Kena: Bridge of Spirits is shaping up to be quite promising. As one of the most notable PlayStation console exclusives releasing in the coming months, the game has had a fair amount of eyes on it from many who happen to own the next-gen platform. However, the project itself is coming from Ember Lab, which is a first-time game developer, and as such, might make some a bit hesitant to get too excited about the game. Fortunately, based on a recent one-hour, hands-on session that I had with Kena, I'm finding it hard to be anything other than anticipatory at this point.
The preview demo, which was part of the Tribeca Games Festival, for Kena: Bridge of Spirits dropped me directly into a predetermined section of the game that takes place relatively early on. As such, it was less about introducing me to the characters and story found within this world and instead gave me a better idea of how it will actually play on a moment-to-moment basis.
In a general sense, Kena: Bridge of Spirits has many mechanics that you have seen in the past. Kena, the titular protagonist, can use her handy staff to deal both light and heavy attacks to enemies, comes equipped with a ranged weapon, and even can make use of a double jump. While Kena might not win points for originality, all of these mechanics at the very least feel good to use. Combat, in particular, though was actually harder than I expected it to be. This could have partially been due to the fact that there was brief latency due to the manner in which I was previewing the game.
The mechanic that is by far the most intriguing involves the Rots. These characters are the little black furballs that follow Kena around and can be used in a number of ways. Sometimes, they'll help you clear a path to advance forward in a certain area. Other times, they'll interact with specific objects in the environment and then can be controlled as a unit, similar to something you might find in Nintendo's Pikmin series. They can also then be dispatched in combat to some degree and will assist in helping you take down baddies. Rots can also be dressed up in some goofy attire that you can find at various in-game shops. As a whole, I'm not sure how the use of the Rots will grow over the course of Kena: Bridge of Spirits, but they're definitely the one aspect that seems to be setting the game apart from other third-person adventure titles.
The thing that this Kena: Bridge of Spirits demo left me most interested in for the full release comes from its exploration. For the most part, the portion of the game I played was pretty linear, but I kept finding certain areas off the beaten path that I wanted to search around in a bit more. Exploration as a whole featured elements that reminded me of the Uncharted series. Walls could be scaled, platforming was common, and even sliding sequences were present. The map within Kena also seemed to suggest that this world is massive and will be filled with locations to search about. I'll absolutely be taking my time to sleuth around in the full release.
Perhaps the one thing about Kena: Bridge of Spirits that I didn't need to be swayed about before playing comes with its animation. Even when playing remotely in a manner that wasn't the best graphically, Kena: Bridge of Spirits still happened to look gorgeous. Everything about the game from its vast vistas to its detailed character design and animations is of an incredibly high level. It really made me just that much more excited to see the final game running on my own PS5.
If you have had the release date of Kena: Bridge of Spirits circled on your calendar, it seems like a safe bet that Ember Lab's inaugural project is going to turn out quite well. Even if I'm not convinced that every aspect of the game will be a home run, Ember Lab seems to have borrowed enough inspiration from other popular action-adventure titles while still making something that is wholly unique. And for that reason, I'm very much looking forward to checking out the full game later this summer.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is set to launch next month on August 24 and will be coming to PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC platforms. Be sure to stay tuned to our coverage closer to launch as we should have a full review of the game to share with you at that time.