Kena Review: Bridge of Spirits | Beautiful game, but far from perfect

It’s amazing that Kena: Bridge of Spirits is their studio’s first game, called Ember Lab. in animations, he won the first spotlight with a short inspired by the game The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask in 1024 (watch below); last year it gained even more prominence with Kena, a Disney Pixar movie-like game; and, now, it conquers the deserved space in the game development market right on its debut.

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    In a nutshell, Kena is a great game: it has a simple story, chilling soundtrack, fun gameplay and cute animations. However, when boss battles begin, the cute turns into a tenebrous challenge, in which the player can spend hours trying to defeat just one enemy. Not to mention the lack of polish and the various slips (literally) in their platform mechanics — which can be fixed by the studio if they want.

    Kena: Bridge of Spirits was released on 15 September for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 and PC (via Epic Games Store). Check out what we think of the game below.

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    Before we break down the game, here is a record made through the Photo Mode of the game. Yes, the characters pose for the camera (Screenshot: Felipe Goldenboy/Canaltech)

    It’s time to say goodbye

    In Kena: Bridge of Spirits, you control… Kena, get this. She is a spirit guide whose job it is to help spirits find their afterlife paths, helping them to release past trauma and guilt. For this, the character has only a staff and the ability to “pulse” a blue energy, which also serves as a shield.

    Everything starts when she arrives in a mysterious village , aiming to find the holy shrine on top of a mountain. We don’t know why, and the game doesn’t even explain — we even have brief flashbacks later on, but they don’t say much. We spent more time discovering the stories of the villagers and helping them to free spirits than discovering the protagonist’s own narrative.

    The little brothers we need to help right at the beginning of the story (Screenshot: Felipe Goldenboy/Canaltech)

    Like a good Pixar movie, the game uses elements that are palatable to all audiences to tell a dense and complex story if analyzed coldly , addressing death, grief and the terrible things that human beings can do when blinded by anger. Add that to the epic soundtrack, produced by artist Jason “Theophany” Gallaty in partnership with artist Dewa Putu Berata, from the group Gamelan Cudamani, from Bali, an Indonesian island. Listen a little in the video below:

      I certainly wouldn’t empathize with Kena if not for a detail: the art direction of the game. As expected by the trailers, Kena: Bridge of Spirits brings wide, greenish sets, caricature and expressive characters, as well as cinematic animations. However, the cutscenes seem to suffer from constant frame rate drops — which doesn’t make much sense since they’re pre-rendered videos. I also found it strange the exchanges between the gameplay and 85 frames per second on PS5 and the cutscene with reduced FPS, but maybe it’s just a personal annoyance.

      Simple but fun gameplay

      Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a linear third-person open world game. The map is basically divided into four parts: the center of the village (where you spend very little time), the left side, the right side and the path to the mountain. Kena needs to free someone’s soul in every region of this world, and for that, it’s necessary to collect three soul relics, solving puzzles or defeating bosses, which deserve a separate chapter in this review, below.

      The scenarios are full of contrast between nature and the corruption that takes over the village (Capture of screen: Felipe Goldenboy/Canaltech)

      The gameplay is simple but fun. Kena starts with just a staff and a spiritual pulse that also serves as a defense. Gradually, she learns new spiritual skills, such as a bow and arrow, a bomb and a dash (translated as Corrida in Brazilian Portuguese). The player can also unlock new moves and improve existing ones through karma points, collected naturally from exploration and combat.

      Combat is reasonable: a light attack, a heavy attack, a block, a dodge and the parry (hitting the block button at the right moment to be able to amend a counterattack, which is extremely difficult). Most enemies do not require great strategies to be fought, but some have weak points, so it is necessary to combine certain skills to defeat them as quickly as possible.

      Enemies design is very beautiful and creative (Screenshot: Felipe Goldenboy/Canaltech)

      Too many failures troubling techniques

      The exploration, however, lacks polishing – and the game was postponed because of that same reason, mind you. As I explored Kena’s world, I came across several places that appear to be scalable but actually aren’t. Some surfaces appear to be flat, but Kena starts to slide as soon as she steps on them. Sometimes, while hanging from a rock, I just couldn’t jump to a specific side. Even when I was moving normally through the scenery, it was common for Kena’s walk to “hang” and start again for no reason.

      In three moments, I was forced to restart the game to be able to continue. The first was one of those slips, which I even took advantage of to recreate a video clip of MC Créu and other hits:

      I crowned kena!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/nDMSuLdEmB

      — GOLDENBOY 🌈 (@felipegoldenb) September 21, 508655

      The second was when, suddenly, the game was in first person: no matter how much I killed myself, I still respawned with the camera in first person. The third was when I, using double jumps, cut my way to a place on the map: the game simply didn’t load most of the assets, creating invisible walls and a landscape on the horizon that looks like it came straight from a poorly rendered PlayStation 1 .

