I’m within the midst of one other forest meadow. It can be picturesque if not for all of the gnarled purple roots strangling the life out of the place, and the fleshy bulbs pulsating a poisonous purple. As Kena, a spirit information who travels the land in search of to reunite the dead, usher spirits to the afterlife, and usually put issues proper, my high priorities are the forested valley and its well being. For essentially the most half, this implies eliminating all these purple nodules that blight the land.
For what’s ostensibly an indie game made by an animation studio crossing over to the realm of video video games for the primary time, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a surprisingly slick affair. Movement is swift, platforming is non-aggravating, and the third-person fight is dancelike and bursting with vitality. Over the course of the game, you’ll attain just a few additional powers — turning your employees right into a magical bow and the flexibility to throw a sequence of spirit bombs, to call a pair — however the setup for fight largely stays the identical all through. Enter an enclosed area, kill contorted tree-things, burst the bulbs with a magical pulse, and cleanse the world.
Making issues barely extra attention-grabbing are Kena’s companions, small creatures often called Rot. These pleasant little fellows will dart away from Kena with a purpose to present you the way in which and spotlight interactive objects. There are some beautiful particulars right here, with the creatures teleporting into positions of relaxation, consistently one step forward of you, atop home furnishings and rocks and logs. You’ll accumulate dozens of these Rot over the course of the game, customizing them with humorous hats, utilizing them for puzzles, and unlocking just a few extra combat-related skills. In a combat, the Rot can be utilized to pin enemies down — leaping atop a tree guardian’s again and smothering smaller foes — or to infuse a robust hammer swing, bow shot, or bomb.
They may help in exploration: They shift blocks round and rearrange statues to open up hidden areas. They’re additionally how Kena ranges up; the extra Rot creatures you discover on this planet, the extra steadily you should use them and their powers in fight. On high of Kena: Bridge of Spirits’ many fight trials and arenas, there are platforming sections with completely painted cliff edges, and environmental puzzles that require you to shoot distant targets in sequence, each of which really feel like very acquainted actions.
With all its verdant forests, glowing mountain shrines, and mossy ruins, it looks like Kena: Bridge of Spirits desperately needs to be a game in regards to the magic and thriller of nature. Unfortunately, the phantasm is shattered considerably by a scarcity of creativeness and the absence of any authentic identification. Everything from the percussive soundtrack, which regularly flitters and quivers, to the Rot spirits themselves, is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s work, significantly Princess Mononoke. At the identical time, its paper lanterns, animal statues, and torii gates gesture vaguely within the path of Japan’s Shinto faith.
Adding to this sense are the game’s many ecological platitudes. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is continually telling you about its massive themes. It’s about “restoring balance” and “letting go.” At one level, a personality unironically tells you that “the land has begun to heal.” It’s so simple as a meme, which to me feels faintly condescending.
But then I see all the attractive animation, the cutesy Rot creatures bouncing after Kena as she runs by means of extra lush overgrowth, the photograph mode with its built-in kiss emote. It looks like a game meant for youths, not adults making an attempt to recapture the enjoyment of childhood, like myself. Except it isn’t actually — the puzzles are too obtuse, the multistage boss fights too tough, for that to be the case. Instead, what we’ve is completely fabricated “wholesomeness.” Can you pet the spirit creature? Probably.
Most disappointing of all is how Kena: Bridge of Spirits feels to play. Its fight, puzzles, and exploration are finely tuned and effectively oiled. But the game rigidly sticks to a method that we’ve all seen earlier than. You already know the rhythm and move from numerous different video games. It’s 2018’s God of War with out the grotesque ending strikes. It’s Ghost of Tsushima with out the expansive solid of characters. It’s Horizon Zero Dawn with out the sprawling scope. The record goes on. And when the method is such an overwrought entity, how can something actually be magical? There are not any actual secrets and techniques in Kena: Bridge of Spirits, solely collectibles. There’s no thriller, both; simply extra area fight.
Inspirations ought to at all times function a jumping-off level, one thing to construct upon. But it usually feels much less like Kena: Bridge of Spirits was impressed by issues, and extra prefer it determined it might squish its superbly realized world of magic and spirits right into a ready-made mould. The result’s a inconsiderate mix; a hybridized paste. Vibrant and undoubtedly stunning, Kena: Bridge of Spirits exhibits us each coloration within the spectrum. But unusually, all of it feels brown — a muddy, grayish brown that comes from having blended collectively each coloration on the palette.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits launches Sept. 21 on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PC utilizing a retail obtain code offered by Ember Lab. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These don’t affect editorial content material, although Vox Media could earn commissions for merchandise bought by way of affiliate hyperlinks. You can discover extra details about Polygon’s ethics coverage right here.