Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a majestic adventure created by Ember Lab, a development studio that consists of only 14 people. When you start the game for the first time, you immediately get an incredible feeling that you got magically transferred into a Disney or Pixar cartoon between the game’s aesthetics, style and animation. Every place you visit bursts with color and life and is easily remembered at first sight only to surprise you with tiny details when you venture deeper.
The protagonist of the game is a young girl named Kena. She possesses an unusual ability: as a Spirit Guide, she knows how to communicate with the spirits of the deceased, has a way to see their past and even help them find peace.
The spirits that are not able to move on become corrupted and spread that corruption around, challenging Kena at every turn. The young Spirit Guide will have to face this struggle as she ventures to a cursed abandoned village in search of a sacred mountain shrine.
Thankfully, Kena will not have to face this journey alone!
As you traverse the abandoned village and the mysterious forest, you will encounter tiny spirits. Timid and weak alone, they can work together with Kena to take on stronger enemies as a group. They want to rid the forest of corruption and monsters no less than their guide.
The Rot are small and cute charming spirits that maintain the balance by decomposing dead and rotting elements. They will be assisting Kena in clearing the corruption, transforming the environment and fighting against monsters. The Rot can also aid the guide by carrying heavy objects, destroying the core of the corruption and doing other helpful things. You can also give those spirits tiny hats (yep, you read that right – they can be purchased in the store or found in the game) to make them stand out among others. Over time, you will have an entire colorful carnival accompanying you on your journey.
But even that is not all. The Rot are always near Kena, and the game presents that brilliantly. At any point of time you can sit down with them, snuggle the cute fellas, make them sneeze, dance, etc.
Of course, the Rot are not the only spirits of the forest you will meet. Kena will also run into spirit twins that have lost their brother.
The game starts quite humble: simple battles, easy puzzles, collection of various currencies and the little hats for your Rot as well as other uncomplicated activities. But, as you venture deeper and uncover more mysteries, things become more interesting over time.
Even with the Normal level of difficulty, the battles become seriously harder. You can get locked in an arena and bombarded with ordinary enemies followed by a bigger and meaner boss. You will have to constantly be on the move and keep your attention honed on what is going on around you – look for vulnerabilities, send the Rot to attack enemies or aid you, use your various spiritual abilities such as transforming your weapon into a bow to pierce enemies with arrows or by using powerful hammer strikes on the ground.
Don’t expect enemies to simply attack you one by one. They will be beating on Kena all together, in a group. Each use of your abilities consumes a charge of energy, with the difficulty level changing the requirements of how you can acquire more. On Easy you get it naturally over time, on Hard – only when dealing damage to enemies. You can increase the overall number of energy charges by leveling up the Rot (finding new spirits to add to your party).
There are many various types of enemies that behave differently in combat: some of them can fly, others are covered with a shield, the third type can throw something at Kena and her spirit friends. Some battles will have you swinging on the grappling hook (in Kena it is one of the ways to use the bow) back and forth to figure out what needs to be done for victory.
The bosses are quite strong and each uses a unique combat tactic. In general, even on the normal level of difficulty, I found myself getting pressed enough at certain points of the game that I stopped paying attention to the beauty of the surroundings or the cute little Rot.
Exploration of the world of Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a real pleasure, and it gives you quite the benefit in-game as well! First, it provides you with a chance to look for more spirit buddies to aid you as well as giving you a way to find hidden caches, restore statues, acquire new memories for the mask and in turn to unlock new abilities.
Speaking of abilities, there isn’t a great number of them but each adds its own spin to combat. Parrying, counter-attacking, slowing time while aiming with the bow, empowering your shields, enhancing attacks with the bow or the hammer – those are just some of the abilities you can unlock. However, it requires you to spend Karma Points which are acquired at a very slow pace.
Puzzles are yet another interesting part of the game in general and exploration in particular. In one place, Kena will have to shoot the sparkling crystals in the correct order to open a stone door, in another – ask the spirits to return a bird statue, in the third – find a hidden passage into a building that has the needed quest items. The puzzles are varied and scattered all over the world.
To sum it up:
From the very first moment till the very end of your journey, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a heart-warming experience and a real pleasure between the visuals, puzzles and combat. Atmospheric music, beautiful lively graphics, believable heroes and cute little Rots – each little element is woven into the amazing whole that is the gaming experience provided by Kena.
The exploration does not become stale over time, and battles only become more interesting as you get more abilities and ways to tackle them.
The animation is incredible, complete with bright colors, smooth movements, tiny details like the blades of grass moving in the wind and more.
Kena does not have bullet-sponge battles that are aimed at wasting your time or large empty locations that will have you trudging aimlessly from one corner to another and getting through a hundred traps on the way.
It is a smooth, wildly beautiful, sweet and heartwarming experience.