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Kena: Bridge of Spirits review: A legendary adventure

On a surface glance, few would probably guess that Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a self-published, debut project from a small studio. The adventure game is about as polished as can be, with gorgeous visuals, cutscenes that rival (if not surpass) modern CG animated films, and iron-tight gameplay mechanics. If there was ever any doubt that the barrier between “indie” and “AAA” has eroded over the years, here’s a game that shatters any remaining walls.

Developed by Ember Lab, Kena: Bridge of Spirits bursts onto PS4, PS5, and PC via the Epic Games Store with the confidence of a first-party Sony game. It pulls elements from Zelda, Uncharted, Dark Souls, and plenty more heavy hitters above its weight class to deliver a knockout blow to its genre. It’s no surprise that it’s gotten a massive spotlight during Sony’s State of Play streams and this year’s Tribeca Festival ; this is the kind of statement debut that demands attention.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is an exquisitely crafted adventure that fuses classic and modern game design concepts with ease. Whether it’s riffing on Pikmin with its inventive creature-controlling mechanics or serving up deceptively challenging battles, it excels at everything it does. That’s all topped off with a poignant, Miyazaki-like story told through deep worldbuilding and cinema-quality cutscenes. The Legend of Kena

When it first debuted, Kena: Bridge of Spirits drew some early comparisons to The Legend of Zelda series. Those were certainly warranted, but it doesn’t paint a full picture of the game. It’s bursting with inspirations that build upon decades of video game history. The general framework feels timeless; Kena is a staff-wielding hero who sets out to find a mountain shrine in a poisoned world that’s been abandoned by everyone, except monsters. Many of its structural beats are familiar, but in a warm, comforting way. Players tackle well-designed platforming sections, hunt down relics that take them to each corner of a sprawling map, and find a whole bunch of collectible secrets scattered in every nook and cranny. It’s a classic video game premise that is somehow nostalgic to every era, but each bit of it is shined up until it sparkles.

Exploring in Kena: Bridge of Spirits always feels satisfying, because each tool has a clear purpose that’s easy to keep track of.

Take exploration, for instance. Kena doesn’t have as many tools as Link, but each one is equally crucial to navigation. Her arrows allow her to zip onto flowers like a hookshot, she can scale walls a la Uncharted, and a mid-game spirit bomb magically rebuilds broken structures to create the game’s most clever platforming puzzles. Exploring in Kena: Bridge of Spirits always feels satisfying, because each tool has a clear purpose that’s easy to keep track of; there’s no mechanical fluff to slow the pace down.

Its most delightful idea comes from a surprising game, though: Pikmin . Kena can collect and control adorable black creatures called Rot, who swarm and squeak around her like Spirited Away ’s soot sprites. […]

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