'Kena: Bridge of Spirits' is Much More Than a Kids Game

Looks like Pixar, punches like '80s Nintendo

Key Takeaways

  • Kena is a picturesque, colorful adventure game that's more than a little reminiscent of the 3D Legend of Zelda games.
  • While it starts off cheerful and colorful enough, with tons of cute little monsters, it's secretly a spooky, vaguely sad ghost story.
  • The difficulty curve's steep enough that adults or older siblings might want to take over the controller sometimes, particularly for boss fights.
A screenshot from 'Kena: Bridge of Spirits."

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is sneaky. It lures you in with its lush, beautiful mountain environments and happy, playing children, and the next thing you know, you're getting your face caved in by angry wood golems.

I wasn't sure what to expect going in. I hadn't heard much about Kena beforehand, but the day it dropped, half the gamers I know suddenly started singing its praises. Sure, some of that can be attributed to Kena being available on the PlayStation 5, as there isn't that much else to play there, but not all of it. It got me curious.

Kena turned out to be a slightly old-fashioned action-adventure game, but one with a level of polish that puts many mainstream releases to shame. It was clearly a labor of love by its developers, and it shows with every creepy monster and elaborate puzzle.

It's also one of the better-looking indie games to come out this year, with a solid cartoon vibe that should get and hold kids' attention. If you enjoy, say, 3D Zelda games like Skyward Sword but don't like how long they take to get anywhere, Kena is exactly your jam.

Death Comes at You Fast

The title character is a spirit guide, who helps the reluctant dead move on to the afterlife. While on her way to a mountaintop shrine, Kena runs into a couple of ghost children who beg for her help with finding their missing brother.

A screenshot from 'Kena: Bridge of Spirits'

Along the way, she finds an abandoned village, as well as thick layers of corrupted flora and fauna that block her path at every turn. Something's gone seriously wrong with the shrine, and it's left the mountainside infested with monsters and angry ghosts.

In addition to being good with a quarterstaff, Kena quickly picks up a retinue of little critters called Rots which do a lot of the (literal) heavy lifting for her. They can be used to solve puzzles, purify the environment, carry around fallen debris, and in a fight, as a short-duration stun against a single enemy at a time.

More Rots can be found throughout the game's world as a reward for exploration, and before too long, I had a small army of the little guys following me around. I think it's important to point out here that you can and arguably should find a wide variety of little hats to put on your Rot buddies, which is the kind of pandering nonsense that more games like this need to do.

Kena frequently hides some of the crazier Rot hats behind some of its toughest optional challenges, which you'd think would be maddening, but somehow isn't. Yes, it took me six tries to accomplish this combat challenge, but now I have a unicorn hat. Worth it.

Stick and Move

Kena is the first game from Ember Lab, which is primarily an animation studio. It also made a well-received Legend of Zelda fan film in 2016.

A screenshot from 'Kena: Bridge of Spirits.'

With that in mind, I feel comfortable saying that Kena has a lot of Zelda's DNA, particularly the games from the 2000s like Twilight Princess. It's got a big world that demands exploration, with tons of little rewards hidden in every corner, as well as Zelda's knack for oblique puzzles.

The combat's much more difficult, however, with several bosses that demand split-second reactions. Kena takes it easy on you for the first couple of hours, but the training wheels come off once you hit the end of its first big quest.

It's also a spooky overall experience. Kena is by no means a horror game, but it's roughly on par with some of the darker Disney movies. If you're cool with your kid seeing the last 20 minutes of The Little Mermaid, Kena won't be an issue, but the monsters do get crazy.

I'm bringing the content warning up because Kena, with its visual blend of Avatar and Pixar, is like catnip for children. It's a good game in its own right, but a great game for parents to play with their kids as an audience...as long as those kids can handle a nice, long ghost story.

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