In a sea of sequels and new entries in established franchises, Kena: Bridge of Spirits had been high on our list of most anticipated games for the holiday season for a while now. It’s here, and it’s a delight – below are our thoughts on the PlayStation 5 version.
The first time we saw Kena: Bridge of Spirits, it was part of a showcase for upcoming PS5 projects, where it stood out because of its gorgeous visuals despite not being a first party title like Horizon: Forbidden West. Because the game was an action adventure platformer, it instantly felt like something we would like, and although it plays it safe most of the time, we weren’t wrong.
Kena was developed by Ember Labs, whose work prior to this game was mainly in animated shorts. That translates perfectly to the game’s beautiful visual style, with a main character (Kena) who looks like she was lifted straight out of an animated feature, gorgeous environments and characters that range from incredibly cute to somewhat haunting. It’s one of the most visually impressive PS5 titles yet, and within its genre only Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart feels more advanced on a technical level – but that one doesn’t work on a PS4 while Kena does.
The animated feature style of visual storytelling also translated to the game’s narrative, which – without giving too much away – is as enchanting as the visuals suggest. Kena is a spirit guide, which means she helps spirits pass over into the next realm. This also allows her to interact with adorable little spirit creatures called Rots – which on paper you’d expect to be icky and disgusting but who are the Porgs of Kena: Bridge of Spirits. They’re not just there for the cuteness factor though – they also help Kena in combat and puzzles.
Story-wise, a dark presence hangs over your world, and you’re working towards freeing the world from its influence little by little – which in turn unveils a beautiful and colorful world underneath as well. The story introduces you to well-defined characters as well, which makes sure you care about what you’re doing on an emotional level – and good pacing keeps you invested through the entire 10 hour adventure.
Looking beyond the surface level of Kena, its gameplay is rather old school – which we’re completely okay with. The game’s designer didn’t feel the need to add roguelite elements or an open world map with tons of side quests, but has instead crafted an audiovisual narrative told through a series of sequences that involve platforming, climbing, combat and the occasional puzzle. You won’t remember Kena for its groundbreaking gameplay, but you’ll remember it for the wonderful gameplay experience that feels like it takes a classic formula and polishes it to a shine.
That doesn’t mean that that level of polish applies to the entire package though – a few technical issues can stand in the way of your enjoyment of the game. Just when you’re completely enveloped in the story, you might get stuck in the environment and have to reload – which although not gamebreaking in nature is of course a shame, and something that will hopefully be ironed out post-launch.
And while Kena: Bridge of Spirits looks like a family-friendly game with its visual style, it can be a challenging adventure as well. Combat branches out nicely over time as you gain new abilities, eventually mixing up melee and ranged attacks during your encounters with the game’s bad guys. They represented the shadowy side of the world, and look the part while offering a decent amount of challenge in combat.
Between the audiovisual storytelling, the endearing characters, well-paced narrative and proven gameplay mechanics, this is an adventure you won’t want to miss. A few technical issues still stand in its way, but don’t let that stop you from exploring the world of Kena: Bridge of Spirits.