Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the first video game release from animation studio Ember Lab, but you wouldn’t know that from playing it.
This colorful action-adventure game isn’t an unfocused first attempt from a developer still finding its footing in the industry. Instead, Kena: Bridge of Spirits feels like the work of an experienced team that really understands its craft.
Several of Kena's core gameplay elements feel cribbed from other popular games, and the central narrative never quite finds its footing. Still, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is consistently a joy to play. But don’t let the Pixar-style visuals fool you; it’s no walk in the park.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits may not do much innovating of its own, but its combination of fun platforming, challenging combat and a lush world, ripe for exploration is a winning formula. Read on for our full Kena: Bridge of Spirits review.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits review: Gameplay
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is an action/adventure game that casts you as the eponymous hero as she ventures out into a world overrun with darkness. Her quest is simple: Restore the ancient village at the heart of the land, and unlock the secrets of its demise.
The game is an action/platformer at its core, with a strong emphasis on exploration. After a hand-holding scripted opening, the world opens up. From there, you’re free to poke around and discover the multitude of worthwhile secrets crammed into the game’s diverse environments at your leisure.
There plenty of things to collect, including multiple types of currency to upgrade your abilities and purchase cosmetic items. However, the main resource you’ll hunt is Rot. These adorable little companions are extremely useful for a variety of reasons.
Not only are the Rot able to cleanse the world of darkness, but they also assist you in platforming, puzzle-solving and combat. When you collect a certain amount of Rot you’ll level up, which in turn unlocks new Rot abilities. These allow you to collect even more of the squishy little creatures. It’s a satisfying loop that actively rewards careful exploration.
The game doles out Rot at specific story moments, but players who take the time to explore will get much deeper into the upgrade tree. Plus, a small pack of Rot follows you around as you traverse the map. Growing your army of loveable little creatures is almost reward enough for thorough exploration.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits review: Platforming and combat
When you’re not picking through chests and wooden barrels for Rot and currency, you’ll face mostly straightforward platforming sections. Kena’s platforming move set is fairly limited, with only a double jump and simplistic climbing abilities at her disposal. The game never demands much from you beyond timing your jumps well enough to clear a gap, or avoiding falls into deadly purple lava.
There are also plenty of environmental puzzles to solve along your journey. The best ones require you to use equipment you unlock along the way, such as a bow or explosive bombs. The majority of puzzles aren’t particularly taxing, but the game doesn't clearly mark some of them. This can lead to frustrating moments where your progression stalls.
However, this is far less of an issue on PS5 as Kena: Bridge of Spirits includes full PlayStation Activities support. At the click of a button, you can bring up a range of video tutorials that will assist you in solving puzzles before irritation sets in. Unfortunately, this feature isn’t supported on PC or PS4.
Combat is the other core pillar of gameplay in Kena: Bridge of Spirits. Things start out very simple, with Kena having only a light attack, a heavy attack and a block move. However, things quickly progress in complexity, and you'll soon have a wide array of moves at your disposal.
Different enemies require different methods of attack to defeat. Juggling all your abilities at once can be deceptively difficult, but nailing an encounter feels rewarding. Foes can dish out a lot of damage, however, which exacerbates the difficulty. Kena: Bridge of Spirits may look like a family-friendly title, but it’s not afraid to punish players who aren’t paying attention.
The combination of platforming, puzzle-solving and combat is a tried-and-tested formula, and it works well in Kena: Bridge of Spirits. The game’s length of roughly 8-10 hours also feels appropriate. Just as your interest begins to wane, things start to wrap up.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits review: Story
Unfortunately, Kena: Bridge of Spirits stumbles in the story department. The opening cinematic quickly lays out the setup: The game follows protagonist Kena’s quest to become a better Spirit Guide. This is essentially someone who helps wayward spirit crossover to the other side. It's an intriguing premise, at least initially.
While the narrative often threatens to get interesting, it never quite gets there. Instead, it’s quite repetitive. Kena spends most of the game hunting for some form of knickknack at the behest of a bland quest giver. Then, she repeats the cycle over again.
The lack of interesting characters is the game’s biggest narrative issue. The NPCs you encounter all look fantastic, but rarely have anything interesting to say. The same is unfortunately true of Kena herself, who is an extremely milquetoast protagonist. Thankfully, your Rot companions are bursting with personality, even if they don’t speak a word.
The lack of a substantial narrative is disappointing, but isn’t a big enough issue to derail the whole experience. Kena's gameplay is solid enough to keep you engaged till the end, but the ho-hum story definitely feels like a blemish on an otherwise high-quality experience.
Kena Bridge of Spirits review: Visuals and sound
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a gorgeous game. Ember Lab’s background as an animation studio shines through., and then some. Even the startup menu is a joy to drink in. You may find your playtime stretched significantly after frequently stopping to enjoy the visual splendor.
The animated cutscenes in particular are a real highlight. These look as good as any major animated feature film, and they appear at a regular pace. The cutscenes really help bring the world to life. While they don’t fix the bland characters or middling story, the animation quality is high enough to keep them both somewhat engaging.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits isn’t always as striking in motion, unfortunately. Some of the animations are a little bit wooden. Kena’s jumping animation in particular looks quite unnatural. Granted, this is a minor nitpick. For the most part, Kena: Bridge of Spirits ranks among the best-looking games on PS5.
The score is of equally high quality. As you wander through enchanting forests and delve into cavernous ruins, the accompanying soundtrack always fits the situation. The voice acting isn’t quite up to the same standards, but it’s serviceable.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is in good shape from a technical perspective. There are some occasional frame drops, and when venturing off the beaten path, Kena is prone to clipping through objects. But the game is stable, and I didn't encounter any game-breaking bugs or glitches.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits review: Verdict
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a delightful experience. It’s a joy to play, and the pacing is excellent. You’ve always got a new tool to experiment with, or a fresh batch of secrets to uncover.
Some players may find the game's short length disappointing, especially considering the $40 asking price. However, the overall adventure is of a high enough quality to justify the cost.
It’s a shame that the story isn’t more engaging. Nevertheless Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a charming action-adventure that will thrill players of all ages. Just be prepared for some tricky enemy encounters.