Kena: Bridge of Spirits evaluation: A legendary journey

MSRP $40.00

“Kena: Bridge of Spirits is as attractive and elegantly crafted as a giant funds sport, making it a press release debut for Ember Lab.”

Professionals

Satisfying exploration

Pleasant Rot mechanic

Powerful, however truthful battles

Elegant complexity curve

Beautiful visuals

Cons

Irritating assault patterns

Cutscenes stutter

On a floor look, few would most likely guess that Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a self-published, debut undertaking from a small studio. The journey sport is about as polished as might be, with attractive visuals, cutscenes that rival (if not surpass) trendy CG animated movies, and iron-tight gameplay mechanics. If there was ever any doubt that the barrier between “indie” and “AAA” has eroded over time, right here’s a sport that shatters any remaining partitions.

Developed by Ember Lab, Kena: Bridge of Spirits bursts onto PS4, PS5, and PC through the Epic Video games Retailer with the boldness of a first-party Sony sport. It pulls parts from Zelda, Uncharted, Darkish Souls, and many extra heavy hitters above its weight class to ship a knockout blow to its style. It’s no shock that it’s gotten a large highlight throughout Sony’s State of Play streams and this yr’s Tribeca Competition; that is the form of assertion debut that calls for consideration.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is an exquisitely crafted journey that fuses basic and trendy sport design ideas with ease. Whether or not it’s riffing on Pikmin with its ingenious creature-controlling mechanics or serving up deceptively difficult battles, it excels at all the things it does. That’s all topped off with a poignant, Miyazaki-like story instructed by deep worldbuilding and cinema-quality cutscenes.

The Legend of Kena

When it first debuted, Kena: Bridge of Spirits drew some early comparisons to The Legend of Zelda collection. These had been definitely warranted, however it doesn’t paint a full image of the sport. It’s bursting with inspirations that construct upon many years of online game historical past. The overall framework feels timeless; Kena is a staff-wielding hero who units out to discover a mountain shrine in a poisoned world that’s been deserted by everybody, besides monsters.

A lot of its structural beats are acquainted, however in a heat, comforting method. Gamers deal with well-designed platforming sections, seek out relics that take them to every nook of a sprawling map, and discover a entire bunch of collectible secrets and techniques scattered in each nook and cranny. It’s a basic online game premise that’s in some way nostalgic to each period, however every little bit of it’s shined up till it sparkles.

Exploring in Kena: Bridge of Spirits all the time feels satisfying, as a result of every device has a transparent objective that’s straightforward to maintain observe of.

Take exploration, as an illustration. Kena doesn’t have as many instruments as Hyperlink, however every one is equally essential to navigation. Her arrows permit her to zip onto flowers like a hookshot, she will scale partitions a la Uncharted, and a mid-game spirit bomb magically rebuilds damaged buildings to create the sport’s most intelligent platforming puzzles. Exploring in Kena: Bridge of Spirits all the time feels satisfying, as a result of every device has a transparent objective that’s straightforward to maintain observe of; there’s no mechanical fluff to gradual the tempo down.

Its most pleasant concept comes from a stunning sport, although: Pikmin. Kena can accumulate and management cute black creatures known as Rot, who swarm and squeak round her like Spirited Away’s soot sprites. The Rot infuse Kena’s conventional journey methods with its most ingenious concepts. They will elevate objects to disclose collectibles, lug rocks round that create new platforms, or type right into a water-like swarm that may break by thorny roadblocks. Each time I found a brand new interplay, I’d squeal with pleasure — each as a result of I used to be delighted by what number of inventive methods the sport may stretch a easy system and since they’re simply so darn cute. They will even put on tiny cowboy hats!

Sure, I’m critical about that final half. One other classic a part of Kena’s DNA is its collect-a-thon setup. There’s loads of elective gadgets to search out all through the world, however every one is definitely value monitoring down for various causes. The Rot themselves function a intelligent, but practical collectible, because the swarm ranges up and positive aspects new talents when Kena finds sufficient creatures. There’s additionally an entire bunch of tiny hats that may be discovered through chests and fight challenges, and every Rot might be outfitted with a distinct one. That doesn’t have any gameplay implications, however it certain is a enjoyable diversion.

That speaks to the core energy at play in Kena: it’s all the time playful. Each new device, platforming puzzle, or buried treasure brings one other pleasant shock that rewards anybody who’s prepared to lose themselves in a digital journey.

No slouch

Don’t be fooled by the lovable creatures and little hats, although: Kena will get deceptively robust. Fight is as vital as exploration right here, and as thoughtfully constructed too. At first, gamers solely use a lightweight and heavy employees assault to melee enemies. However the sport does a superb job of progressively ramping up what gamers can do. It’s a sleek complexity curve that naturally builds alongside the sport’s problem.

Kena quickly positive aspects the flexibility to shoot arrows from her employees, bringing a ranged part into the combo. Bombs add one other layer across the sport’s midway level, bringing some puzzle mechanics to battle. One stony boss can solely be broken as soon as Kena makes use of bombs to reveal its wood pores and skin beneath. Each merchandise has a choose few upgrades too, every of which feels helpful and never identical to a pleasant, however ineffective perk.

