Kena: Bridge of Spirits (Review)

If you’re like me, then this game caught your eye the moment it was revealed.  The art style and animation were already impressive at the time, gushing with higher production values than the size of the dev studio would have led you to expect.  Is Kena: Bridge of Spirits a top tier indie game you wouldn’t want to miss?


GAMEPLAY

…combines elements of Pikmin and Zelda on more powerful hardware.

Did your imagination ever run wild and you thought to yourself, “I want a game that harkens back to the N64 days that combines elements of Pikmin and Zelda on more powerful hardware”?  Well look no further: from commanding your little Rot to do various commands like moving things around to basic puzzle-based platforming to the combat, this game has you covered.  The combat, however, requires a fair warning: the game has no compunction punishing you for not planning your movements.  I welcome the challenge and dying comes easy if you get even the slightest bit arrogant.  And since you’ll need all the moves to succeed, I found unlocking them all really easy with tons of points left over.  The best part about everything I just described?  It all takes place in an open world.  Exploring it is ripe with platforming and finding things, and it all felt nostalgic.  Sadly, that nostalgia includes the fact that it really does harken back to the N64 days: the “rule of three” formula pervades not only the core game format, but also how everything feels.  Yes, the game plays, handles, and progresses much like a game from an era that figured the easiest way to keep you on track was to simply make you fight and fetch things.  I can’t exactly say I didn’t enjoy it, though, and a large part of why is covered later in this review.  So while it does feel old, it at least does it in a modern game world.


CONTENT

…the biggest side content you’ll enjoy is creating your Rot army…

I smelled the roses and took the forked path twice to finishing the game around 12 hours.  I’d confidently say most people will, indeed, take about 10-12 hours to see the ending credits roll.  Sadly, the biggest side content you’ll enjoy is creating your Rot army and then decorating them with a variety of hats.  Outside of this, it’s pretty much achievement city.  Fortunately, this isn’t a full priced game, but at $40, it comes dangerously close to the cusp of losing that value-per-dollar proposition.


PRESENTATION

…wondering what Zelda could potentially look and sound like on more powerful hardware?

If you’re playing this on PS5, I recommend the fidelity mode so that the 30fps lock is more congruent with the CG cinematics.  Having said that, did your imagination ever lead to wondering what Zelda could potentially look and sound like on more powerful hardware?  Well, your answer has arrived.  At first, you’ll try to defend Zelda, but if you take the rose-tinted goggles off, you’ll see that this game relies heavily on art style and looks absolutely gorgeous doing it.  Having said that, there aren’t any high-res textures and most of the world is actually low-poly, but they’ve masterfully budgeted to make scenes look artistically perfect.  It’s exactly what I’d expect Nintendo to do: less is more.  The game’s technical prowess is absolutely enthralling because it focuses on the very thing I always wanted to see from Nintendo: a perfect 50/50 between using technology to power art style (though Unreal Engine 4 will always have its texture loading issues).  Hyper-realism is great, art style is great, and so is this balance between the two.  This also includes very excellent and adoring animation at a level I wouldn’t have imagined possible with such a small dev team; 15 people to be exact.  Then, aurally speaking, even the music is minimal and ambient, yet mood-shifting… just like a Zelda game.  And finally, the story is yet another surprising positive: somehow, they’ve written about death and regret in a way that is spiritually palatable for younger minds.  It’s dark, but not dark enough to only be understood by adults.  Sure, the world itself also has its lore that is purposely more reflective of a modern environmental problem, but the things you’ll care about are the way the stories of the spirits unfold.  If I tried to nitpick, here, I’d just be a fool.  I absolutely enjoyed every minute of being in this game’s world.


CONCLUSION

…and most of all, has a beating heart.

It’s rare I feel the need to be more favorable based purely on merit, but what I witnessed here was a game that showed unfathomably hard work by a very small dev team.  Yes, it’s nostalgia includes seriously formulaic progression that includes the core gameplay itself.  And yes, it’s pushing the limits of price for an indie game that’s so short.  But that’s where the criticism stops, and instead the game enthralled me, impressed me, and most of all, has a beating heart.  Such a small team put in blood, sweat, and tears, and even managed to show me how Zelda could look and sound.  This is, indeed, a top tier indie game you shouldn’t miss.

I give Kena: Bridge of Spirits

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