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Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a third-person action-adventure game (with some light platforming) developed and published by Ember Lab.
The game follows Kena (pronounced Kay-nuh), a young spirit guide who’s traveled to a long-forgotten valley where a great energy calls to all who are attuned to the spiritual world. In order to find the source of the call, she will have to use her spiritual abilities and empathy to quell a spreading corruption and save the spirits of the valley.
This game went on my list of games to play for one very specific reason: It looked like a playable Pixar movie.
Seriously, the cutscene graphics looked like a fully-fledged animated film, and the in-game graphics didn’t look far behind.
Well, I finally got a chance to play it, and it did not disappoint… graphically. I would, however, like to let you know about some of the other great—and not so great—things about this game.
Blast from the Past
Kena is a bit of a weird game to play in 2021 for one specific reason: It evokes a feeling of the platforming adventure games from the era of the original Playstation and the Nintendo 64.
You know what I’m talking about: the mascot games like Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Croc, and Gex. Those games were a major advancement for the time (because of the third dimension) but were a little stunted in other ways.
Basically, they didn’t have much by way of backstory.
Usually, those games start with a short cutscene that introduces the characters and whatever their whole deal was. You know… someone was kidnapped, or an evil guy was going to do something evil.
Kena is very similar to these games in a lot of ways. You start the game with a single cutscene, and honestly, there is very little by way of any sort of explanation as to why you are doing what you are doing.
Trying to… stop an evil ghost… maybe?
While your mission does become clearer as you go on, it unfortunately never really takes off in any meaningful way. The stakes are pretty low throughout, and honestly, Kena’s personal story is a little underdeveloped and in no way tied to the events of the game.
That being said, it is still a fun adventure marked with interesting characters and beautiful environments.
Mediocre Story but Great Stories
While Kena’s personal story is lackluster in many ways, the stories of the spirits you help are actually the highlight of the game.
As you bring these spirits back together so that they can finally move on, you learn more about them and begin to experience their memories. This is where the true heart of Kena lies. These are the inspiring, heart-wrenching, gut-punching tales that live up to the game’s Pixar style and cause something to get caught in your eyes.
So, while Kena herself may get left by the wayside as far as the main story goes, these interludes with the spirits she’s trying to help really bring both the world of the game to life and give you a reason to keep playing.
A Lot of Rot
The most endearing part of Kena is the Rot, which is an impressive feat because everything in this game is some level of adorable… including some of the enemies.
The Rot (which me and my wife referred to as “Meeples”) are tiny spirits that are so adorable that they basically defy any other descriptors.
Other than being extremely huggable, and essentially a collectible item you find around the map, the Rot are an integral part of Kena’s gameplay experience. They serve precisely four purposes.
- Experience: The more Rot you collect, the higher your “Rot Level” goes, and as your rot level increases you unlock more abilities and can use those abilities more often.
- Power Boost: You can perform empowered attacks that unleash the Rot and deal devastating damage or augment the way your spirit Bomb works.
- Exploration: Some obstacles require you to perform a special action that coalesces the rot into a single entity, and then you use that entity to clear paths.
- Combat: The Rot can pin down enemies for a period of time, making them easier to deal with and, when coalesced, can attack enemies for significant damage.
Unfortunately, the Rot was probably the buggiest part of the whole gameplay experience. They would appear and disappear for no reason. They would float in the air and walk around. And they would fall through certain platforms, only to bounce back up, only to fall again.
While Kena is a peaceful game, and it does put a great amount of effort into creating a sense of serenity throughout, it’s also a game that has some pretty solid combat.
While you don’t start off with much by way of weapons (you pretty much just use your staff to hit things), you eventually gather a handful of abilities that build well with one another, until you are a finely tuned spiritual warrior…
Your arsenal includes:
- Staff: used to whack bad guys in the face with traditional light and heavy attacks
- Spirit Bow: used to activate switches, grapple to distant platforms, and pinpoint enemy weak spots
- Shield: used to block incoming attacks (or parry them), and activate switches and other interactable objects
- Spirit Bomb: used to move platforms, destroy obstacles, or damage enemies.
While this doesn’t seem like a huge list of abilities, each one gets several upgrades that increase its overall effectiveness or provide additional effects.
So, by the end of the game, the combat is more dynamic, especially if you add in all the enemy combinations and the hazards upon the battlefield.
Overall, Kena: Bridge of Spirits was an enjoyable experience. It had the flash of a great game, but the substance of an alright one, which equaled out to something in the middle. I really wish that Kena herself had been a little more fleshed out (especially since I really enjoyed her character design), but the stories of the supporting cast made up for that particular misstep. Luckily, the combat was fluid and challenging enough to keep me engaged throughout.
I’m giving Kena: Bridge of Spirits a somewhat serene 7/10. It was beautiful, evocative (in certain areas), and played really well despite some bugs that fell through the cracks.
My biggest complaint with the game is actually the Rot—or, more specifically, their name. What kind of name is “the Rot” for the adorable little guys that follow you around. They’re not even rot… I mean they have mushrooms on their head and stuff, but they’re not actual rot… They get rid of corruption and stuff… So, that would make them Rot Eaters at most…
I don’t know where I was going with this…