Over the past decade we’ve had a proliferation of HD remakes and remasters of classic franchises from the past. I’ve heard Kena: Bridge of Spirits compared to a HD remaster of some PS2 game that never existed, and the comparison is apt. Kena, while a completely new IP, feels decidedly retro with a modern coat of paint. How much you enjoy this game will depend on your appreciation, and to an extent your patience, towards mechanics and controls that feel fresh out of 2005. As someone who plays a good deal of retro titles, I have a higher tolerance for areas lacking polish, but this was noticeable even still, and detracts from the experience. Regardless, Kena’s other elements elevate the title, even if it stumbles at times with dated mechanics.
This game tells the story of Kena, a spirit guide, who ushers lost souls to their afterlife by rectifying their past wrongs and regrets. Kena is aided by her magical staff, as well as her Rot companions, tiny cutesy creatures that can interact with the environment to solve puzzles, power up attacks, or form larger beings to fight alongside Kena. The Rot are hidden around the world and provide a fun distraction for players, who must solve puzzles and complete various minigames to recruit more of these creatures, who follow around Kena like an army of pikmin. The story doesn’t go anywhere too surprising, but is satisfying and fitting thematically. The final act is a bit of a misstep, feeling far too rushed, and does not give players a chance to really relish in the conclusion. Even still, while there are no mind shattering revelations at stake here, this is a fine journey from beginning to end that maintains the right tonal consistency to keep Kena’s narrative at an overall positive.
Hats are scattered throughout the game that you can use to personalize your Rot buddies
Kena is a stunning game, and immediately impresses visually. It’s the game’s best feature. While most of the time here is spent in various enchanted forests, with a brief wintery section at the end, these environments look quite nice and the general art direction suits the vibe of this game quite nicely. A common element within Kena: Bridge of Spirits is purifying infested areas of the woods with your Rot, and this visual transition between dark, corrupted areas and the picturesque environments once purified is a delight.
Graphically, Kena leaves an immediate impression, but the gameplay is a bit more of a throwback, for better or worse. The melee-based combat feels akin to Beyond Good and Evil, featuring light and heavy attacks with the staff. The game opens up once you acquire the bow and bomb, however the loop remains simple throughout. Throwing sticky bombs at enemies and shooting them with my arrows to detonate is a combo that is simple, yet satisfying. Even with the stated simplicity, I enjoyed wacking enemies with my staff, using rot charged attacks to power up my bow for killshots, and targeting weak spots to dispatch enemies with one critical shot.
You'll be spending most of your time fighting these woodland monsters
The platforming is another trip in a time machine, but I can’t be as charitable with the apparent age it shows. Jumping from platform to platform (which you will be doing a lot) is clunky at best, and I frequently missed the mark because I jumped from the ledge at a wrong angle, or slid from a surface because I did not land in the precise spot the game expected. It’s also worth mentioning the brutal, almost oppressive difficulty that is present throughout, but ramps up especially in the second half. Given the minimalistic mechanics at play here, the increased difficulty seems like a tonal mismatch. I certainly enjoyed my experience much more once deciding to bump the difficulty down a peg.
Kena struggles with variety from both a combat and puzzle perspective, even given the game’s short run time. There are 5 major enemy types that are repeated too much, and takes the wind out of most combat encounters towards the end of the game. Puzzles too often rely on throwing bombs at specially marked rocks, and hoping from point A to point B. I only really grew bored once hitting the final chapters, but once I noticed how similar each encounter and puzzle was becoming, it stuck with me.
Kena doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but is enjoyable for the most part. Some may find the simplistic controls and mechanics splendidly retro, or woefully dated, and your enjoyment of this title will determine where you fall on this spectrum. While the rough edges definitely frustrated me, I would still recommend Kena with the caveat that this game requires some tolerance for gameplay that feels like turning back the clock for better or worse.