Ever since my first look at Kena: Bridge of Spirits I knew I was interested in playing this game. I was a bit unsure after hearing that it would be the first game from animation studio, Ember Lab. I knew they would be able to create an amazing looking game and story (from the previous work, but I wasn’t sure about the gameplay itself.
After beating Kena: Bridge of Spirits this past week, I can now say that Ember Lab did an amazing job with this game. I did run into a few small problems, but overall this was one of the best and most visually innovative games that I played from 2021.
What did I expect?
From trailers, previews and the studios previous work one of the main things I expected was stunning visuals. I expected that Pixar-level of animation that we talk about when a game’s visuals exceeds our expectations, and that’s definitely what I got. There were so many times while playing this game that I couldn’t believe how great it looked.
The cutscenes were definitely some of the best looking cutscenes in a game I’ve seen so far. That’s definitely something I expected from Ember Lab. There were also smooth transitions between cutscenes and gameplay. Like in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, there were times where I didn’t really notice the game had switched from a cutscene to gameplay.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits also features great character and world design. The world doesn’t feel so big at first, but once I thought of all of the caves, secret doors, climbing and underground areas the map is actually quite huge. Kena is a gorgeous character, and the enemy creatures are all kinds of beautiful spirit monsters. Some of the smaller creatures even reminded me of the Kakamora from Moana. I really enjoyed watching the transition from a corrupt, rot-infested area to a lovely, bright landscape after defeating the enemy.
My Gameplay Evolution
In the beginning, my goal was to pick up a new platinum trophy. I would explore this beautiful world each night, until other games came along and stole my focus. I began to drop off. I jumped back into Kena a few weeks ago, with a new goal — to complete the story before any other big release took me away from this game.
The story is the perfect length, and if I weren’t so busy with so many other games I would have definitely gone for that platinum trophy. I always tell myself I’ll come back for it, but I know that’s not true.
Early on, I was told by a friend that there’s no shame in dropping the difficulty in this game. I started off at the Normal difficulty. At the time I was thinking “I haven’t run into any big problems yet. Sure, some fights were tough, but I always made it out. What are they talking about?” Then I came across one big bad boss who kept annihilating me, and that’s when I decided to move down to Easy.
I ended up playing the rest of the game on Easy. It’s not always necessary to play tough or punishing games. Sometimes you just want to play through a great story. My friend was right, “There is no shame in dropping the difficulty in this game, [or any other game].”
The main reason I had to play on Easy was mainly because I could never master the parry system. Kena’s fighting style features many moves to perform (with an upgrade system to unlock more). Even on Easy I was still not able to figure out the parry timing. Taking out opponents (especially boss fights) became much simpler, but I lost the back and forth during fights. On easy, the enemy attacks less and they don’t block as much.
As someone who loves parrying in games (when it feels right) I was disappointed by this one. Sure, when I got it right time slowed down and it felt like I had truly accomplished something spectacular. The problem was I never knew how I had done it. So, I couldn’t recreate it as often as I’d like to.
On a separate note, I don’t think anyone has truly perfected the bow and arrow mechanic in gaming. Sure, it feels great today and has improved in many ways over the years. Still, in most games when things get too hectic I end up moving all over, aiming and never shooting an arrow because I’m moving way too fast.
I don’t know what the answer is, but maybe everyone believes “this is the way” when it comes to using a bow and arrow in gaming. I don’t think we need a complete overhaul, it totally makes sense to use the triggers, especially with the PlayStation 5’s adaptive triggers. Maybe some small tweak will make it easier not to undo your shots when things get crazy.
Many new game studios start off making games that need tons of work. Some may never get out of that funk. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is such a polished debut game for Embar Labs, that I cannot wait to see what they do next. I really hope they continue to make games.
I was excited while playing Kena, and I was lost in this world and story (at least for the first half of this game). Later on, my goal became finishing the story. Throughout my whole playthrough, I couldn’t help but think, I wonder what their next game will be.
I know I stated that I had some minor problems with this game (such as the parry system), but the problems I did have were all easy to fix for the next game. Ember Lab has already established with Kena: Bridge of Spirits that they can build beautiful worlds and characters, deliver a heartfelt story, and so much more.
Let’s not forget about the rot and how cute these little creatures were. Also, how the team was able to have so many of them following Kena around and transforming to help in battle. That’s a mechanic that I haven’t really seen done in a game like this before.