Developer: Ember Lab
Download Size: 18 GB for PS5, 8GB on PS4
Platform played on: PS5
Also available on PS4 and Epic Games Store
Kena Bridge of Spirits grabbed a lot of eyeballs when it was revealed last year at Sony’s PS5 showcase. Though it was never on my radar, I was still keen to check it out as it looked like a beautiful platformer, and I figured that it would be a short and sweet ride that would act like a good palate cleanser for all the huge open-world games I’ve been playing this year.
This weekend, I finally got the chance to play through Kena, and I’ll discuss how Ember Lab’s latest game fares.
VISUALS AND PERFORMANCE
As I already mentioned, this game looks beautiful. The art department absolutely nailed it. The textures are extremely crisp, the lush green forests look alive, and the use of god rays here is absolutely sublime. Not to mention that character designs from Kena herself to the NPCs and the rots are extremely well done, and they have their own distinct visual flair. The animations here are also quite fluid while remaining responsive, and they play a vital role in making this world feel alive. I really liked how different animations play out for collecting different rots. Small details like this go a long way in selling the world.
If I have any complaint with this game’s visuals, it’s that I despise whenever it goes brings out the black bars whenever a cutscene starts playing. Personally, for me, it always acts as a hindrance to the game’s visuals. Even in Red Dead Redemption 2(one of the rare AAA games, who have met their lofty cinematic ambitions), this was an annoyance. Apart from that, I really can’t complain much. Especially considering the fact that it is a game made by a team of only 15 people and it being their very first game, they absolutely nailed it. Also, the game ran at a solid 60FPS on Performance mode, and never during my playthrough I noticed any severe visual/ game-breaking bug. However, it did crash one time. This is one of the most polished PS5 games I’ve played.
When it comes to the level design, Kena feels like a product from a bygone era. It reminds me of a bygone era of classic 3D Zelda titles. And normally that wouldn’t be a bad thing as it is a breath of fresh air when compared to most AAA open-world games today. But, Kena’s platforming and puzzles are as drab as they can get, and it doesn’t take long for the repetition to set in. I can write a whole essay on how uninspired and lacking the puzzles are, but for the sake of brevity, I’d just say that I haven’t seen more telegraphed puzzles in a game. They were just a step away from adding an option and solving it themselves. And to be honest with you, I would have very much preferred if they added an option like that here because it felt like a complete waste of my time, especially near the endgame where it feels like the devs are throwing these puzzles at you just because someone in the marketing department told them to hit that 6-hour length. However, one thing I’ll give them is that the climbing here feels much better than most AAA games in recent years like Horizon Zero Dawn, Ghost of Tsushima and Jedi Fallen Order.
The combat here is technically proficient. The controls are responsive; the sound design is very good, especially when you are landing hits on your enemies or aiming with your bow. But it ultimately falls into a very repetitive loop real fast. Though Ember Labs throw new skills and gadgets as the game progresses and even add more creative and frequent boss fights, the combat never escapes that sense of repetitiveness. As for the difficulty, I played it on Expert Spirit Guide aka The Hard Mode, and while the normal enemies themselves weren’t a big deal, some of the bosses did put up some challenge. And here comes my other issue with the combat. The difficulty here is artificially padded. Just like God of War 2018’s harder difficulty modes, you become a glass tank where you die in a few hits, whereas your enemies (especially the bosses) can eat up a ton of damage before going down. It is one of the cheapest and one of the most antiquated ways I can think of to make your game difficult. But truth be told, I am not surprised in the slightest.
The Dualsense implementation here is very subtle as I could only feel it when I was swimming or aiming with the bows. If there was anything more to it, I probably missed it.
I’ll not waste my time and get straight to the point. The writing in Kena is the least engaging I have seen in a “narrative-driven” game over the past few years. Everything from the characters to the plot is so bland and inoffensive; it feels like someone shat out a corporate PR mayonnaise with a bunch of checkboxes to appeal to the lowest common denominator. There is nothing in this game that drove me forward. There were times I wanted to quit, but I continued because I was obligated to review it. I’d be actually shocked if I met someone over the age of 5 who has anything good to say about this game’s story. And equally as boring and unmemorable as this game’s story is the music and the voice acting. I can’t remember a single track from this apart from the one which keeps looping when you are exploring the world, and the less said about the voice acting, the better. Even though this game is 6 hours long, by the time I rolled through the credits, it felt like forever.
I really didn’t want to be this harsh on Ember Lab or Kena, considering this is their very first game, but I genuinely didn’t enjoy it. And I personally wouldn’t recommend this to anyone unless they want something to entertain their toddlers. Though I am sure, there are much better alternatives in that department as well. With that being said, Ember Lab is a technically proficient team, and hopefully, for their next project, they hire an actual writer and don’t make a game so inoffensive and bland.