Kena: Bridge of Spirits starts out quick introducing you to basic mechanics and upgrades them as the player progresses, while combat exists in the game it’s definitely not the forefront and is confined to polluted areas that the character, her spirits, and little rot friends must clear. Rot are these adorable little fluffy guys that you collect as the game goes on allowing to remove polluted areas, stun enemies in fights, collect currency and much more, rot or the furry friends are vital to the game and it’s foundation mechanic so the fact that they are so cute and charming while also allowing you to customize them with hats you collect along the way is a fantastic decision to keep the game fun and light-hearted.
The game’s Breath of the Wild influence is fairly obvious in this game with enemies keeping to polluted areas, camps, shrines you can teleport to, puzzles and little friendly spirits that you can find similar to korok seeds except in Kena your findable friends are actually helpful, tangible and relevant to the game’s plot and this is what’s great about the game in my opinion. Ember Lab may not have created the most original game, but the idea is that they built upon are mastered and the end result is joyous to play. On the topic of design, the game feels incredibly similar to Pixar yet very unique at the same time due to the immersion of playing a video game rather than watching a movie.
Kena does a great job at converting its designated emotional response for players via its visual and audio design, when it wants you to be happy it shows you the siblings or your furry little friends playing happy innocent music with upbeat tones and when you’re beginning to enter a mysterious area where you’ll surely meet enemies the colors switch, enemies ominously float or move, music may be slower or aggressive depending on how Ember Labs wants the player to resonate with the area, furthermore as players go through the game the more subtle nuances, shadowing, animations and such really solidify Ember lab’s Pixar inspired design here with characters moving fluidly, facial responses with specific animations or in-game events, these things matter because when the player notices them it builds the world not just in the Pixar-like cutscenes but also expands the feeling to the gameplay itself given the game’s generally small cast of characters it works great as Ember Labs was able to focus on considerable like animations and make each character a motive and impactful providing a splash of humanity with each interaction.
Kena’s sound design is also phenomenal, sound design and sound soundtrack is vital to a game that’s trying to tell a story especially stories with emotional connections games that even have generally weaker direct storytelling can become incredibly impactful to players just because of the soundtracks alone and when certain songs are played during certain sequences. The sound design feels distinguishable and distinct and depending on the player’s in-game activities such as entering caves, things like small Reverb effects are added so as to give a faraway echoey sound, it’s this level of detail and polish that sets Kena apart. The story touches on some heavy topics for such a light-hearted game but does it in a still Pixar-esque family-friendly fashion. It’s not an Oscar-winning story but it is surprisingly impactful and with the audio-visual components of the game can have some really emotional moments.
The combat was remarkably more fun than I expected, in fact I was downright surprised how simple yet enjoyable it was. it’s a pretty straightforward third person combat but evolves over time with upgrades and enemies. Interestingly while the combat has strong comparisons to Breath of the Wild with exploration puzzles and ability usage, the combat and gameplay progression feels more akin to a toned-down souls-like experience, it heavily incentivize players to parry and dodge around as bosses are surprisingly tough while minions aren’t too difficult, it’s certainly not a copy of the souls like formula as you don’t lose currency or abilities upon death and it’s not nearly as difficult as a Dark Souls game but it nonetheless takes influence and it makes the combat that already evolves through ability progression a surprisingly deep and fun experience.
The abilities are upgradable with currency earned by playing the game and using your furry friends allowing you to unlock different or better versions of your moves further advancing the game’s combat system, your furry friends are even a substantial part of combat as you fight you build up courage that allows you to use them to stun and attack an enemy, grab a heal flower or attack places of corruption to advance a fight. Puzzles and exploration in the game are great it’s not quite the open world but there’s a fair amount of platforming that keeps your brain working and puzzles are engaging to the point that they’re fun but not annoying or absolutely confusing as to how you were supposed to reach the desired conclusion.
Overall, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is an absolutely beautiful game with fun gameplay and gorgeous audio and visuals. It’s an amazing game that pretty much everyone can enjoy, I really hope this game gets a second wave because it absolutely deserves it! I’m excited to see what Ember Labs does next because this game is a home run.