- A charming, beautifully animated adventure that is bound to have you engaged for at least a couple of hours.
- Your task is to save the forest from an all-consuming corruption that threatens its existence.
- Acquiring skills and abilities to help in your quest is a must, and there are plenty of ways to do so.
At first, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was stopping me from falling head over heels with Kena: Bridge of Spirits. On the surface, there’s a lot to be enamored by. For a start, it’s beautiful.
The forest is brought vividly to life by the geniuses at Ember Lab, making it at the same time both whimsical and mysterious. The backdrops are stunning, evoking Disney-Pixar adventures at their best.
Gleaming lights play against warm stone, motes of luminescence dance and chase one another through canopy shadows, ponds and rivers gleam in the sunlight.
Until you happen to come upon the Corruption that Kena is sworn to eradicate, at which point the once-beautiful woodland twists and gnarls into thorny roots and tendrils that jut from the ground, holding aloft pulsating red flowers that spit abominations into the world.
To clear the way and restore peace to the forest, Spirit Guide Kena must join forces with the Rot, ironically-named Woodland spirits whose cleansing powers can dispel the Corruption and allow her to shepherd the restless spirits of the forest to their final destination.
The Rot is the kind of cute that usually comes from committee meetings where corporate suits tailor something designed as much to sell merchandise as to tell a story. And yet I couldn’t help smiling whenever they did something endearing, or I got to dress them up in silly little hats made of mushrooms and bird’s nests.
Shrine and dandy
Kena is able to use an energy pulse to interact with shrines and special relics that can open doors or reveal secrets. It’s this pulse that also dispels Corruption and reveals where more Rot is hiding. Collecting them and adding them to your ever-growing entourage allows you to level up, which gives you points to spend on Rot abilities or combat skills.
Because you’ll need to search high and low for Rot to level up, it’s a slow process, and you won’t feel like you’re always in the Skill Tree tweaking stuff. It’s a more gradual and organic progression.
Armed with her father’s staff, which later doubles as a magical bow, Kena is introduced to us mid-quest. She has reached the forest, where she finds her way barred by a powerful, malevolent spirit in an ornate mask. It’s here you’ll get your first taste of combat in Kena: Bridge of Spirits.
Like most of the rest of the game, combat is nothing we haven’t seen before. Heavy and light attacks, an evade roll, a timed parry, etc.
What’s different is that to heal you’ll need the Rot to cleanse nearby flowers, which are limited in number, or you can use them to harass an enemy to give you breathing space. To do this though, you’ll need Courage.
Rot and roll
The Rot are not creatures of action, generally, and so at the first sign of trouble, they’ll scarper as Kena bravely brings her staff to bear. Defeating enemies causes them to drop golden orbs that represent the physical manifestation of Courage. Collecting them allows you to call on the Rot mid-fight, to heal you, help you out, or cleanse the nearby Corruption.
Despite the overall lack of originality, the combat is mostly enjoyable and spread out enough to act as a nice change of pace. Except for the boss fights, that is.
Now and then you’ll come up against a powerful agent of Corruption and Kena will go decidedly Dark Souls on you. Healing options are few, and the bosses have specific mechanics you’ll need to learn in order to win. Okay, they may not be quite as taxing as Souls bosses, but some of them gave me genuine pause and took three or four attempts.
This in itself wouldn’t be so bad if the checkpointing was more consistent. Often losing to the boss will require you to go back a little way, but sometimes you’ll respawn right by the fight. The latter is preferable, as the former can become irritating with repeated retries.
While Kena is not exactly a Metroidvania, it has some of the elements of one. As you progress you’ll unlock new abilities and tools, such as the aforementioned bow.
This weapon, in particular, allows Kena to grapple onto special flowers, or hit distant switches. You can also water magical plants that allow the Rot to dispel the Corruption that blocks your path. Sometimes you’ll need the Rot to move objects, like stone blocks to reach higher levels or switches that need to be repositioned.
None of these environmental puzzles are overly difficult, but they’re enough to give you a sense of accomplishment and break up the jumping, climbing, and fighting.
Chests are dotted around containing either new hats for the Rot or currency to buy said hats, which are really just there to up the cute factor and give you something to collect, which is fine though not essential.
Kena herself is a likeable enough protagonist, even if her personality could have been lifted from two-dozen different animated movies or games of this ilk. She’s brave and focused and forthright, and that’s more or less all you get.
There aren’t many speaking NPCs for her to bounce off, but what dialogue there is, is well-written and well-acted. The world is fascinating, though, and the plight of the forest is something that can be taken as an allegory for any of a hundred real-world or personal issues.
Playing on an RTX 2060 Super graphics card, I was able to adjust the default settings up and still run Kena: Bridge of Spirits without issue once I’d updated my Nvidia drivers. For a game so consistently beautiful, it runs very well, even during more intense moments like combat encounters.
Achievements and completion
Built as a PlayStation 5 and PC game, Kena comes with a full suite of achievements which lead to a Platinum on the PS5. Despite the existence of a work-around, you will need a second playthrough to unlock one of the achievements “legitimately”.
A playthrough for 100% completion will take upwards of 12 hours, whereas simply finishing the story and seeing credits will take closer to 8 or 9. I finished in just under 9 and spent only a short amount of time poking about for secrets and hidden collectibles.
Final thoughts on Kena: Bridge of Spirits
- Looks gorgeous
- Great mix of combat and exploration
- Doesn't outstay its welcome
- Very little originality
- Boss fights can be frustrating
Final Score: 4/5
Although not particularly fresh in its approach or original with its content, there’s something effortlessly likable about Kena: Bridge of Spirits.
Some of the boss fights will undoubtedly frustrate people, and younger gamers attracted by its stellar animation and whimsical appearance may struggle to overcome the challenge at times.
However, if you’re looking for a straightforward adventure that tells a story without bloating itself with side-quests, filler, and endless trinkets to collect, then Kena: Bridge of Spirits comes highly recommended.