Kena: Bridget of Spirits is a third-person platforming action-adventure game that can be defined as a AA game. In a world dominated by AAA games and Indie games, there is a void for AA games. AA games aren't full-priced games, offer AAA level of production and are a small package (can be completed in a weekend or about 8-9 hours). My ideal benchmark of a brilliant AA game has to be Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice. Kena Bridge of Spirits is yet another game to fulfil this definition of AA games and I am happy to say that it is an enjoyable ride for anyone that loves the platforming action-adventure genre.
I have enjoyed a lot of platforming action-adventure games growing up. A lot of these games started out as AA games before rising to AAA glory. These included Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Pandemonium and many more on the PS1. On the PS2, this list consisted of games like Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper, Tak and the Power of Juju, Maximo vs Army of Zin, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and many more. Even on the Xbox 360 and PS3, there were games like Kameo: Elements of Power (on the Xbox 360) and I would also consider the 2008 reboot of Prince of Persia in this list. So, if like me, you are an ageing gamer in your mid 30’s or want to play a game that reminds you of simpler days of platforming action-adventure games, then Kena: Bridge of Spirits will definitely scratch that itch.
The story of Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a simple soulful tale, one that reminded me a lot of the movie Raya and The Last Dragon. The game follows the journey of Kena, a spirit guide and as her title says, she guides spirits that have not been able to find their way to the afterlife. She comes to the village at the foot of a mountain. She is in search of the sacred mountain shrine and to get to it, she needs to help the lost spirits in the village.
There is very little in terms of Kena’s origin in this story, and the focus is more on the village, what happened there, why are these spirits restless and refuse to pass over and how Kena helps them achieve some form of closure before they can move on and let go of their loved ones in the real world. Each of the spirits you help is in some way related to the village in question and was on a personal journey not only to protect the ones they love but also to help a village that's suffering. The story is targeted at a young audience and works well. While I would have liked to see a bit more of Kena’s origin into becoming a spirit guide or her setting off into the distance at the end of the game teasing a DLC or a sequel, the story is well contained in this mysterious universe.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a pure platforming action-adventure game with exploration and puzzles thrown into the mix. The game isn’t an open-world per se, but has new areas you can explore once you've unlocked certain abilities or gained a new “mask” that unlocks a new area. Each area has certain objectives you must complete before taking on the big bad foe of the area. It's a tried and tested formula that works well. We’ve seen great execution of this formula recently in a game like Resident Evil: Village.
Your weapon in this journey is the staff that you can use for melee combat and it also doubles up as a bow. The combat in the game may be slow at the beginning offering limited moves, but once you get the ability to upgrade your moves, and the diversity in enemies increases, the combat becomes a lot of fun.
You have the “rot” which are these cute and cuddly creatures. At the beginning of any encounter, the “rot” gets scared and hides. As you deal more damage to your foes, you build up a courage meter that lets you perform a special move with the rot. This could be a ground slam, or the rot distracts an enemy or fetches health for you. You can only perform a single action until you find more rot, so whether you decide to use a special attack or regenerate health is a crucial decision in the early parts of the game. As you find more rot, the number of special moves you can do increases but you still need to build up for a move by attacking enemies.
Speaking of enemies, they are quite varied in the game, especially the boss fights. There are quite a few of them, and once you have defeated a boss, they reappear throughout the game alongside normal enemies adding some challenge to the gameplay. This “recycling” of the boss isn't overused and provides a welcome challenge, especially later on in the game when you have unlocked more combat moves.
Your traversal abilities also grow during the course of the game. While you start with abilities like double jump, you will gain the ability to throw a “bomb” at glowing objects in the world to build new paths. These are some of the most fun traversals in a platforming game reminding me of the glory days of Prince of Persia. The last act in the game has some of the best platforming sequences and kept me at the edge of my seat.
Kena: Bridget of Spirits is quite a challenging game even at the normal difficulty level. It's challenging enough but not ruthless. For those that want to explore the world and enjoy the story, know that you can drop the difficulty anytime in the game. But I still recommend giving the game a go at the normal difficulty as the boss battles are truly engaging.
To help you navigate the world is a handy map that's very easy to read and you can plot your movements by venturing via areas you may have missed. While the game offers fast travel, I'd recommend taking the long road. You never know when you come across a rot or collectable hat you have missed along the way.
While the Pixar reference may be overused to describe Kena: Bridge of Spirits, there is no better way to describe the cute and cuddly look of the game. It's nothing short of spectacular with bright vibrant colours spread throughout the village, characters with signature big eyes that are very expressive and the cute and cuddly rot that surrounds you.
Kane's character design and animations deserve special mention. From her purposeful run to the combat animation, it's all extremely well executed. Some of the bosses in the later part of the game also deserve special mention. From their ruthless design to their aggressive body language in combat, it’s all so immersive.
While the game looks visually stunning on the PS5 (review), the only gripes I have with it are the few invisible walls I encountered and some stutters during the cutscenes. It felt as though the cutscenes were playing at a lower frame rate. But these are in no way any deterrent to the overall visual presentation of the game, which, as I said, is nothing short of a Pixar movie.
Moving over to audio, there is a signature flute that plays when you cleanse an area and the flute also has a signature tune for the foes once you've freed their spirits. There is also the high octave music that kicks in during combat and considering you are in a village; the game is also full of natural sounds adding to the immersion. The voice again is also spot on once again, nothing short of an animated feature film.
Kena Bridge of Spirits is a good AA platforming action-adventure game overall. It is surprising that the offering is Ember Lab's first outing to develop a game. The game has an engaging story, fun combat and a setting nothing short of a AAA animated movie. While some will argue about the limited combat or the short campaign, I say, the game scratches an itch that gamers like me have - an affordable, fun, single-player game with engaging combat and head-scratching puzzles that can be beaten in one weekend. If you like any of the platforming games I've mentioned at the beginning of this review, then Kena will definitely appeal to you.
Tested on: PS5
Developer: Ember Lab
Publisher: Ember lab
Platforms: PS4, PS5, PC
Price: Rs 3,330 (PS5), Rs 939 (PC)
|Release Date:||02 Feb 2021|
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