Kena is a young Spirit Guide who from an abandoned village will begin her search for the sacred mountain shrine that she envisions early on in this action-adventure experience. However, to get there, Kena will have to find the Rot. These little spiritual companions give her new abilities to manipulate the scenarios and dissolve the rot that has befallen these previously beautiful places.
However, the wandering spirits, captured by the rot, will do everything to stop it, and so we have the foundation for a new game that, inspired by others, tries to reach its own space in the industry. It’s peculiarly ambitious when we talk about the first game from a small indie studio, consisting of just 15 people who had help from other studios.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a title that I find fascinating because it is made up of parts inspired by other games, but it ends up becoming something of its own, and that will easily stay in the mind of those who play it as an example of the indie talent in video games. It’s a relatively simple game but balanced and manages the mechanics you’ll have to use well so that you don’t feel tired. I would even say that the balance between simplicity, accessibility, and challenges is one of Kena’s greatest triumphs.
This game employs a linear structure to become a specific type of experience. I confess it’s a breath of fresh air in a current in open worlds that seem obligatory. There is room for all kinds of designs in this industry, and Kena is a good example of this argument.
This is an action-adventure game, with puzzles and jumps in the mix, whose combat system and difficulty might make you think of Dark Souls, but whose look and narrative themes make you feel that the latest The Legend of Zelda was the biggest inspiration. It’s a game with some problems but whose merits easily trump defects.
As mentioned, Kena is a Spirit Guide, and to free these places from the rot, she will have to find the Rot. These adorable little creatures help Ember Lab immensely achieve that Hollywood animated film effect in an interactive format. The origin of Ember Lab is precisely there.
So it does not surprise the overall incredible quality of the graphics, the visual design (from camera positioning at key moments, scene colors, and the whole transformation effect with the color explosion in places when removing the rottenness) and the cinematics, reveal well the mastery of this team in the presentation of cinematographic narratives in animation style.
In the gameplay itself, this results in a game where you run through mostly linear locations, with lots of jumps in between and lots of collectibles scattered around the corners. Besides, you’ll have combats against ferocious creatures, puzzles whose simplicity doesn’t hide a certain intelligence in their design, and, of course, the mechanics of using the Rot to interact with scenarios and enemies.
All this results in a very fun game, and I would say that only in combat was I able to get less excited about what Ember Lab has achieved due to what I call artificial elements to increase the difficulty, but I’ve already come to that part of the experience.
If you’re one of those who aren’t bothered by linearity and love action-adventure games, keep following me to find out how this more limited-budget indie game manages to deliver merits and qualities that many of the biggest studios can’t transpose into their games. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a game made by gamers, able to disguise their limited experience in this industry very well.
Ember Lab has strived to achieve a high quality overall visual quality. Although it is possible to spot many more basic elements in the scenarios, it is undeniable that Kena: Bridge of Spirits becomes one of the beautiful games of 2021. Not bad for an indie which is also the studio’s first game.
The linear design makes it more basic, but the focus on the use of Rot, the difficult combats, especially in the bosses, and even moments with puzzles that give pleasure to discover are even more striking when forming the image of Kena: Bridge of Spirits. This is one of those cases where the things you do very easily conquer.
As you travel through the scenarios, you’ll discover Rot (the little creatures) that help you gain new abilities or solve puzzles in the scenarios. Often you will have to ask them to transport objects to specific locations or interact with parts of the scenarios and eliminate corruption.
Step by step, you unlock new abilities and the bow, which is highly useful for combat. Rot can be used in combat if its respective bar is full and is used to recover energy or attack weak points in major opponents. The combat system vibrates with dynamic animations and movements, but there’s a strategy here, and it’s easy to pay the price in front of the bosses. Although I often struggle with the camera and feel it was purposely crafted as an artificial means of making the game more difficult,
You can choose to hammer the attack buttons, but you’ll quickly lose health, and when you can only recover it in limited amounts and dependent on the use of the Rot, you’ll be forced to take most duels seriously. A sweet image and a diabolical soul this Kena. Timing is key, knowing when to attack, how many attacks you can make, and when to run away. Also, the bow helps immensely, but dodging is essential.
However, it is the best way to exemplify the combat system. You dodge sooner or later and still suffer damage. Occasionally, bosses even seem to skip animations just to hit you, and there’s some tracking in the moves they perform, which gets frustrating. Still, overall, this Souls-inspired system manages to create challenges healthily.
As a more limited-budget indie production, Kena: Bridge of Spirits plays an excellent role in honoring its inspirations, to the point where it’s easy to imagine a sequel in which Ember Lab fixes the flaws and expands the concept’s scale. It takes 12 to 15 hours to complete the adventure, with loads of collectibles to catch and Rot to discover, leaving a game in memory with clever puzzles and whose simplicity of linear design is no obstacle to one of the most fun experiences of the year.
It would be easy to imagine the team complicating the design and trying to follow current fashions, but it’s comforting to see that they went with a definite idea in mind and used the inspirations to create something of their own with room to grow.
If the bosses annoyed me with the camera, the puzzles where you manipulate part of the scenarios in real-time, and even a slight feeling of the Metroidvania concept made me feel that Ember Lab deserves our curiosity with this Kena: Bridge Spirits.
The reward was always a stunning cutscene, worthy of appearing in a movie shown in movie theaters, with loads of visually incredible moments. Yes, there are places where textures are more basic, and the project’s humbler origins are revealed, but seeing a studio approach their first project with such passion and ambition is inspiring for this industry.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a very noteworthy debut feature. Compelling and, above all, satisfying, it seems to force the player to complete his story. Although it is not innovative, the gameplay formula built by the developers is made up of elements that are well set together, which contribute to building a series of challenging but always fair and varied challenges, with interesting interactions between the techniques of Kena and the characteristics of the various enemies.
The story isn’t the game’s strong point, and ultimately it stays a bit in the background concerning the beauty of the world and the animations and the goodness of the combat system, but still, Kena and the Rots manage to be loved – just, some elements of the story are presented and never properly developed. There are some technical defects,
Kena: Bridge of Spirits
You don't always have to start with a revolution, and the memorable journey of Kena and company is here to prove it.
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