Back in June 2020, during in the early hours of the morning, I somehow managed to get up in time to watch the PlayStation ‘Future of Gaming’ event in hope to see a game I’d be interested in. As soon as I saw the visuals and heard the music for a debut release from Ember Lab, I was instantly hooked. The game was Kena: Bridge of Spirits and I was excited for its release. Sadly, the game was pushed back from September 2020, and after a few more delays, it was finally released a whole twelve months later. And, my god, the wait was entirely worth it!
Ember Lab have primarily been an animation studio since its inception back in 2009 and Kena: Bridge of Spirits is their first entry into the massive gaming industry. The developers enlisted the help of Vietnamese animation studio Sparks and partnered with Sony Interactive Entertainment. Powered by the extremely popular Unreal Engine 4, Kena was ready to wow gamers around the world.
Set as a third-person action-adventure, Kena: Bridge of Spirits follows young Kena, a young spirit guide with magical powers. In our search for the sacred Mountain Shrine, we discover that spirits can remain between the physical and spiritual realm. Some of these spirits have fallen to victim to an evil that is overtaking the forest. With the aid of our magical staff, we must rid the world of the overgrowing evil, restore the lands to the lush green gardens they once were, and guide the wayward spirits into the afterlife.
Throughout your journey, you discover a small and cute as hell spirits known as The Rot. These adorable little creatures are spirits that have been strewn across the lands. Each Rot you rescue becomes a member of your team and follows you around wherever you go. From the very first Rot I met, I was dying of cuteness overload. These tiny creatures are beyond adorable, and I can’t help but let out an audible gasp in awe every time I find one. Not only are the Rot extremely cute, but they can also assist you on your journey; from lifting and moving objects so that you can climb to a ledge or restore a dismantled shrine, to joining together to transform into a water spirit that eats away the rot that has overcome the forest. If you have ever played Pikmin before, the Rot move and act very similar to these creatures and effectively follow the orders of their leader, Kena.
So, how does the game play? Personally, I found the fighting mechanics very easy to grasp. The hack and slash style of the magical staff reminded me a lot of God of War to start out with. Then as soon as I unlocked the Spirit Bow, it took me back to my time playing Horizon Zero Dawn. Even down to the jump and aim mechanic that slows down time for a short period. Like most games, I also forget there is a shield and end up dying over and over again, until I am reminded of the action by accidently pressing the trigger. If you can time it right, you can also parry an attack by using the shield. This throws the enemy back allowing for you to dive in with a counterattack. Once you rack up enough melee attacks, your ‘Rot Meter’ will be full and you can use your cute companions to attack the enemy, or if there is a healing bush around you can send them towards it to restore your health. There is also a map available to help those that get lost easy, like myself. And whilst the map does seem to be open world, there is definitely a directional path that you need to follow.
Like most games of this nature, there is also the ability to upgrade your character. From improved attacks to additional Rot abilities, each of which will give you the upper hand in battle. And for those that love collecting, there is plenty to find with one of the main collectibles being cute little hats for your Rot friends to wear. Once you have decked out your party with the finest headwear, jump into the photo mode and take some incredibly cute photos. There is even a pose function that has the Rot striking a cute pose whilst looking directly at the camera. Personally, I think I will need spare storage drive to just cater for the screenshot spam of this stunning game.
Being that Kena: Bridge of Spirits is created by an animation studio, it is no surprise that the visuals are simply breathtaking. It is also clear that the game has a wide range of inspiration from South-East Asian culture. Even the fantastic score by Jason Gallaty has a very Asian feel to it and it suits the game perfectly. The music is chilled and calm as you wander around the forest and it quickly picks up the pace as you engage with enemies. It gets even better when you engage in a boss fight, giving you that extra adrenalin rush you need, as you dodge and fight your way to victory.
The detail in the charter creation and landscape is some of the most in-depth I have seen in a long time. When I was messing around with the photo mode, I zoomed in on the shawl around Kena’s neck and the level of detail was mind boggling. The world itself is just as detailed and stunning as the characters, even the horizon is incredibly intricate. It is clear that Ember Lab took no shortcuts in the design and creation of this game.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is one of the best games I have played in the last few years and aside from a few glitches here and there (that can be patched with updates), I cannot really fault it at all. It has everything I would expect from a game, that I would want from a game; fun and challenging gameplay, captivating story, visually stunning, a photo mode option available, fantastic score and even the brilliant haptic feedback I’ve become accustomed to with the Playstation 5 Dual Sense Controller. If you are looking for your next epic adventure, then Kena is the game for you!
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is out now, and whilst it will be available on Epic Games for PC, it has a timed exclusive for PlayStation console on the PS4 and PS5.
A PlayStation 5 copy of this game was provided by Ember Lab for the purpose of this review.