Review: Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a fine piece of work from Ember Lamb. This indie game raises the standard in a number of aspects, why? Read it in our review!

Kena: Bridge of Spirits was developed by Ember Lab, a former design studio. A team of 15 people has worked with heart and soul on this extremely beautiful title. Expectations were all over the place, but Ember Lab has proven to be a worthy standard for future games from the studio with this debut. The game was created in collaboration with Sparx, to ensure an immensely beautiful graphical drawing style. Why am I so full of praise for the game? You'll find out soon enough!

Follow Kena

In Bridge of Spirits, you play as Kena, who embarks on a journey to save the world she lives in from magical corruption. Her staff has magical powers and she will have to use them to fight corruption. Kena helps stranded ghosts pass peacefully into a peaceful afterlife. The story is well written and full of moving, funny and serious moments. I was completely captivated by Kena and her journey from start to finish.

If I had to mention one minus, but something that could come in a possible future part, it's the context. You are dumped in the middle of Kena's journey and life and you know very little about her background, the background of the world and gradually get more questions than answers. I would like to learn much more about Kena and how she came to be the way she is now in a future installment. Because you don't know what her motivation is, that also removes a lot of tension at times.

However, the stories of the villagers are very interesting and you also learn some things about the world. The story as it is is rock solid, but could be much grander!

Combat

The combat in Bridge of Spirits is simple and has no deep roots, but it just plays nicely. I really enjoyed the 'less is more' mentality in combat. You can use your staff as a shield, melee weapon and bow. You can also use the Rot for coordinated attacks on monsters and corruption. The upgrade menu is also quite simple and really had that Sony first party look and feel to it. The cool thing is that your spells and use of your bow also work well with certain elements in the areas. For example, you can use your arrows to take certain glowing flowers to places you normally wouldn't be able to reach. The way the areas and your skills work together is really cool to see in an indie game like this.

The enemies are all based on the magical corruption that Kena must fight. Still, there are surprisingly many types of enemies to fight. In each area you will encounter a number of new types of monsters, all within the same theme. This is just very well thought out in terms of design. The boss fights have a slightly higher difficulty and are often quite challenging. However, the mechanics that every boss has are not always well thought out or quite simplistic. But, the boss fights are generally all very cool and they fit well within the story.

Hi Pixar?

What is perhaps the biggest eye-catcher for Kena has to be the graphics and drawing style, and rightly so! Sparx and Ember Lab have created a fantastic business card with the look of Kena. In combination with the power of the Playstation 5, it actually feels like you're in a Pixar movie, but you have control over the main character. Graphically, the game is in any case more than fine. This does not only apply to the characters and the super cute 'Rot' that you will encounter on your journey and will have to collect. No, this also applies to the areas that work in detail. Casting spells with the necessary particle effects also looks amazingly good!

The world you play in has a number of areas, each with their own unique assets but all with an overarching style. You get a bit of the mythical Asian feel from the areas you run through. These are mainly forests, but with unique elements incorporated. The structure of the maps is well put together and you will have to solve various puzzles through the areas, search for collectibles and find secret paths. Each area in the map also shows how far you are on your way with collecting everything. The areas that were corrupt also need some aftercare, for example you will have to straighten images and restore shrines. This also works towards your completionist feeling. The climbing also works very well and has a bit of the same kind of controls as an Assassin's Creed title.

Less is more!

Kena's formula is admittedly a fairly simple formula with little depth in terms of mechanics and systems. Still, the formula just works really well, especially for an indie game. Everything that is there works and that makes for a nice user experience. It also keeps the menus clear in this way. There are no gimmicky mechanics or pointless features, it's just a simple yet effective formula. I would have liked the game a little longer, but the length as it is now also works very well, considering the scope of Bridge of Spirits is not very large. In the future I would like to see and play more of Kena, with more context and a wider scope. Let's hope this great debut can make that happen!

Controls and performance

Something Kena can still win on is the controls. And I'm not talking so much about the combat or the climbing, because this works really well. Mainly walking and swimming with Kena can feel a bit stiff or a bit buggy. This is not a big issue, because I didn't run into problems very often. However, this could be worked out a little more smoothly in the next part. You can also use the Rot that you have collected to change into a kind of floating fish, when you let it go away, your camera will always hang for a while. This is sometimes a minor irritation point.

The performance is a lot better after a few patches, but sometimes leaves something to be desired. In my opinion, the fidelity mode is still unplayable due to the much too low frame rates. The performance mode also has some dips here and there, but is generally stable at 60 frames per second.

Verdict

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a great indie game, where every second of playing time makes you feel how much heart and soul the developers have put into the game. Yes, there are some technical flaws and there is room for a broader storyline, but overall it's just a cool and unique gameplay experience. That such a small team has created such a tour de force proves once again that the big studios should sometimes be ashamed of the quality of games. I can therefore recommend the game to anyone who is looking for a nice and pleasant gameplay experience. Tip from flip: The physical version for Kena: Bridge of Spirits is coming soon!

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