The Rot play a superb supporting position in battles too. When Kena builds up sufficient resolve, she will deploy the Rot for quite a lot of functions. They will swarm round an enemy to briefly distract them, heal Kena by blooming flowers across the battlefield, and even infuse with weapons to create highly effective particular assaults. Every time I had sufficient power saved up, I’d discover myself having to make choices about how I’d command the Rot. Ought to I heal myself whereas my well being is low, or fireplace off a Rot arrow to deal an additional chunk of harm? It’s a degree of strategic depth that nearly makes the Rot really feel like an RPG magic system.

Shielding and evasion play a significant position in battles too, giving the fights a manageable Darkish Souls edge. Kena has a spirit bubble, which acts as a defend in battle. Block too many instances and it’ll break, however activate it on the proper second and he or she’ll parry enemies, leaving them weak for a number of seconds. Whereas my intuition was to keep away from it at first, it shortly turned essential to my battle plan.

It’s a sleek complexity curve that naturally builds alongside the sport’s problem.

It’s vital to have a plan, as a result of fights begin to get critical in the direction of the again half of the sport. The problem naturally crescendos with battles that really feel robust, however achievable. Whereas fights principally really feel truthful, they do present among the sport’s uncommon moments of frustration. Sure enemy assaults can go surprisingly far, making them a bit of troublesome to learn or keep away from. Some creatures additionally appear to have the flexibility to show something they throw right into a homing missile. I’d consistently really feel like I’d cleanly dodge out of a rock’s path, just for it to show right into a curveball and beam me on the top.

These moments are uncommon, although. Most of the time, I felt completely in management in battle as a result of I had a agency understanding of all my instruments. By the penultimate boss, I’d discover myself sticking a bomb onto an enemy, taking pictures it with a Rot-infused arrow to deal some further ranged injury whereas detonating it, dashing ahead to shut the space, activating my defend on the proper time to counter an assault, and swinging my employees to shortly lower down its well being bar. Kena will get gamers to that time at a gradual tempo, ensuring they’ve sufficient time to completely grasp a device’s potential earlier than introducing a brand new concept that provides extra depth.

Eat your coronary heart out, Hollywood

Developer Ember Lab began out as an animation studio and that’s readily obvious. One of many first issues gamers will discover when booting Kena up is that it options attractive visuals that don’t presumably appear to be they might have come from a small, first-time sport studio. Environments pop because of a wealthy coloration palette that juxtaposes the cool blues and greens of the pure world with neon-like splashes of crimson and burnt-out browns. Every little character involves life with animation element, together with each single Rot.

The excessive manufacturing worth is very obvious within the sport’s cutscenes, which genuinely look as if they’ve been pulled from a high-budget, CG animated movie. It appears like Ember Lab is pushing online game animation to its limits right here — which turns into clear as among the sport’s busier sequences are likely to bump up towards noticeable framerate stutters.

All these fairly pictures go to good use, as Kena’s actual sturdy go well with comes within the type of its story. The sport performs like a basic Hayao Miyazaki movie (assume Princess Mononoke or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind), with Kena combating to protect nature’s magnificence. She’s finally on a quest to reverse an environmental catastrophe that’s precipitated a complete village to flee. On her method to the shrine, she interacts with the spirits of those that had been unable to cease it. The ghosts that linger round grieve for a as soon as stunning place, highlighting the non-public ache that comes from a failure to guard the world round us.

The excessive manufacturing worth is very obvious within the sport’s cutscenes, which genuinely look as if they’ve been pulled from a high-budget, CG animated movie.

However Kena isn’t a narrative of gloom and doom. It pauses to supply empathy for these overwhelmed by ache, however nonetheless strikes ahead, providing hope for the long run. The sport hinges on moments of environmental catharsis the place Kena makes use of the Rot to revert useless areas again into thriving, grassy plains. Watching gnarled wooden and toxic gasoline revert again to lush hills (an impact that seamlessly occurs in-game because of next-gen tech) makes Kena: Bridge of Spirits into a real energy fantasy. Not one the place a grizzled soldier destroys all the things in sight with a large gun, however one the place even the smallest individual has the facility to rebuild the world round them.

Issues aren’t fairly really easy in our personal world, however Kena stands as a much-needed beacon of optimism for gamers younger and previous.

Our take

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the best journey sport launched in years and a transparent spotlight of the most recent console cycle. Each its exploration and fight elements progressively construct in complexity with instruments that all the time have a transparent objective. That elegant mechanical design retains the concentrate on the sport’s impactful story, which tells an aching, however hopeful story of environmental catastrophe. There are loads of factors of comparisons to be made when breaking all of it down, however Kena: Bridge of Spirits blends each little affect collectively into its personal attractive combine.

Is there a greater different?

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the journey sport to beat, however Kena is the most suitable choice for PS5 house owners in the meanwhile.

How lengthy will it final?

The story takes round 10 hours to finish with some wholesome assortment. Discovering all the things will prolong the playtime additional, as will the Grasp problem mode that’s unlocked upon completion.

Must you purchase it?

Sure. Neglect Deathloop and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Aside: that is the defining console unique of the PS5’s debut yr.

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