Kena: Bridge of Spirits has been one of the most anticipated games of the year since its reveal. A single-player action-adventure game, Kena: Bridge of Spirits seamlessly blends a compelling narrative with exploration, puzzle-solving, platforming, and fast-paced combat. And this game does it all while immersing players in a lush and vibrant world that is as beautiful in gameplay as it is in cinematics.
Developed and published by Ember Lab, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a gorgeous adventure that takes players on a journey of self-discovery. As Kena, you restore balance to an ancient village in a once-thriving environment, purifying the land from an invasive curse. Kena is a young Spirit Guide, a person tasked with ensuring that the spirits of the dead reach peace. Living with the legacy of her father, Kena uncovers the mysterious story surrounding the demise of the village, the spirits that are lost, and where she fits into the cycle of life. Using her staff and the help of her collection of tiny companions known as Rot, the player will disarm adversaries, unlock new skills, uncover secrets, and restore the beauty of the land.
To start, we have to talk about how breathtaking the animation in this game is. The way that the game moves from gameplay to cinematics is gorgeous, and transitions feel both immersive and natural with near-seamless transitions from cutscenes to gameplay. From del Torian creatures that you must defeat to the Rot that you collect like pets, and of course the characters in the world you interact with, every bit of the game offers up a gorgeous experience.
That said, Kena: Bridge of Spirits isn’t just about aesthetics. It’s also a game with fun mechanics. While the combat is fun and quick, it’s the game’s methods of traversal that offer up surprises and excitement. You run, you slide, you swim, and you even zip between flowers on trees. The whimsy and beauty of the game’s design is baked directly into the mechanics. Not only are the level designs great to look at but they’re also functional, which offers up a unique and fun exploration experience. Additionally, the puzzles are expertly woven into the environment with varying degrees of direction for players to see as they try to platform through the world and unlock the next stages of the game.
The monsters that Kena faces are gorgeously intimidating rotted wood and organic creatures that carry a somber weight to them. This is accentuated when players cross from a lush landscape to one that needs to be purified. This is where combat comes in, and, it’s mostly fluid. Stay away from red. Keep to the blue. And of course, don’t forget to utilize the Rot you’ve collected along the way. But, it isn’t perfect.
My only issue mechanically is how difficult it is to use the Rot effectively in combat and how difficult it is to guide them when you return them to their original form via a Forest Tear. The Rot is hard to maneuver and while the opportunity to use them in this form comes up in some battles, I can’t recommend it. But, I can recommend using your bow often, charging your attacks, and not being afraid to pop your shield.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a mechanically great game. It’s beautiful to look at and a blast to play. But more importantly, its story about death, grief, and the place we have in the lives of those we touch is important. In fact, with Dia de Muertos fast approaching, this game reminded me of my ancestors, my family, the people who all existed before me, made me who I am, and have since passed on. There is a beauty to exploring death with lightness and joy, many moviegoers got the chance to experience that with Disney Pixar’s Coco, and now, many gamers will experience it as Kena.
There is a weight to the game’s narrative, which places Kena at the heart of honoring those who have passed and creating a better world for those who remain. One of the elements of the game that I appreciate the most is the Karma system, not only because it’s how you level up, but because it’s also how you connect to the world around you. If you’re a good steward, you receive rewards. Karma pushes you to interact with the Rot you carry in a different way. In Kena: Bridge of Spirits, the Rot aren’t just tools to be used, they’re also adorable little balls of sunshine that are there to be fed, kissed, danced with, and even dressed in adorable hats. It’s a small element, sure, but one that goes a long way towards creating an empathetic world in the game, and outside of it.
We are the stewards of legacies as Kena is to that of her Spirit Guide father. We’re stewards of the earth, as Kena is when she purifies the corruption. But most importantly, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is about being stewards of the future. It’s about looking forward while honoring what’s behind you. For that, and everything else in this game, it’s easy to say that this is a strong contender for Game of the Year.
Additionally, Kena is surrounded by a cast of strong characters with their own unique personalities and designs. From the twins Beni & Saiya, spirits who enlist Kena to help them save their brother Taro, to the stoic Rusu who bears the guilt of not being there to protect Taro, there is depth to every interaction. Additionally, Hana and Zajuro are vital characters, not only because of how they impact your journey, but rather the stories they carry with them. This is a credit to the writing team and also for the voice actors behind the characters. I implore you to explore every opportunity for dialogue.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits succeeds in nearly every single avenue. There are some graphic hiccups like texture rendering and the need to reduce sensitivity to nearly nothing in order to not get motion sickness. But, everything else is stunning. The animation of the game is breathtaking, with nearly seamless transitions from gameplay to cinematics. The mechanics are dynamic, with natural progression and an environment that takes the time to teach you how to use each unlocked ability. The puzzles are challenging but balanced. And finally, the voice acting is some of the best I’ve heard in games. It’s rare to find a game that evokes the magical feeling of the best-animated films and the exciting immersion into the world through dynamic gameplay.
Overall, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a strong game, and ultimately, a must-play. It’s a stunningly astute and whimsical take on death, life, and where we fit in all of it. The game is about Kena finding her place and helping others find there’s too. Beautiful, immersive, and dynamic, I can’t recommend this game enough.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is available now for the PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and for PC via the Epic Games Store with streaming via GeForce NOW.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
- Rating - 9/109/10
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a strong game, it’s a contender for game of the year and it’s ultimately one well worth playing. It’s a stunningly astute and whimsical take on death, life, and where we fit in all of it. The game is about Kena finding her place and helping others find there’s too. Beautiful, immersive, and dynamic, I can’t recommend this game enough.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.