Kena: Bridge of Spirits - Review

Kena: Bridge of Spirits - action

It makes sense that ember lab the developer of cana bridge of spirits started out as an animation studio just looking at this gorgeous world and the pixar-s character designs tells you that this is a team that has a ton of experience in making incredible digital works including their majora's mask fan film terrible fate while kana's gameplay doesn't quite match the extraordinarily high bar set by its visuals for a number of reasons including, some bland storytelling and shallow progression, this 3d open world action adventure is still nonetheless an impressive achievement thanks to its exciting deceptively simple combat and an excellent balance of action, puzzle solving and platforming.

Kana is a spirit guide who helps spirits who are unable to move on to the next life, whether because of lingering guilt or unfinished business. The story follows her as she makes her way through a beautiful but dying land in search of its sacred mountain shrine, guiding the troubled spirits that she finds along the way.

It's so likable, in fact, that it makes it a bit of a bummer that we never really get to learn all that much about her. You get hints of her background in history, but never anything that lets you get to know her in the same way that you get to know the spirits and characters that she ends up interacting with.

In many ways. Bridge of Spirits is a throwback to the classic 3D Zelda style of games by having a large overworld that is split up into major zones and then guiding you through each of them in a linear fashion. Each zone will then require you to collect x number of y items, fight a boss, and then snag an upgrade that lets you travel to and explore the next zone.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits - adventure

It's very simple and very formulaic, but it works elegantly. Each area is home to a corrupt spirit that Kanan needs to save. As you explore the region, you meet other characters who were once close to that spirit and learn about the history of how things went wrong for them by watching flashbacks.

Combat, on the other hand, is absolutely nothing like Zelda's. It's fast-paced deceptively simple and surprisingly challenging, even on the normal difficulty level, given its cute and colorful demeanor, you've got light attacks, heavy attacks, and the ability to use your staff as a bow for ranged attacks.

And well, that's about it in terms of your primary offensive tools from beginning to end. In fact, combat options were so limited in fact that I was pretty let down in the early goings because most enemies could be killed with just one or two simple attack combos and I wasn't given much reason to do anything else for a lot longer than I would have liked in a game that only lasts about 9 hours.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits - before you buy

Some nuance is introduced in the form of your tiny and adorable ghibli-esque sprites, unfittingly known as rot. These little dudes assist you in battle by swarming an enemy and temporarily locking them down, giving you an opportunity to attack their weak points or just focus on clearing out the surrounding enemies.

The ability to control them is tied to an amusingly contextualized The courage meter that builds up as you deal damage empowers them to put themselves in harm's way to help you out. Whether that's making use of your boost time slow down by jumping into the air and aiming at hard to hit weak points, using a parry against an attack that's difficult to dodge, or using a rod to immobilize a tough enemy so you can attack them from behind, there's an impressive amount of enemy variety, and once they start showing up to the party.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits - bridge of spirits review

I felt like I was constantly being challenged by new and interesting scenarios. You also have to manage your resources very carefully in battle once the difficulty starts to ramp up significantly. Later on in the campaign, not only can you use courage to lock down enemies with the rot, but you also need to use it to heal by cleansing specific areas in a fight.

It would have been nice to have a little more to do in a fight. The Bridge of Spirit's progression system doesn't provide very many enticing options to evolve your fighting style and made me feel pigeon-holed in my approach to combat, especially because there's only one melee weapon and that weapon never got much better or different as I continued to play.

You can upgrade your moves, but the impact of those upgrades is disappointing, to say the least. Three of the four melee upgrades are abilities I feel like Canada should have had from the outset. The special post-parry counter attack doesn't feel much stronger than just attacking while the opponent is recoiling, and many other upgrades are just small and barely noticeable incremental improvements.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits - ember lab

I never once thought it sure would be nice if I could fire five arrows instead of four, especially considering how fast arrows regenerate. There are exceptions, of course. A charged bow shot that deals big damage at the cost of one courage, a slow hammer strike that could take out a group of enemies at once, and the ability to activate slow-mo while aiming without having to jump in the air were the kinds of new techniques I was looking for more of, but aside from these.

I never felt excited by upgrades because they rarely ever seemed like anything that would be especially useful, or make combat any more fun. Fighting baddies isn't all you'll be doing in Bridge of Spirits, and the fact that it balances platforming, puzzle solving, and exploration so well is one of its strongest suits.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits - game review

You're never doing any one thing for too long. Once you get the bomb power up, you'll regularly do fun platforming sequences, where you must activate a series of platforms and figure out how to best get from point a to point b before the platforms return to their natural states, and then, on top of all of that, this is an open world with plenty of secrets hidden off the beaten path, though whether a majority of those secrets will be of interest to you is another story.

My one gripe about exploration and collectible hunting is that, with the exception of the meditation spots, which increase your max health, none of the collectibles really made that much of an impact on my playthrough. For context. I'm someone that doesn't really care all that much about cosmetics, which is why I never felt super compelled to seek out Bridge of Spirits collectibles when most of the time they just ended up being either new hats for my rot or currency that I could use to buy more hats for my rot.

Sure, there are curse chests which are fun to track down because they force you to complete a combat challenge in order to open them, but it's almost always disappointing when you go through a tough battle and your reward is yet another funny little hat to put on one of your funny little creatures.

With its elegantly simple combat and beautiful world, Kena Bridge of Spirits harkens back to the days of the N64GameCube-era Zeldas, Okami, and Star Fox Adventures, while also adding modern sensibilities and a distinct personal touch. Kena Bridge of Spirits reviewed by Mitchell Saltzman on PlayStation 5. Also available on PlayStation 4 and PC.
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