Kena: Bridge of Spirits assessment: A legendary journey
“Kena: Bridge of Spirits is as gorgeous and elegantly crafted as a big budget game, making it a statement debut for Ember Lab.”
Delightful Rot mechanic
Tough, however honest battles
Elegant complexity curve
Frustrating assault patterns
On a floor look, few would most likely guess that Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a self-published, debut mission from a small studio. The journey recreation is about as polished as could be, with attractive visuals, cutscenes that rival (if not surpass) fashionable CG animated movies, and iron-tight gameplay mechanics. If there was ever any doubt that the barrier between “indie” and “AAA” has eroded over time, right here’s a recreation that shatters any remaining partitions.
Developed by Ember Lab, Kena: Bridge of Spirits bursts onto PS4, PS5, and PC through the Epic Games Store with the arrogance of a first-party Sony recreation. It pulls components from Zelda, Uncharted, Dark Souls, and many extra heavy hitters above its weight class to ship a knockout blow to its style. It’s no shock that it’s gotten a large highlight throughout Sony’s State of Play streams and this 12 months’s Tribeca Festival; that is the type of assertion debut that calls for consideration.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is an exquisitely crafted journey that fuses traditional and fashionable recreation design ideas with ease. Whether it’s riffing on Pikmin with its ingenious creature-controlling mechanics or serving up deceptively difficult battles, it excels at all the things it does. That’s all topped off with a poignant, Miyazaki-like story instructed by way of deep worldbuilding and cinema-quality cutscenes.
The Legend of Kena
When it first debuted, Kena: Bridge of Spirits drew some early comparisons to The Legend of Zelda sequence. Those have been definitely warranted, nevertheless it doesn’t paint a full image of the sport. It’s bursting with inspirations that construct upon a long time of online game historical past. The common framework feels timeless; Kena is a staff-wielding hero who units out to discover a mountain shrine in a poisoned world that’s been deserted by everybody, besides monsters.
Many of its structural beats are acquainted, however in a heat, comforting means. Players deal with well-designed platforming sections, seek out relics that take them to every nook of a sprawling map, and discover a entire bunch of collectible secrets and techniques scattered in each nook and cranny. It’s a traditional online game premise that’s someway nostalgic to each period, however every little bit of it’s shined up till it sparkles.
Exploring in Kena: Bridge of Spirits all the time feels satisfying, as a result of every instrument has a transparent objective that’s straightforward to maintain monitor of.
Take exploration, for example. Kena doesn’t have as many instruments as Link, however every one is equally essential to navigation. Her arrows enable her to zip onto flowers like a hookshot, she will be able to scale partitions a la Uncharted, and a mid-game spirit bomb magically rebuilds damaged constructions to create the sport’s most intelligent platforming puzzles. Exploring in Kena: Bridge of Spirits all the time feels satisfying, as a result of every instrument has a transparent objective that’s straightforward to maintain monitor of; there’s no mechanical fluff to sluggish the tempo down.
Its most pleasant thought comes from a shocking recreation, although: Pikmin. Kena can accumulate and management cute black creatures referred to as Rot, who swarm and squeak round her like Spirited Away’s soot sprites. The Rot infuse Kena’s conventional journey programs with its most ingenious concepts. They can carry objects to disclose collectibles, lug rocks round that create new platforms, or kind right into a water-like swarm that may break by way of thorny roadblocks. Every time I found a brand new interplay, I’d squeal with pleasure — each as a result of I used to be delighted by what number of artistic methods the sport may stretch a easy system and since they’re simply so darn cute. They may even put on tiny cowboy hats!
Yes, I’m severe about that final half. Another classic a part of Kena’s DNA is its collect-a-thon setup. There’s plenty of optionally available objects to search out all through the world, however every one is definitely price monitoring down for various causes. The Rot themselves function a intelligent, but practical collectible, because the swarm ranges up and features new talents when Kena finds sufficient creatures. There’s additionally an entire bunch of tiny hats that may be discovered through chests and fight challenges, and every Rot could be outfitted with a distinct one. That doesn’t have any gameplay implications, nevertheless it certain is a enjoyable diversion.
That speaks to the core energy at play in Kena: it’s all the time playful. Every new instrument, platforming puzzle, or buried treasure brings one other pleasant shock that rewards anybody who’s keen to lose themselves in a digital journey.
Don’t be fooled by the lovable creatures and little hats, although: Kena will get deceptively powerful. Combat is as vital as exploration right here, and as thoughtfully constructed too. At first, gamers solely use a light-weight and heavy workers assault to melee enemies. But the sport does a wonderful job of steadily ramping up what gamers can do. It’s a swish complexity curve that naturally builds alongside the sport’s issue.
Kena quickly features the flexibility to shoot arrows from her workers, bringing a ranged part into the combo. Bombs add one other layer across the recreation’s midway level, bringing some puzzle mechanics to battle. One stony boss can solely be broken as soon as Kena makes use of bombs to show its picket pores and skin beneath. Every merchandise has a choose few upgrades too, every of which feels helpful and never identical to a pleasant, however ineffective perk.
