LifeisXbox’s Kena: Bridge of Spirits Review | When I first saw Kena: Bridge of Spirits back in June 2020, I was instantly hooked on how good the graphics looked. Sure, this was taking advantage of Unreal Engines’ new graphical applications such as Lumen and Nanite, but the game in my opinion had no right looking this good. Fast forward to today and Kena: Bridge of Spirits has finally arrived and what I saw a year ago has been expanded upon dramatically. Created and published by Ember Lab, Kena: Bridge of Spirits will draw you in from the moment you start playing. It will pull at your heartstrings, make you laugh, make you cry, and deliver a sensational story that will grip you right until the credits stop rolling. The story follows Kena, a young spirit guide who uses her magical abilities to help deceased people move from the physical to the spirit world. The game is presented through a third-person perspective and contains exploration, puzzles, and combat elements.
ℹ️ | Aaron played Kena: Bridge of Spirits for 14 hours on PC. This game is also available on Playstation 4/5 and is an Epic Games store exclusive.
What we liked!
- Skills and Abilities | The skills and abilities in Kena: Bridge of Spirits are unlocked as you progress through the game. You start with the usual wealth of abilities like jumping, swimming, attacking, but later on unlock abilities like shooting spirit arrows to help with airborne enemies. Other abilities such as Spirit Bomb, Spirit Dash, Stun (Rot Action), Rot Hammer (Rot Action), Rot Infused Arrow (Rot Action), Rot Infused Bomb (Rot Action) are some of the most thought out abilities I have seen in a game. Essentially this allows you to plan your attacks and ensure you are the most effective as you can be.
- Mechanics | The mechanics in the game are nicely tuned as well. There are a couple of standout mechanics which have multiple uses and it’s very clever how they have implemented this into the game. Holding the left bumper on a controller will bring up a defensive ball which acts as your defense against the enemies in the game. This also acts as a way of interacting with crystals in-game also. Letting go of the bumper will cause the ball to disperse creating a wave of energy letting you hit crystals which can then be used to open doors, collect upgrade shards from hanging crystals, and causing chain reactions to multiple crystals.
The other mechanic (and arguably the best) is the Rot system. The Rot are the cute little creatures you see following Kena around in-game. They don’t look like much but they can pack a punch and when working together when you find multiple ROT, they can be fused to create a devastating ally capable of destroying barricades and enemies alike. In battle, the Rot will most likely stay back unless you collect orbs of courage, which can later be used to summon the Rot onto your enemy causing them to become distracted allowing you to strike. It’s a great way of elevating the basic combat mechanic in the game. The final mechanic and feature of the Rot are that out of combat sequences they can be used to lift and carry objects to help you reach other areas. Sometimes exploring under a rock might yield another Rot to collect adding to your overall Rot amount.
- The Music and Audio | The music is beautiful. It has been well researched and speaks well to the theme of the game. The jungle setting means there is a heavy emphasis on tribal tones, soft repetitive drumming, and pan flutes which can create a sense of tranquility and exploration when not in combat. During the battle, the tempo rises creating the urgency and frantic nature that it entails. During the many in-game cut-scenes, these are repeated given what is on screen. The whole audio design in-game is astounding including the ambiance. Running water from nearby rivers, the rustle of trees and bushes along the wind all helps drag you into its believable and living world.
- Cinematic Moments | By far one of the best parts of the game is the in-game cinematics and the scripted cinematics which showcase the power of Unreal Engine and the animations that Ember Lab has painstakingly created. Despite the non-realistic graphical design choice here, Kena, the Rot, and all the supporting characters all have their facial nuances present. When someone smiles out the corner of their mouth it is all visibly present and adds a lot to the overall storytelling. Not only are the people amazing here and very high quality, the setting in which they are placed drives the performance home. There is one scene where we see Taro running through the woods in a storm, screaming out for help, his light from his lantern burning lighting up individual areas of his face, showing that he is visibly scared, tears streaming down his face. It’s all very impactful and I have never seen quality like this from an indie studio.
- The Boss Fights | The boss fights in Kena are full of variety and offer a lot of choices on how to take them down. Not all bosses can just be rushed and attacked with your stuff and abilities. You need to combine a mixture of defensive and offensive tactics. Rushing straight in is a great way of getting you killed. Taking a defensive stance on the game with ROT helping you break the boss’s attention is a tactic that works well, but even that has its limitations. A mixture of spirit arrows, spirit bombs, and environmental tactics can all be used to fell your enemies. Not all boss battles are cut and dry and there were two that took me a bit to beat.
- The Story | Kena, a young spirit guide arrives at an abandoned village, sensing the presence of restless spirits there. The whole story falls into place quite quickly and becomes engaging very early on. One of the game’s opening scenes is very cinematic and sets the tone quickly. As Kena explores the village, she comes across two young spirits named Beni and Saiya, who are looking for their teenage brother, Taro. This is where the Rot are introduced and the cause of the corruption in the forest. Uniting together, they promise to help her find her way to a sacred mountain and help save the forest if Kena helps them find Taro. It’s a well-thought-out story with some solid characters and a strong final act that will leave you crying or stifling back the tears hard. Overall, a sign of strong storytelling.
- The World | Ember Lab has done a great job creating a magical and mystical world that harkens back to the PS2 days where the likes of Jak & Daxter and other platformers shone. The world here is so well crafted that it is hard not to just stop and stare when walking through to your next destination. There is a fair bit of combat in the game but this is where Kena: Bridge of Spirits shines. The wildlife, the foliage, the attention to detail on the people and their homes makes it feel like you are exploring a forest village filled with living creatures and it’s easy to get dragged into the world and explore every inch. After all, there are many things to find and experience in the game so exploration is encouraged. There are lots of ROT to discover, and lots of meditation points to help increase your overall health
- A few bugs | There were a few times where simple collisions were not present and I was able to clip through objects like walls and reach areas I shouldn’t have been able to until later in the game. It was by no means game-breaking but the quality control could be improved. There may be more instances of this throughout the game but my own experience wasn’t ruined by this.
What we disliked
- Lack of way points | Early on in the game, I spent a good hour or 2 looking into a puzzle where I had to free up roots from a tree that had been trapped by enemies. After spending a frustrating amount of time on this, I finally managed to figure it out, but what would have been a nice addition would have been a hint or two on what to do, or at least an inner monologue from the character to help me on my way. The game is far from small and the world you explore is very vast, so this seems like a missed opportunity to me.
How long to beat the story | 16 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | 35+ hours
Similar with | Ratchet & Clank and Jak & Daxter. The platforming, quirky gameplay and mechanics all feel very similar in nature.
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Gaming is in my blood. Be it handheld games, Xbox, PC, Switch or Playstation, I am all over it.
I make my own games as part of my profession and love playing co op games with friends in my spare time. Avid dog lover and camper van enthusiast.