Kena: Bridge of Spirits review: A familiar tale

Ember Labs
Ember Labs /

Title: Kena: Bridge of Spirits
Developer: Ember Lab
Publishers: Ember Lab
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed on), PS4, PC
Release Date: September 21, 2021

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a game I found myself extremely hyped for. I love Sony exclusives, obviously. I love platformers. I love whimsy. And I especially love when the stones in my games are glowy. On that criteria alone, Kena: Bridge of Spirits should absolutely be a game I’m all about.

Kena isn’t without its charm it’s just exceptionally familiar. The elements of the game are heavily borrowed from others and things bounce between polished and yikes. But it was made by a 15-person team so I can’t even really fault them. 15 people making this game is honestly quite the accomplishment.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a game about helping spirits move on. Taking place within a pseudo-spirit realm, you have to make your way to a temple whilst also figuring out why these plants are growing evil roots and hindering everyone. Luckily, you have the help of tiny little nuggets of whimsy knowns as “The Rot.” Having so many of these things with you might be annoying if it wasn’t for the fact that they’re absolutely adorable.

They help the titular Kena in her role of a spirit guide by helping her accomplish tasks. This can be anything from slowing down enemies to destroying evil growth to even carrying things for you and pushing blocks, which turn one of the most boring parts of puzzle-solving into something adorable.

As you make your way through the game you’re going to find some really familiar gameplay elements though. Most of the traversal is done through linear areas of wilderness and caves while frequently asking you to scale things. Anyone who has played other Sony exclusives like Horizon Zero Dawn, Uncharted or even Shadow of the Colossus will be familiar with the mechanics.

And I get it, if it ain’t broke. Maybe I’d mind it less if they made it a bit more challenging. If you jump towards a ledge or a marked cliff piece you know you’re going to grab it. Even if you try not to, your character will absolutely turn and grab it. The game does this a lot.

For example, I got really worried for a moment when I was running through the woods and encountered a tree that had fallen over a small canyon. But when I ran across it, Kena went in a perfectly straight line across it — even though I approached it from an angle. I tried it again. Then I went back, called my eight-year-old over, and told him I was going to show him a magic trick. I hid behind the couch and ran over the log again, never falling off.

I’m not gonna gatekeep. If a game wants itself to be accessible to all walks, awesome. My kids are playing it right now and I’m happy to know they won’t be frustrated with it. But also, let me turn that off, please.

As I mentioned, Kena was made by a fairly small team. As such, you’ll probably encounter some glitches. There were a slew of glitched surfaces that I encountered that you could easily get trapped forever with the only escape being a return to the title screen. When practicing with the bow, I was magically stuck in the top of a tree. In the early beginning of the game, I fell into an invisible hole that was so massive I went back and found it again to show you so that you don’t suffer my fate.

The cutscenes were also jarring. Despite the fact you could see a cutscene coming from a mile away, when it arrived, the frame rate changed noticeably. The whole transition from gameplay to cutscene is just an awkward experience.

Despite my complaints, there are a lot of things to like here. The combat mechanics feel slow at first but once you get the movement down it’s actually really fun. The shield mechanic blocks in all directions so you don’t have to worry about facing a certain way. The parry system takes a bit to master but when you do, it feels great. And you unlock weapons over time that feel significantly different and also play well.

And there is so much love put into the world and characters from the game, including the Rot. There were so many times where I’d be looking around inside a house to see a Rot sitting in a bowl or in a cabinet. There were times where I’d notice them playing with a mushroom or bumping into each other playfully. They felt alive. They felt like they were filled with energy and just because you were standing around doesn’t mean they had to.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits review: A familiar tale
Ember Labs /

Kena: Bridge of Spirits has its faults but it’s also a joy to play. Hopefully many of the issues I experienced can be patched out, but the joys do outweigh them even as they are. The world is incredibly fleshed out and while it doesn’t really add anything new to the fantasy genre, it introduces elements with such care and joy that I’m fine with it. It’s like finding a new restaurant the serves your favorite dish but better.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits Score (PS5): 7/10

Kena: Bridge of Spirits takes us on a whimsical tale that’s both predictable and familiar, but also something brand new with the way that it’s presented. Between the back and forth moments of polish and unpolished gameplay lies an absolute gem of a game.