Kena Bridge of Spirits is a new PlayStation IP that has players control the titular character, Kena, a young spirit guide, as as she works to rid an evil corruption from a once-beautiful land & restore balance back to the world.
The game comes from first-time game developer Ember Lab, a creative studio more well-known for its animation and digital content work than video game making.
Thanks to Ember Lab, I got to play Kena Bridge of Spirits and I thought it was a good opportunity to have a chat about it with my gaming colleague Guy (Twitter: @nzBrowncoat), who also had a crack at it.
Here are our thoughts.
Guy: So, Kena Bridge of Spirits. First impressions in a nut shell?
Gerard: I like it. Right of the bat I just want to mention how damn gorgeous it is. It’s got a real Pixar-like visual style about it – and it’s not surprising, really, given that the developer Ember Lab have a background in animation. They’ve managed to really imbide emotion and feeling into her face, which is impressive. Game play wise, look, it’s not reinventing the wheel as it’s uses a lot of the tried-and-true platformer mechanics but a nice twist is the Rot, little spirit creatures that can Kena finds as she explores the world. They help Kena during combat and help solve puzzles around the world. What are your thoughts?
Guy: I am pleased I stuck with it. As after my first 30 minutess I was worried. It seemed very safe. Pretty…but safe but after I ticked over the hour mark I was totally sold. The combat is simple yet fun, the environments a stunning and the “Rots” scream plushy toy cute. Totally agree on Ember Labs, too. If this is their first ever game, man, what will they do next!
Gerard: Oh, yeah, they do. I love that cheeky grin when Kena discovers another Rot. I think safe is a good word there. It’s not trying anything too dramatic but it does things really competently and the game just has a feel good feeling about it. I liked how the backstory of the tormented spirits that Kena has to free is done through cinematic moments. They’re incredibly well done and I could quite happy watch a full length movie of Ember Labs’ animation work.
Guy: I think it takes too long to get to a complexity in both puzzles and combat, so that every encounter/environment is fun. For an eight hour game, I would say the first two hours could have been compacted down but I get that this game is catering for all ages, so younger gamers need a bit more of a slow burn into mechanics. What are your thoughts on the boss fight difficulty spikes?
Gerard: I agree that the combat is definitely a slow burn in that it introduces the enemy types gradually so that it doesn’t overwhelm the player too quickly but it might frustrate seasoned gamers. That said, some of those tougher enemies can really pack a wallop and I was floored a few times by some of the more aggressive ones. The boss fights up the ante, too, so you’ll definitely be challenged the further you progress. What did you think about the puzzle elements? I think it’s just the right mix of not “mind-numbingly easy but not pull-your-hair out hard”. I did like the mechanic where Kena could manipulate glowing rocks using exploding orbs, allowing her to create paths to higher points on the map.
Guy: I liked the puzzles. Chaining the energy to open doors, using the “Rots” to move items to pressure pads felt very Pikman. Sort of anyway LOL.
Gerard: Yeah, it is very Pikman-like. Nicely put.
Guy: I so enjoyed the aesthetic. Friendly, fun, inviting and just nice to be around. Its the same feeling I got playing Sack-Boys Big Adventure. So many games especially in this high-production space, are so dark and brutally violent. It was nice to play something that even for me (a 40yr old gamer) to exclaim aloud, “Ooooooh, man, that it cute right there.” LOL.
Gerard: Yeah, it totally is, right? It’s just got a fantastic feel good vibe about it and Kena is so wholesome and the Rot are amazingly cute. I smiled every time I found another one and it made that cheesy grin. Plus you can buy hats for them. Hats that look like mushrooms. Hats with horns on them. They look super cute. I can’t want to see what Ember Lab come up with next.
Guy: Haha, the hats!! I have two teenage kids who dragged themselves away from Reddit due to the beautiful graphics and ended up very vocal helping me choose and buy the hats for my “Rots”.
Gerard: Any gripes? I sometimes thought the jumping was a little floaty, and perhaps it’s because I’ve got used to having it in other games, but some kind of aim lock when Kena is using the bow and arrow – especially if you’re target shooting – would have been really helpful. I gave up on a few of the target shooting mini-games because it just proved too hard to line up the shots.
Guy: The aiming thing on the bow… the camera sensitivity is wrong. I almost doubled it from ‘default’ and it was waaaaay better. Then when I unlocked slow-mo the mini games were a breeze. Gripes? I would say the combat is not tuned enough for the punishment it dolls out. That window for ‘parry’ felt a tad inconsistent, so risking a missed parry was, too, well risky. So I tended to roll in bash-bash, and roll away. That would be my only gripe. What are your thoughts on the characters and voice work?
Gerard: Oh, yeah, the slow-mo. That works really nice in combat when you have a few foes or you want to got for a sensitive point on one of the larger enemies. In terms of voice work and characters, I thought it was well done but I would have loved to have learned more about her backstory. Overall I thought it was an amazing first effort from Ember Lab.
Guy: Overall very hard to find fault. Awesome price for the production level and level of polish on offer. Very “done-before” in terms of actual Nuts and Bolts game play mechanics and skill trees…like I said “safe”. But I loved it. It was a joy to play, the “Rots” are cute as hell and it was a perfect length for a weekend game. Nicely done Ember Labs.
Gerard: Looks like we both had a blast and highly recommend this to anyone after a nice chill-out PlayStation game (it’s on PS4 and PS5).
Kena Bridge of Spirits is out now for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.