Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a short but sweet action-adventure game with a heartwarming story and great graphics that make it feel like a Disney movie.
One of the very first PlayStation 5 games ever shown was Kena: Bridge of Spirits, the debut effort of indie studio Ember Lab. Sony showed great confidence in Kena: Bridge of Spirits by showcasing the game during its Future of Gaming event, shining a big spotlight on Kena and letting it stand tall alongside titles like Horizon Forbidden West and the Demon’s Souls remake. Sony’s confidence in Kena: Bridge of Spirits was well placed, as it marks yet another high quality PlayStation console exclusive game for this year.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits stars the titular Kena, a young spirit guide who helps the dead resolve their unfinished business and pass on to the afterlife. While exploring a dense forest, she finds an abandoned village populated by lingering spirits, and decides to use her skills to help them. Kena is the typical action-adventure hero, equipped with a staff that she can use to smack enemies around, sharp platforming skills, and upgrades that players can purchase to expand her moveset greatly. But unlike most video game heroes, Kena isn’t alone on her adventure.
Kena is joined by adorable little creatures known as the Rot, who also serve as one of the main collectibles in the game. The Rot are useful for interacting with objects in the environment and solving puzzles, with new ones joining Kena constantly. The Rot in Kena: Bridge of Spirits has seen the game earn comparisons to Nintendo’s Pikmin franchise, but the Rot and Pikmin are not all that similar besides being small creatures that follow the main character around.
The Rot in Kena: Bridge of Spirits can’t die and so players don’t have to worry about micromanaging them. They can be ordered to pull levers, carry things, and attack enemies, but they require no babysitting of any kind. Those who thoroughly explore Kena‘s game world will eventually have nearly 100 Rot following them through the forest, but they rarely ever get in the way. The Rot surrounds Kena when she’s standing still but otherwise, they can be seen chilling out in the background most of the time.
Not only is it fun to see Kena’s army of Rot grow on-screen, but they serve other purposes as well. The more Rot players collect, the more upgrades they can purchase, so there’s also a practical reason to collect them. Some of the Rot are fairly well hidden or require players to complete bonus challenges like shooting range activities, but them being tied to the upgrade system makes it very much worth hunting them down.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits players are able to customize their Rot creatures to a certain extent through the hats that they can buy from Hat Carts in-game. The in-game currency is basically only used to purchase these hats, with Ember Lab getting creative with the selection available. Soon players will have dozens of Rot running around, some with masks on their faces and others wearing bird nests on their heads.
The Rot are cute, but they also pack a serious punch and play an integral role in Kena‘s combat. As players upgrade Kena’s abilities, they will obtain special Rot attacks that are necessary for anyone that hopes to survive the tougher boss fights. They also have an alternate form that players can activate at certain moments to deal devastating damage to enemies or even open new paths in the game world, and that form grows larger and more intimidating as players add more Rot to their roster.
The Rot are a real highlight of the Kena: Bridge of Spirit experience, but Kena herself has plenty of tricks up her sleeve. Combat-wise, Kena is equipped with a staff and eventually gains a bow and other means of fighting off her enemies. The bow in Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a ton of fun to use as the game takes great advantage of the PS5’s DualSense controller. Whenever players use Kena’s bow, they’ll feel it in the adaptive triggers, with the speaker cleverly utilized to mimic the sound of a bowstring drawing back.
Kena’s bow is the standout weapon in the game, but the combat is most entertaining when players use a mix of Kena’s weapons, stringing together bow shots with staff strikes, bombs, and well-timed parries. The basic enemy encounters don’t offer a ton of challenge, but players will have to master everything Kena has at her disposal if they want to come out of the boss fights in one piece, as some of them will definitely push players to the limit.
There are a few Kena: Bridge of Spirits boss fights that are quite challenging, with players having to perfect dodges and shield parries if they hope to survive. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a mostly laidback experience with simple puzzles and easy platforming, so the boss fights are a source of much-needed intensity. Players will die more than a few times when they go up against the late-game bosses. The only downside with the Kena boss fights is that there are sometimes unskippable boss intros that players will have to watch every time they retry a fight, though the majority of scenes can be skipped.
Kena: Bridge of Spirit‘s combat is great fun for the most part, especially as players unlock new abilities and Kena’s moveset opens up. That being said, the lock-on mechanic could’ve used some more time in the oven, as its implementation in the game is not the greatest. If players are locked-on to an enemy and then decide to aim with the bow, it removes the lock-on, which can become disorienting in the heat of battle.
Using the Rot effectively in Kena‘s more hectic fights can become less than ideal thanks to the lock-on issues, as players will sometimes need to be very quick about sending them to a specific enemy only to accidentally waste them on a less important foe. The Rot can also be sent to health-regenerating flowers dotted around most of the combat areas, but players will occasionally find themselves using those when they’re not meaning to as well.
When Kena: Bridge of Spirit players aren’t busy fighting the game’s bosses and killing hordes of their henchmen, they’ll be leisurely exploring the game world, hunting for secrets that lead them to Rot, upgrades, and other goodies. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is comprised of linear paths that lead to larger, more open areas, so while it may seem restrictive at first, there’s a surprising amount of depth.
Exploration in Kena is straightforward fare for a game of its type, with players climbing ledges and solving puzzles to gain access to new areas. Kena: Bridge of Spirit‘s game world is small enough that players will rarely get lost whenever they go off the beaten path, though the game would’ve benefited from a mini-map or objective markers as players may find themselves constantly having to open the main map when trying to find a specific location.
It’s possible that the developers at Ember Lab didn’t want to clutter the screen with things like mini-maps and objective markers, as the default option in Kena: Bridge of Spirits makes sure players are seeing nothing but the game world outside of times when it’s necessary for HUD elements to pop up. Kena: Bridge of Spirits looks phenomenal, with a Pixar-like art style, gorgeous cut-scenes, and some great animation. The Disney/Pixar vibe is made complete with Kena‘s musical score, which goes a long way in setting the game’s tone.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is an emotional, tragic, funny, and heartwarming game all at the same time. Kena almost feels like playing a Pixar movie, though it’s a shame that it’s so short. Kena can easily be completed in less than 10 hours, so the characters and their stories don’t have a ton of time to breathe. Kena‘s story is still told well, but players aren’t really given the time to become truly invested in the spirits that Kena is leading to the afterlife.
Kena‘s especially short length is one of its biggest flaws, but there are a few unfortunate technical issues that hurt it a bit as well. Occasionally, Kena players may come across boxes that won’t open or their bow may refuse to fire despite having arrows at the ready. One of the more egregious glitches happened after a boss fight, where the game was stuck in slow motion with a gray filter over the action, forcing a restart of the whole fight. And since some of the Kena boss fights can be extremely challenging and time-consuming, this is an especially frustrating issue. Luckily problems like this are relatively few and far between and most of the time can be easily fixed or ignored, but anyone interested in the game may still want to keep these problems in mind.
Despite a few shortcomings, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a solid action-adventure game and an impressive debut effort by Ember Lab. It will scratch the itch for anyone looking for a Zelda-like adventure on PlayStation, but while it’s been compared to games like Zelda and Pikmin, Kena: Bridge of Spirits still stands on its own. Hopefully, this isn’t the end of Kena’s story, as it would be great to see the ideas here expanded on in future games.