The Rot play a wonderful supporting position in battles too. When Kena builds up sufficient resolve, she will be able to deploy the Rot for a wide range of functions. They can swarm round an enemy to briefly distract them, heal Kena by blooming flowers across the battlefield, and even infuse with weapons to create highly effective particular assaults. Each time I had sufficient vitality saved up, I’d discover myself having to make selections about how I’d command the Rot. Should I heal myself whereas my well being is low, or hearth off a Rot arrow to deal an additional chunk of harm? It’s a stage of strategic depth that nearly makes the Rot really feel like an RPG magic system.
Shielding and evasion play a serious position in battles too, giving the fights a manageable Dark Souls edge. Kena has a spirit bubble, which acts as a protect in battle. Block too many instances and it’ll break, however activate it on the proper second and she or he’ll parry enemies, leaving them susceptible for a couple of seconds. While my intuition was to keep away from it at first, it rapidly turned essential to my battle plan.
It’s a swish complexity curve that naturally builds alongside the sport’s issue.
It’s vital to have a plan, as a result of fights begin to get severe in the direction of the again half of the sport. The problem naturally crescendos with battles that really feel powerful, however achievable. While fights principally really feel honest, they do present a number of the recreation’s uncommon moments of frustration. Certain enemy assaults can go surprisingly far, making them just a little tough to learn or keep away from. Some creatures additionally appear to have the flexibility to show something they throw right into a homing missile. I’d continuously really feel like I’d cleanly dodge out of a rock’s path, just for it to show right into a curveball and beam me on the pinnacle.
Those moments are uncommon, although. More typically than not, I felt completely in management in battle as a result of I had a agency understanding of all my instruments. By the penultimate boss, I’d discover myself sticking a bomb onto an enemy, taking pictures it with a Rot-infused arrow to deal some additional ranged injury whereas detonating it, dashing ahead to shut the space, activating my protect on the proper time to counter an assault, and swinging my workers to rapidly minimize down its well being bar. Kena will get gamers to that time at a gentle tempo, ensuring they’ve sufficient time to totally grasp a instrument’s potential earlier than introducing a brand new concept that provides extra depth.
Eat your coronary heart out, Hollywood
Developer Ember Lab began out as an animation studio and that’s readily obvious. One of the primary issues gamers will discover when booting Kena up is that it options attractive visuals that don’t probably look like they might have come from a small, first-time recreation studio. Environments pop because of a wealthy shade palette that juxtaposes the cool blues and greens of the pure world with neon-like splashes of crimson and burnt-out browns. Each little character involves life with animation element, together with each single Rot.
The excessive manufacturing worth is very obvious within the recreation’s cutscenes, which genuinely look as if they’ve been pulled from a high-budget, CG animated movie. It looks like Ember Lab is pushing online game animation to its limits right here — which turns into clear as a number of the recreation’s busier sequences are likely to bump up towards noticeable framerate stutters.
All these fairly photos go to good use, as Kena’s actual sturdy go well with comes within the type of its story. The recreation performs like a traditional Hayao Miyazaki movie (assume Princess Mononoke or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind), with Kena combating to protect nature’s magnificence. She’s in the end on a quest to reverse an environmental catastrophe that’s precipitated a whole village to flee. On her technique to the shrine, she interacts with the spirits of those that have been unable to cease it. The ghosts that linger round grieve for a as soon as lovely place, highlighting the non-public ache that comes from a failure to guard the world round us.
The excessive manufacturing worth is very obvious within the recreation’s cutscenes, which genuinely look as if they’ve been pulled from a high-budget, CG animated movie.
But Kena isn’t a narrative of gloom and doom. It pauses to offer empathy for these overwhelmed by ache, however nonetheless strikes ahead, providing hope for the long run. The recreation hinges on moments of environmental catharsis the place Kena makes use of the Rot to revert lifeless areas again into thriving, grassy plains. Watching gnarled wooden and toxic fuel revert again to lush hills (an impact that seamlessly occurs in-game because of next-gen tech) makes Kena: Bridge of Spirits into a real energy fantasy. Not one the place a grizzled soldier destroys all the things in sight with a large gun, however one the place even the smallest individual has the facility to rebuild the world round them.
Things aren’t fairly really easy in our personal world, however Kena stands as a much-needed beacon of optimism for gamers younger and outdated.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the best journey recreation launched in years and a transparent spotlight of the most recent console cycle. Both its exploration and fight elements steadily construct in complexity with instruments that all the time have a transparent objective. That elegant mechanical design retains the give attention to the sport’s impactful story, which tells an aching, however hopeful story of environmental catastrophe. There are plenty of factors of comparisons to be made when breaking all of it down, however Kena: Bridge of Spirits blends each little affect collectively into its personal attractive combine.
Is there a greater various?
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the journey recreation to beat, however Kena is the most suitable choice for PS5 homeowners for the time being.
How lengthy will it final?
The story takes round 10 hours to finish with some wholesome assortment. Finding all the things will lengthen the playtime additional, as will the Master issue mode that’s unlocked upon completion.
Should you purchase it?
Yes. Forget Deathloop and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart: that is the defining console unique of the PS5’s debut 12 months.