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Kena: Bridge of Spirits hands-on preview - Rot of happiness

A spirit guide's friends are their power, as we learn in our first hands-on preview for Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

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It's been a little more than a year since players first laid eyes on Kena: Bridge of Spirits. It quickly became one of the standoout titles of last June's PS5 reveal livestream. Excitement for the game has grown to a fever pitch, even after developer Ember Lab pushed the game's expected release window back to 2021. Shacknews recently had a chance to try the game out and, if what we played is any indication, it may very well be worth the wait.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits follows title character Kena, a spirit guide who is seeking to guide the departed to the end of life's great journey. She's searching for the sacred mountain shrine, uncovering keys to the past along her journey. While there weren't many story details revealed over the course of this brief demo, there is one key element that was on full display: Kena's helpers, called the Rot.

The Rot, despite their name, are adorable little spirits who assist Kena in various ways. They'll help Kena solve certain puzzles, they can help open up new paths, and they can help with bridges. One bridge, in particular, didn't go exactly as expected. The bridge was collapsed halfway, but it was still usable, as long as something could hold the other side up. The Rot were happy to assist, pulling on the loose rope and keeping the bridge steady. The catch is that the Rot aren't exactly creatures of great strength and stamina, so Kena only had a short time to get across the bridge before the Rot's grip would give. Making it through the game is about recognizing what the Rot can do for Kena, but also in recognizing some of their limitations.

The Rot's limitations are also on display in battle, but this is where Kena gets to show off her leadership skills. Kena heads into battle with her staff, where players must mix light and heavy attacks and watch enemy movements carefully in order to dodge at the right time. Kena also has a Pulse ability, which acts as a parry, as well as a way to help the Rot regroup.

There's great incentive to avoid getting hit, because the Rot can aid in battle. However, given that the enemies are often monstrous spirits, the adorable Rot will initially cower in fear. Once Kena lands a string of hits and avoids enough counterattacks, the Rot will grow more courageous. At that point, they can assist Kena by binding enemies. Kena can also guide them with her staff and use them to smash or strike foes.

Bosses will offer an ample challenge, having players mix together their combat prowess with Kena and their Rot abilities. The last encounter I had before the end of the demo was with a mini-boss, which would dive underground if I got too close. The idea was to defeat the mini-boss' underlings and build up the Rot's courage. Once the Rot are ready to act, they can bind the mini-boss and give Kena the opening to attack.

Combat and puzzles will be mixed together with flashbacks, exposition-heavy cutscenes, and platforming sequences. Everyone will have to do their part to reach the next objective, whether it's Kena double jumping and climbing across cliffsides or the Rot taking objects in the world and moving them around to make new areas accessible. Fast travel statues can be unlocked over the course of the game, which should be helpful, given that there's nothing on the HUD to indicate your current position.

I walked away from this demo with Kena: Bridge of Spirits feeling like I had merely scratched the surface of what it has to offer. I'm excited to see more of Kena's abilities, some of which involve a bow that I wasn't able to use due to time constraints. I hope to see more of what the Rot is capable of doing and how they fit into the overall story. The Rot come across as an adorable form of Nintendo's Pikmin with the key difference being that they can't die and will be with Kena for the whole journey.

Following last year's delay, developer Ember Lab looks to have their game ready to roll this summer. Kena: Bridge of Spirits, an official Tribeca Games selection, is coming to PC (via the Epic Games Store) and PlayStation 5 on August 24.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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