When titles like Kena: Bridge of Spirits comes along from studios like Ember Labs, the word charm gets thrown around a lot, some times too much.
Yes, we’re well aware of the irony given the title of this review, but unlike some recent PlayStation-exclusive titles of the same ilk (suck as the Sackboy: A Big Adventure) Kena does not rely on charm alone, although there is plenty of it.
Accompanying the cutesy design are some sumptuous graphics, particularly on the PS5 (which we reviewed the game on), as well as a fairly deep lore, sharp gameplay and an endearing protagonist that makes Kena: Bridge of Spirits a title that will surprise you for all the right reasons.
With that in mind, here are out thoughts in full on this latest PlayStation-exclusive.
Touching on the lore of the game, without spoiling too much, players take on the role of Kena, who is a young spirit guide. In this world, those who have passed are giving masks which slowly turn to dust in order to help them transition to the next spiritual plane.
This does not always happen, however, and those spirits who cannot find solace need a spirit guide to help them. This is where Kena comes in, as she tries to rid the world of evil, with the help of a few allies.
These come in the form of the Rot sidekicks, which are found throughout the environment and can be used to effect things around the player.
This includes lifting and moving objects to traverse terrain, tangle up and distract enemies when you’re overrun or combining them to create a larger spiritual creature to fight bosses or eliminate obstacles that Kena would not normally be able to take on.
As far as sidekicks go, the Rot will definitely be winning over many players.
Looking at the overall palette of the game, it definitely feels like something out of a Disney animated film. The environments may not be as large as what we’ve encountered in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, but they certainly match as far as the visuals go, with it feeling like a fix of Frozen, as well as Raya and the Last Dragon.
As such, it serves as a great advertisement for what you can design for the PlayStation 5 ecosystem. It’s not boasting some of the elements we’ve seen in Miles Morales or Demon’s Souls, but is definitely a beautiful game to see bloom into life.
Sharp as you like
Along with the great palette on offer, Kena: Bridge of Spirits serves up some solid gameplay. This may be a reach but the third-person perspective smacks of God of War and Ghost of Tsushima, although things do not get as brutal.
That said, there is a decent enough challenge on the hardest difficulty setting. The normal or easy modes won’t offer this though, but for younger players it should prove good enough.
In terms of fighting things are relatively basic with Kena serving up more ways to engage enemies than trying to string together combinations. As with most RPGs, you’ll need to keep your distance for larger enemies and opportunistically strike once you’ve figured out their movements.
For ranged attacks the staff’s ability to work as a bow and arrow are great, with the pressure and feedback on the DualSense controller varying depending on how taut the string of the bow is when pulled.
For melee combat the staff deals blows too, although the variety is fairly limited.
Instead, Kena is designed to provoke your tactical approach as apposed to mashing buttons.
We were also intrigued to see that Kena does not break anything in her environment in order to find collectable items or resources, which is something new for RPGs in general. It makes for a satisfying change of pace and means you only need to focus on primary objectives.
Another satisfying element of the gameplay are the puzzles and climbing, with the latter on par with what we’ve seen in the likes of Ghost of Tsushima. As for the puzzles, they aren’t as challenging as we may have hoped, but that can be forgiven given how beautiful the environment they are laid out in is.
Overall, the more you explore of Kena: Bridge of Spirits, the more it surprises and impresses.
While it easy to relegate Kena: Bridge of Spirits into the category of cutesy and reliant on charm, it wins you over in other ways too.
This by serving up a game that looks superb, is immensely detailed and worth exploring, features an endearing protagonist and heartwarming supporting cast all while delivering solid gameplay and mechanics for a great all-around experience.
Add to this that Kena: Bridge of Spirits costs R719 on PS5 and PS4 too, and it’s definitely good value for money given the exorbitant prices that next-gen games in particular are these days.
For a refreshing change of pace, it is definitely worth considering.
FULL DISCLOSURE – KENA: BRIDGE OF SPIRITS WAS REVIEWED ON THE PS5 THANKS TO A CODE PROVIDED BY THE DEVELOPER.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Kena: Bridge of Spirits could very easily be lumped into the category of cutesy game that looks good, but lacks no real substance. You make that assumption, however, at your peril, with Ember Labs delivering a game that surprises, engages and excites as a refreshing RPG that old and young alike can enjoy.