Visually Stunning and Overflowing With Charm

Although it’s only the primary recreation from its growth crew, Kena: Bridge of Spirits comes with a stage of hype and expectation that’s usually reserved for AAA blockbusters.

Up till now, animation-house-turned-game-studio Ember Lab was finest identified for its work in CG commercials. They have beforehand collaborated with manufacturers like Coca Cola, Major League Baseball (MLB) and Hisense, to supply visually spectacular shorts which can be on par with the cinematic releases of DreamWorks or Illumination.

Yet, whereas they’ve definitely mastered their craft in animated productions, Kena represents the corporate’s first-ever foray into the world of video video games. And what an bold debut it’s!

As a timed PlayStation unique, that is meant to be a “system seller” for the console line, full with next-gen graphics, refined gameplay, and an expansive world for gamers to traverse – which is kind of a tall order for a crew that’s nonetheless studying the ropes of this specific business.

Even although the trailers for Kena have given us no trigger for concern, we are able to all bear in mind previous cases of small studios biting off greater than they will chew. For occasion, Hello Games has solely simply began to rehabilitate its picture, after nearly 5 years of updating No Man’s Sky to get it to resemble what was initially marketed.

Meanwhile, crowdfunded underdogs like Mighty No. 9, Yooka Laylee and We Happy Few emerged as notoriously buggy messes that didn’t reside as much as their respective guarantees.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits Screenshot
Ember Lab’s background in CG animations shines by way of within the expressive character designs and lush environments of “Kena: Bridge of Spirits”
Ember Lab

Over the previous couple of months, many have started to worry that Kena would be the subsequent recreation to comply with on this sample – serving as yet one more instance of an indie developer getting elevated to the massive leagues too early, solely to buckle underneath the strain.

After all, there was a worrying lack of media protection for the sport within the lead as much as its launch and Sony has been conspicuously quiet on the advertising entrance as nicely. You would possibly fairly infer from this that Ember Lab – who’re self-publishing right here – doesn’t have a variety of confidence in their very own product.

However, whereas Kena: Bridge of Spirits is admittedly just a little tough across the edges, it’s nonetheless a really charming journey that greater than justifies its $40 price ticket.

A Mystical Adventure

Set in a fantasy world that blends points of Japanese and Balinese tradition, the sport casts you within the titular function of Kena, a spirit information who’s making a pilgrimage to a distant shrine within the mountains. Partway by way of her journey, she stops by at a abandoned village to analyze a supernatural corruption that’s afflicting the encompassing space. Here, she discovers that malevolent ghosts are prowling the roads and {that a} damaging drive is slowly consuming the close by forest.

Recognizing that solely a spirit information like herself can put an finish to the chaos, Kena decides that she should determine the foundation of this illness and discover a technique to heal it. To achieve this, she embarks on a quest to find the residents of the village and assist them resolve any unfinished enterprise in order that they will cross over to the opposite aspect.

In gameplay phrases, this interprets to you scouring every area of the forest for key gadgets (referred to as “relics”) which have a novel significance to the aggrieved spectres. Finding them will entail a mixture of Uncharted-esque platforming, environmental puzzle-solving and the odd little bit of fight. Once you’ve sufficient relics in your possession, you’ll then be capable of problem one of many corrupted spirits to a duel, as a way to lastly relieve them of their ache.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits Screenshot
“Kena: Bridge of Spirits” has platforming mechanics harking back to the “Uncharted” sequence.
Ember Lab

Taking Inspiration From the Best

Much like Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, Kena liberally borrows concepts from a wide range of completely different sources. For instance, throughout fights the digital camera place and management scheme immediately remembers 2018’s God of War. Elsewhere, the archery is lifted nearly identically from Breath of the Wild (time dilates whenever you draw the bow mid-air) and lots of the boss fights have direct analogues within the Dark Souls franchise. There are even a couple of similarities with Enslaved: Odyssey to the West when it comes to each the visible design and traversal mechanics.

Yet whereas there are a variety of acquainted parts, Ember Lab will get most of it proper. The fight is straightforward, however efficient, with Kena’s magical employees (which she primarily makes use of as a blunt clubbing instrument) being extremely satisfying to wield. In actuality, you’ll simply be hammering the heavy and gentle assault buttons for essentially the most half, but it surely seems fluid and feels responsive sufficient so that you can get drawn in.

Over time, you’ll unlock extra skills too – just like the aforementioned spirit bow, a forcefield energy, a throwable power bomb and a splash transfer – all of which might be upgraded by way of a devoted talent tree. There’s nothing revolutionary about any of this, however the fights stay partaking due to the pleasing enemy selection and the gradual drip-feed of latest mechanics.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits Archery
When drawing the bowstring on PS5, the DualSense controller’s adaptive triggers will resist barely.
Ember Lab

The boss encounters are a specific spotlight, with the late-game opponents proving to be surprisingly difficult and memorable. You should be taught their assault patterns, determine any weaknesses, completely time your dodges, and strategically decide what number of hits you’ll be able to sneak in with out getting too grasping. They are formidable, and even just a little irritating at occasions, however there is a real sense of accomplishment everytime you handle to fell a corrupted spirit.

