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There’s a really strange familiarity to the way it controls, the world it takes place in, and even the adorable little creatures that join you on your journey. However, it doesn’t feel like a remake of a classic like Shadow of the Colossus or the Yakuza Kiwami series, instead Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a completely inoffensive, if somewhat bland adventure that will mildly entertain for the duration of its runtime, but won’t live long in the memory.
Bridge of Spirits is a third-person action-adventure game with a focus on melee combat. Using the shoulder buttons to attack, you’ll string together heavy and light combos that, while impactful and satisfying, quickly lose their lustre when the hollow nature of the combat becomes clear.
Players also have a block that can be used to parry enemy attacks, adding a bit of depth to proceedings, but we found the timing windows to be inconsistent, and enemies to generally be so simple to deal with that it was an unnecessary addition, although on harder difficulties, it becomes a more essential tool.
Combat is freshened up a few times throughout your playthrough with a bow, some bombs and a dash, but these do little to make the combat feel more than completely passable. It’s very evocative of the era that so clearly inspired the game design, but compared to modern games in a similar genre like 2021’s incredible Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, it leaves a lot to be desired.
The boss encounters, which manage to include some more complex battle elements like a reliance on shooting particular weak points, or timing your attacks more carefully, were very enjoyable, although they’re few and far between.
Enemies can also be stunned by The Rot, the adorable fluffy creatures that are used not only as a combat mechanic, but a collectible and a puzzle-solving technique too. The Rot almost feels like an exercise in marketing. You can practically see the dollar signs in the eyes of Ember Labs, as once these furry companions and their litany of customizable hats are made into plush toys, the studio will likely be able to retire from making games, such is the marketability of the creatures.
We’re conflicted, because on one hand, they feel like gaming’s answer to the Minions, a feeling that isn’t helped by the game’s artstyle, but on the other hand, they are incredibly cute and you can put funny wee hats on them. Your reaction when you saw Baby Yoda for the first time will largely influence how successful The Rot are at winning you over.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is about Kena’s quest to rid the land of a mysterious infection that has ravaged the abandoned village she finds herself in. In order to do this, she needs to settle the souls of those who’ve passed on, but have yet to be put to rest. This is achieved by acquiring three items of significance to that person, before a boss fight with the restless spirit sends them to their final resting place.
“It’s very evocative of the era that so clearly inspired the game design, but compared to modern games in a similar genre like 2021’s incredible Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, it leaves a lot to be desired.”
There’s nothing wrong with Kena’s story, but it feels incongruous with what you’re actually doing in the game. In 2021, you’d expect a journey to settle someone’s soul would include some kind of exploration of those concepts in a gameplay sense, not arrow shooting puzzles and “lift the thing and put it here” ephemera.
Kena’s story attempts to broach sentimentality are also incredibly hollow. Not enough time is spent with any character to become truly invested in them. It’s perhaps a byproduct of the general boredom that sets in as you repeat the same tasks over and over that we found the story difficult to actually recall, despite how basic and formulaic it is.
While the cutscenes throughout the game are very visually impressive, the performances and writing are more like something you’d see in a B-tier Illumination animation, the game less attempting to tug at your heartstrings, and more to rip them away from you. We got a few laughs out of the dialogue, but any kind of emotional resonance was lost.
Graphically, Kena is a strange juxtaposition of incredible looking, but jittery pre-rendered cutscenes, and gameplay that manages to achieve a rock-solid framerate, at the behest of some occasionally dated looking environments. The odd dichotomy in visual style is actually down to the intended framerate of the high-fidelity cutscenes. They’re being rendered at 24 frames per second, the standard frame rate for animated films.
This is why when contrasted with the gameplay which is the more familiar, incredibly smooth 60 fps, they appear juddery and slow. However, on a few occasions, we did experience some slow down with the pre-rendered scenes, causing the audio to go out of sync.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits does almost everything it tries to do successfully, we just wish they’d tried a bit more. The combat system is fine, but never elevates itself above basic action-adventure fodder, despite teasing that evolution during the boss encounters.
The visuals of the pre-rendered cutscenes are truly exceptional, and some of the lighting you’ll encounter while exploring will have you scrambling for the photo mode, but the juxtaposition of the two only leads you to focus on which part of the narrative Ember Labs thought were important enough for the expensive cutscenes, and which were not. The Rot are either the cutest characters of 2021 or a hyper cynical attempt to force a mascot into the memory of players, regardless of the quality of the game.
Despite the issues, it manages to make us extremely curious to see what Ember Labs would do to continue this franchise. It feels like the building blocks are there, but on this occasion, they decided to build the safest structure possible.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a completely inoffensive, if somewhat bland adventure that will mildly entertain for the duration of its runtime, but won’t live long in the memory.
- Stunning cutscenes
- Enjoyable, if simple combat
- The Rot
- Narrative sentimentality doesn’t land.
- Incredibly dated game design