Kena: Bridge of Spirits review: Beneath the mask

by Lars
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Kena: Bridge of Spirits was formerly a Playstation exclusive, one that’s now made its way to PC. We’ve had the opportunity to review it now the game has made that journey, and man – what an interesting little curiosity this game is.

It looks like a Pixar movie come to life. It plays a little like a stripped down Legend of Zelda mainline game with a hearty splash of Pikmin for flavour. Kena‘s art direction is almost flawless, blending Southeast Asian themes with what I can only describe as Atlantis: The Lost Empire inspired crystal structures. Kena’s task is to cleanse the land of corrupting energies using these crystals and friendly forest spirits (who we’ll get to later). Watching the forests burst back into life when you remove corruption is always satisfying, even after a few hours of working your way through it.

Kena Bridge of Spirits village

This doesn’t look like a game that comes in at just over £30. Kena’s gameplay is a mix of combat, puzzle solving and exploration, regularly slamming you up against boss fights that require specific and precise tactics to overcome, with score of extra challenges. Kena gets quite the arsenal of tools throughout her journey. At first it’s just simple melee combat (complete with an overpowered parry ability) but she quickly earns a magical bow, spirit bombs capable of levitating rubble in the air, and, of course, the Rot.

The Rot are forest spirits personified as cute little furry blobs. Individually they can’t do much, but the more Kena gathers, the stronger they become. They can be found out in the wild like collectibles, or picked up in big chunks after certain story beats. They play an important part in the story – as they allow Kena to cleanse corruption – but they also make up the other big part of her exploration/combat toolkit. This is where those Pikmin elements come into play. The Rot can be ordered to move objects, swarm enemies, and even transformed into their true spirit form to wreak massive damage.

Kena Bridge of Spirits - The Rot

Kena is arguably more focused on exploration than combat, which is competent enough but neither as engaging or satisfying as the exploration and environmental puzzle solving. You’ll use The Rot in combination with Kena’s combat abilities to access previously unreachable areas, score an extra Rot or two, or boost your health pool whilst looking out on gorgeous vistas. It’s these little moments of curiosity being rewarded that make the game so charming, while the overarching story leaves a little to be desired.

We’re essentially walked through a series of short stories that follow an identical gameplay loop. There’s a lost spirit that needs some guiding, and Kena needs to acquire three relics for them to see their memories and lay them to rest. The lost spirits are tied inexorably to the corruption ravaging the land, coming to a head with big boss battles and emotional cutscenes. The game does cutscenes and emotion much more effectively than battles, which are beautifully scored and presented but often anti-climactic. The game’s first big ‘proper’ boss battle was easier than basically all of the mini-bosses I faced on the run up to it, which obviously felt a little underwhelming.

Kena Bridge of Spirits corrupted boss

As I mentioned earlier, Kena‘s real strength lies in exploration. All of the player’s tools are used together in layering, unexpected ways to forge a path ahead. Just when you think you’ve cracked it, it throws another element in the mix, and all of a sudden you’re thinking of all those other obstacles you’ve passed back in the village that you could get past now. It’s not that the combat isn’t enjoyable, because it certainly has a nice flow to it. The enemies are decently varied, requiring quick adaptations of tactics to overcome, just as puzzling as Kena‘s environments. But it’s cracking those little environmental puzzles and clearing swathes of darkness away that makes it really satisfying.

How does Kena: Bridge of Spirits run on PC?

The game ran smoothly on high settings in 1440p for me, running a humble 2070 Super. The graphics are incredible but that slightly cartoony style means it’ll look good on almost any setting in my opinion. Framerate was consistently around the 60fps mark and I didn’t experience a single technical error on this new Steam version of the game throughout my entire playthrough. I’m by no means the most educated PC gamer in the world, but I am confident the development team have delivered a solid port here.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits overall thoughts

Kena is a rewarding adventure with lots to offer, a beautiful visual journey through some really inspired environments. As Kena breathes life back into the world around her, scores of secrets unwind, just waiting to be discovered by curious players. If you’re looking specifically for engaging combat, it may not be for you, but as a general package it’s probably one of the coolest new adventure games we’ve seen recently. In this age of sequels and remakes, Kena is a brave new IP created by some very talented people, and I would love to see more like it in the future.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is available now on PC via Steam. Check out more of our reviews HERE.

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