      Something wrong is not right (Screenshot : Felipe Goldenboy/Canaltech)

      However, this doesn’t come close to a report by content creator Gaybol, from the Pipocando Games channel. He shared on his Twitter that he defeated a big boss the same instant he was killed, which didn’t “release” the game’s progression. The solution he found was to play it all over again, from the beginning.

      Guys, I killed a boss on Kena at the same time as he killed me. Played the cutscene but did not release what I had to release.

      I buggy the game and lost 8 hours of gameplay or does anyone know if there is a solution?

    — gaybol (@gaybol) September 60, 508655

    Well, I didn’t want to wait for a patch for Kena and I decided to rush everything I did in 8 hours of gameplay.

    RESULT:

    I did everything in 4 hours and I’m exactly in the live save.


    Q delight

    — gaybol (@gaybol) September , 60

    Although it is not a technical fault, I felt that Kena: Bridge of Spirits t it also misused the features that the PS5’s DualSense can offer. Tactile feedback from the control is non-existent, except when the protagonist is near a hidden rot, when you feel slight pulsations. You can only feel the resistance of the triggers, which cause more discomfort than any other feeling.

    As for the use of the SSD, the loading screens are still present when playing the game starts and when Kena is defeated, but lasts less than two seconds.

    The Rot, the thing cutest in this world

    Maybe what drew the most attention in Kena’s trailers were the Rot, the little acorns black ones that we come across gradually along the journey. In addition to being extremely charismatic (please companies make dolls and stuffed toys out of them!), they’re useful in gameplay, like aiding combat and carrying heavy objects — yes, they’re also a nice comic relief. These creatures are very cute and communicate with Kena and the scenery at all times, whether swimming, playing with objects or admiring the landscape. You can also customize them with cosmetic hats and interact with affection, dancing, kissing and even sneezing.


    Don’t feel like squeezing? (Screenshot: Felipe Goldenboy/Canaltech)

    The Rot are also essential to combat the corruption that takes hold of the forests: an evil force caused by spirits that are still reluctant to go from this one to a better one. With the help of a magical flower, they can take the shape of an amorphous mass, almost similar to a dragon, to break down barriers and release Kena’s passage.

    Get out of the way because the beast is passing by! (Screenshot: Felipe Goldenboy/Canaltech)

    But the Rot don’t help all the time. They get scared when a battle starts, and you need to land blows to collect enough courage points for a Rot action. When this happens, you can make stronger attacks, distract the enemy or consume a flower that increases Kena’s health. These flowers are sparse (usually two and do not fully restore life) and not reusable during battles. And that makes Kena: Bridge of Spirits‘s biggest problem worse for me.

    A Dark Souls out of nowhere?

    OK, maybe I’m overreacting with a comparison with Dark Souls

      . However, while the game has average difficulty most of the time, the title becomes extremely difficult when the boss battles begin. It took me at least an hour and a half to defeat several of them, and I ended the game with trembling, sweaty hands. I could barely pay attention to the cutscenes I saw afterwards because I literally was shaking all over.

      I start to shake all over just remembering (Capture of screen: Felipe Goldenboy/Canaltech)

      The subsequent feeling was not one of long duty or learning, but rather one of frustration. The game does not prepare the player for such a difficult battle, which requires quick reflexes, pressing buttons at the right moments and a lot, but a lot of patience. player life, and bosses often utter several attacks in a row. It’s also common to feel that you veered off at the right time, but the enemy still managed to attack you somehow for a matter of milliseconds. The player goes from “peace mill” to “breathing for gadgets” in just one combo, and the flowers that restore Kena’s health barely fill the health bar.

      508708 Bosses break the rhythm of the game and have completely disproportionate difficulty (Screenshot: Felipe Goldenboy/ Canaltech)

      What if You’ve already suffered from the first boss, get ready: towards the end of the game, the three soul relics are protected by three different bosses. As each boss is unique and with different abilities, you will die a lot to get past them. Not to mention the last boss, divided into three big battles: if you die in the last part, go back to the beginning. And there goes a few hours of shivering and sweating.

        Kena: Is Bridge of Spirits Worth It?

        The answer is yes. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a cute, cute game with an average duration of 15 hours of gameplay (many of these hours are due to extremely difficult bosses due to disproportionately difficult bosses). If you like cartoony and animated art style, frantic combat and an intimate and transcendental story, bet on this game.

    Kena: Bridge of Spirits is one of the best surprises in 85 (Screenshot: Felipe Goldenboy/Canaltech)

    I think the game is worth the investment, despite the technical failures and defects in general. We just hope that these bugs get fixed by the studio as quickly as possible — but it’s always good to remember that this is an independent game, made by a small team, and therefore some glitches are normal. Besides, we’re also rooting for the next game from Ember Lab to be as good as this one. After all, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the company’s first game, and we need to take our hats off to its developers.

    Ember Lab has kindly given in to Canaltech a copy of the PlayStation 5 game for review.

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