There are additionally a lot of “cursed chests” scattered across the setting that you may attempt to unlock by finishing bonus trials. These elective challenges activity you with doing issues like surviving a wave of enemies with out taking a single hit or clearing out an infested space inside a given time restrict. Again, they’re pitched at simply the proper stage of difficultly, feeling powerful with out each crossing the road into being unfair.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits Screenshot
There is a shocking quantity of selection with the enemies in “Kena: Bridge of Spirits”, particularly on the subject of the memorable boss battles.
Ember Lab

Recruiting An Adorable Entourage

Speaking of additional content material, there’s lots so that you can uncover on the earth of Kena exterior of the (compelling) most important story. Unsent mail might be delivered to deserted homes – granting you entry to areas that will in any other case be missed – there are secret passageways and caves to discover, and you’ll even have the prospect to select up a couple of beauty gadgets in your travels.

However, essentially the most addictive aspect exercise is trying to find new “Rot”. Basically the mascots for the sport, these lovely, big-eyed critters function each collectables and companions in Kena’s journey. You can rescue them by profitable archery side-quests or by simply looking out in hidden locations across the setting (like underneath logs, beneath frying pans, or inside pumpkins).

Once they’ve been adopted into your care, the Rot will lend you a hand in fight, make it easier to remedy puzzles and purge corruption from beforehand inaccessible areas of the forest. In addition to this, when they don’t seem to be making themselves helpful, they are going to simply grasp round within the background being indescribably candy.

Often, you’ll flip a nook to see them lounging round in kitchen cupboards or sliding down baggage of flour. They will even hitch a journey atop Kena’s head when she goes for a swim and it is so treasured that you can find your self mechanically hammering the screenshot button in your DualSense controller.

Trying to amass all 100 of those tiny creatures is supremely addictive, as is discovering the assorted hats that you may costume them in. No matter how exhausting you strive to withstand their calculated cuteness, you’ll find yourself getting connected to them.

The Rot in Kena: Bridge of Spirits
You will be capable of construct up your rot entourage by finishing archery challenges, fixing environmental puzzles, or simply in search of them hiding in plain sight.
Ember Lab

Gorgeous Visuals and Entrancing Music

Of course, this extends to all the characters in Kena, as they’re universally likeable and straightforward to narrate to. Every character mannequin is remarkably expressive (it’s price rotating the digital camera at random intervals, simply to see all of the completely different facial expressions which were programmed on your avatar), the voice actors do a stellar job in bringing them to life, and their backstories are all intriguing.

Not to say, the sport has a phenomenally rousing soundtrack that simply will get you instantly invested into the assorted relationships and interpersonal dramas right here. Tapping into the sport’s pan-Asian setting, this music would possibly truthfully be the perfect a part of the entire expertise. There’s a haunting central motif, atmospheric background tracks, and a percussive fight loop that will get the center racing.

As you’d count on from a crew that bought their begin in movie-grade animation, Bridge of Spirits seems completely beautiful on the PS5, particularly within the pre-rendered cutscenes. You are going to wish to exploit its picture mode characteristic, as a way to seize all the spectacular vistas, lovely environments, putting lighting results, and plausible character animations. While it’s clearly not aiming for a practical aesthetic – and instead resembles a stylized Pixar movie – it’s simply one of many best-looking video games of this console technology.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits Screenshot
Even when they don’t seem to be making themselves helpful in fight or puzzle conditions, the rot aren’t idle and will do enjoyable issues within the background.
Ember Lab

A Little Rough Around the Edges

Or at the least, that’s the case for essentially the most half. Yet there are a couple of locations the place the requirements seem to have slipped, presumably for the sake of assembly the already postponed launch date. While some areas are richly detailed, different textures look curiously half-finished and there are a handful of animations which can be only a bit clunky.

For occasion, when Kena is climbing up mountains it feels awkwardly disjointed, like there’s an imperceptible jolt between her leaping and then clinging onto ledges. Likewise, the animation for you coming to a whole halt after sprinting is unnaturally abrupt and the Rot don’t appear to have correct collision detection with the setting. As such, if there’s not sufficient area on your entourage to suit right into a sure hole, then they are going to merely section by way of partitions or float in mid-air.

In common, it seems like Kena may have used extra time within the oven. Trying to run it in something aside from efficiency mode causes the body fee to dip to close unplayable ranges and it’s a disgrace to report that we did encounter our justifiable share of bugs as nicely.

Luckily, none of those hiccups have been ever recreation breaking, aside from one occasion of a puzzle answer not activating on cue. Even then, this was simply resolved by quitting to the principle menu and then beginning over once more. Given that the checkpoints are moderately generously distributed right here, this was not an excessive amount of of an inconvenience however it’s price declaring.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits Screenshot
More than simply interesting merchandise alternatives, the rot are an integral a part of the gameplay in “Kena: Bridge of Spirits’. During fight, they will assemble themselves into highly effective weapons, rummage round for therapeutic provides and briefly distract enemies.
Ember Lab

Hopefully these assorted kinks will probably be ironed out post-launch through updates and patches. Granted, that is Ember Lab’s first recreation (and it didn’t have the assets of a fully-fledged AAA manufacturing) so a few of these points might be missed, however they do barely mar what’s in any other case an excellent debut.

Overall, Kena: Bridge of Spirits manages to beat its technical flaws by way of pleasant animation, strong gameplay, interesting characters and terrific music. Whether or not it’s the killer-app PlayStation followers are hoping for will depend upon how a lot you count on from a $40 product, however there’s lots to be enchanted by right here.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is on the market now for PS4, PS5 and PC. A PS5 evaluation code was offered by the writer.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits (8/10)

Kena: Bridge of Spirits isn’t with out its technical faults, however is so innately likeable and charming that it is possible for you to to look previous them.

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