Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the first major title by Ember Labs. The first time they revealed the game back in 2020, I was already interested just from the way the game looked. When they introduced those adorable little black furballs, I was hooked. I wanted to know more about the world and more importantly, I wanted to know more about those little creatures called Rots.
The game opens with Kena going on a pilgrimage to the Mountain Shrine. What normally would be an easy trek up the mountains has been made difficult by an evil spirit that has corrupted the path. Kena soon learns that in order to clear the path to the mountains, she must help the spirits of the village to move on to the other side.
Luckily, she does not have to do this alone. The Rots are more than just cute little furballs, they are actually spirits of the forest that help augments Kena’s abilities. The more Rots join you, the more powerful Kena becomes. There are also other spirits along the way that teach Kena new abilities to broaden her abilities. With each spirit she helps, she learns more about what tragedy that has befallen the village via a short clip that shows what happened from the spirit’s point of view.
Going through the game is like going through a Pixar movie. The world is incredibly beautiful where the terrain is rendered with a lot of detail, from beautiful open spaces and winding forest paths to quaint little villages and pier to claustrophobic underground caves. The character models have been wonderfully created too, specifically with the hair and fur. Ember Labs is showing their forte in animation in every nook and cranny of this game.
Exploring the game is just a delight. Not only because the game looks great, the platforming mechanics and jumping puzzles are quite well designed. Granted, the actual jump animation can feel floaty at times, and the climbing feels very familiar, the other traversal mechanics make up for it in spades. First there is the grapple flower which pulls you from one platform to the next if shot with a bow. The other is the spirit bomb that makes some spiritually charged rocks float for a short time. All this together makes exploring and navigating through this wonderfully crafted world such a blast.
As cute and wonderful the game is, Kena is not exactly something a kid can play because the combat itself is brutal. Even on Normal, the game is punishing. The way combat works is that you have your standard light and heavy attacks, your dodge and block as well as a Bow and a bomb that is unlocked in the story. You also have special abilities that require the Rots. They can do everything from distracting the enemies to empowering your strikes to deal massive damage. Unfortunately, healing is also a Rot ability that can be used only 2 maybe 3 times depending on the battle. So, you have to juggle between dealing with the enemies faster or keeping yourself alive which wouldn’t be a problem if the dodging or blocking were more reliable.
Blocking is particularly troublesome, it can be depleted in 3-4 strikes and it has a delay. By the time you decide to block, there is about half a second before the shield actually comes up. The timing is quite difficult because the enemies can’t decide between not giving you room to breathe or posing every time they try to hit you. By all accounts, dodging might be the more logical way to avoid damage but that is just not true. There are times where enemies go on successive attacks that your dodge just can’t keep up. This means you need to know when to block and when to dodge which requires a lot of trial and error.
Unfortunately, all this wonderful graphics takes its toll on the PS4 version of the game. The frame rate in the village and pier areas in particular, tend to have massive dips in the frame rate the more of the area you unlock. Luckily, the areas where you explore and do have combat just have a couple of pop-ins here and there. There was even a game breaking bug that was only present in the PS4 during the first few days of launch. Luckily, the recent patches have removed most of the issues but the frame rate still drops from time to time.
While the game is without issues, Kena is still a wonderful action adventure game filled with cute characters, challenging combat and wonderful world building.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits – PS4 Review
It’s a fun game that has its few kinks that can easily be ignored.