bridge of Spirits never really justifies its setting, explaining why its story has to borrow – a cynic might say “appropriate,” instead of borrowing – the cultures it does. After all, Ember Lab is happy to stick with Western English accents everywhere, which doesn’t mesh well with their love for everything visually oriental.
Speaking of the story, Kena: Bridge of Spirits never really appeals to you. A big part of that is because her characters aren’t fleshed out with Kena herself being fuzzy, so you’re not really motivated to do what the game wants. And while the game has strong thematic building blocks – it’s about mourning, healing, and moving forward – Ember Labs is unable to come up with any mechanics that could illustrate this through Kena’s gameplay: Bridge of Spirits. For the most part, it’s a standard action platformer drawing on the same tools that power Sony’s biggest franchises (from God of War to Horizon Zero Dawn) in line with its obvious inspirations from Zelda. All merged into one. The only good thing is that it’s not bloated, coming in at eight to nine.
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Kena: Bridge of Spirits opens with a text crawl, telling us that it takes place in a world where people build wooden masks to honor those who have died and help guide their spirits to the World to Come. But some spirits sometimes get stuck, manifesting in contortions resembling trees and corrupting the world. This is where Kena comes in. Like her father, Kena is a spiritual guide – she is blessed with a magic staff handed down by the family for generations. Kena heals lost souls (read: hit them repeatedly on the head) and removes corruption. She is a bridge for spirits, figuratively. But she doesn’t do the job alone.
The aforementioned furry black Minions, known as Rot, follow Kena and help her in a number of ways as well. Rot can unlock new areas – either by transporting items from one location to another which in turn solve environmental puzzles, or by transforming into a large sea lion-like creature for a limited time to take out the corruption. Rot can also aid you in the fight in Kena: Bridge of Spirits – crushing enemies or distracting them so you can lick a few hits. But Rot needs “courage” to emerge into combat, which Kena must build by attacking and picking up golden spheres that enemies drop. (The only problem with Rot is that they’re called Rot, which objectively is a terrible name. I guess Ember Labs wanted them to be a personification of rot, but “rot” is not. not a good word.)
“Courage” should be used judiciously in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, however, as it also has other attack and defense objectives in combat. You can use it to heal yourself using Rot-activated healing zones inside each battle arena. “Courage” can also be summoned to have Rot destroy enemy spawn points. And finally, it also fuels Kena’s overkill abilities – from a “rot infused arrow” that deals powerful damage, to a powered “rot hammer” that deals area damage to all enemies around. Staying alive in Kena: Bridge of Spirits is all about deciding how best to use the “courage” you have. All the more important since Kena cannot take much damage.
The special abilities – Rot Hammer, Rot Infused Arrow, Slow Motion Archery, Shield Boost, and Sprint Attacks – available in the skill tree all require this aforementioned ‘karma’ motto which is earned by fighting. enemies and restoring the corrupted environment around you.
All of this complements Kena’s primary combat skills which don’t need “karma” or “courage.” You have light attack, heavy attack, shield, dodge, block, parry, and bow and arrows. You’ll need to use a mix of these, in combination with all of the special skills, to defeat the enemies that Kena: Bridge of Spirits throws at you. As the difficulty increases with new types of enemies, Kena: Bridge of Spirits also pushes you to adapt. While I could get by with light attacks early on, against larger enemies, I found myself using dodge more often, sending Rot to tie them up, then firing powerful arrows from a distance. But since the arenas in Kena: Bridge of Spirits tend to be small, the combat ended up being a mash at times – which isn’t fun.
Other than that, the combat is interspersed with platforming pieces and crossing puzzles. This mainly involves looking for switches that Rot or your bow can touch, giant flowers that you can hang on to with your bow (like a grappling hook), or rocks and climbing ledges that are conveniently marked with white paint ( is it bird droppings?). If you get stuck, you can wear the aforementioned wooden masks to see the world from the perspective of other spirits – this highlights objects of interest. But the solutions to some puzzles in Kena: Bridge of Spirits can be obtuse. I once got stuck at a sublevel for half an hour, only to stumble upon a solution that still makes no sense to me.
While Kena: Bridge of Spirits encourages you to explore, it’s not an open world. Just like the old Zelda-type games from which it draws its inspiration, its world is divided into zones which are unlocked one after the other. Each zone has the same ultimate goal: to free a spirit. This usually involves the acquisition of a defined quantity of an item. Doing this in turn will require you to complete some subtasks. Everything is very simple. As you make your way through each area, you will come across infestations that block your way. You can eliminate those who use Rot after defeating the enemies that will inevitably appear. There will be mini bosses along the way and a major boss at the end. Game design 101 essentially.
You can also choose to sit anywhere and play with the Rot. Kena will even do it on her own if you let her do it for a while.
That said, the world of Kena: Bridge of Spirits is truly beautiful and colorful – even though the game is filled with decay, blockage, and loneliness – from its dark lantern-lit caves to its open-air luminous forest. And that’s from my perspective on the base PlayStation 4, where smooth performance comes at the expense of graphical detail and visible alias (especially when Kena is running). It’s not as if the game is pushing for realism, with its cartoonish textures. And while I didn’t experience Kena: Bridge of Spirits in its prime, this is how most console gamers will invariably play it, given Sony’s struggles to make enough PlayStation 5 units for everyone. world. Not to mention the other supply issues in India. If you’re on PC, you get a much better deal thanks to Epic’s regional pricing efforts.
Ultimately, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a 3D action-adventure game by numbers. It may look like a modern Zelda game but is not played as such. Much of it is just a series of arena-based combat routines, stitched together by long stretches of traversal, and well-crafted cutscenes that look like a forgotten Hollywood B-movie. Too often, Kena: Bridge of Spirits reminds you of the best games you’ve played and borrowed from – which isn’t a good sign. There is nothing wrong with learning from others, it is certainly well done, but it lacks originality. Kena: Bridge of Spirits has little personality, as it adopts the glow of others. For a first title, it’s definitely a good effort – but I’m afraid Ember Labs played it too cautiously.
- Character design
- Beautiful world
- Short and sweet
- Title in numbers
- Cultural dissonance
- Bland tale
- Lack of originality
- Dark puzzles
Note (out of 10): 6
Kena: Bridge of Spirits was released on September 21 for PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. It costs Rs. 939 on Epic Games Store and Rs. 3,330 on PlayStation Store.