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What The Critics Are Saying About Kena: Bridge Of Spirits

"Kena: Bridge of Spirits" might just be the sleeper hit of 2021. Ember Lab, an animation studio turned game developer, combines inspiration from games like "Legend of Zelda," Ghost of Tsushima," and others into its debut game. Kena, the game's protagonist, works as a Spirit Guide that helps unfulfilled spirits move on from the physical world into the spirit one.

"Kena" takes place in post-apocalyptic natural areas that supposedly saw some kind of disaster years ago. According to Game Informer's interview with the devs, Kena's job is to investigate disruptive spirits causing problems for living people, which is why she arrives in the game's setting. She receives help from fuzzy bean-bodied spirits called Rot, which can decompose things like leaves and sticks to help Kena navigate the world.

Thanks to Ember Labs' experience as an animation studio, the game looks as polished as an animated blockbuster. Players can appreciate the cinematic quality of its 3D animation right away — something similar to Asian-inspired Disney movies like "Raya and the Last Dragon." However, there's more to the game than its good looks. 

At this time of writing, the game has an 84 on Metacritic. Most reviewers praised the indie as a contender against AAA games for its story, gameplay, and animation, but it's not without its faults. Here's what critics are saying about "Kena: Bridge of Spirits."

Mixed reviews on story and characters

Many agree that "Kena's" story is easy to follow, but not very original or inventive in terms of plot progression. The Gamer's Stacey Henley said that puzzles grow tougher throughout the game, but it's "basically the same quest" three times. "It exists specifically for you, the player, to play through, rather than as an actual story we're supposed to become invested in," she wrote in her review. It has the basics, but lacks an emotional hook.

Mitchell Saltzman, who reviewed the game for IGN, liked Kena as a character but pointed out how players don't ultimately learn much about her. The story only hints at her background and history, which isn't as deep as what players learn about the spirits and side characters that Kena meets. Saltzman felt this was a shame, considering the player spends most of their time with Kena.

In regards to the game's overarching beats, Giovanni Colantonio from Digital Trends drew comparisons between "Kena" and Hayao Miyazaki films. For example, "Princess Mononoke" and "Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind" match Kena's goal to "preserve nature's beauty." Some of the spirits she interacts with were those unable to stop disaster at the time it happened, which also addresses themes of grief and acceptance. 

So reviewers tended to feel the story falls in some places, but wraps up in an overall inoffensive and likable way.

Shoutout to combat and companions

Digital Trends described the gameplay as a "surprisingly slick affair" with its movements, platforming, and third-person combat. "Kena's" combat involves many weapons and abilities, which players intuitively learn to use throughout the game. Basically, the number of weapons, abilities, and powers naturally builds up alongside the player's ability to use them.

Polygon's reviewer appreciated Kena's interactions with Rot. These black bean buddies help "unlock puzzles and combat abilities," and aid Kena during battle. Players receive many of them throughout the game and fortunately, unlike Pikmin, they never seem to die. Also, much to critics' delight, they can wear funny hats.

These aspects help the game feel fresh and entertaining, even with weaker points like skill upgrades. "I never once thought 'It would be nice if I could fire five arrows instead of just four,' especially considering how fast arrows regenerate," Stalzman wrote in his IGN review

"Kena: Bridge of Spirits" released for PC, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5 on September 21, 2021. It's a timed PlayStation exclusive that also lets PlayStation 4 owners upgrade to the PlayStation 5 version for free.