PLATFORM: PC, PS4/5 | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Sometimes, spirits get trapped somewhere between life and death and need a bit of extra assistance to pass over to the afterlife. Enter Kena, a spirit guide who spends her time helping the dead to reach their final destination. Bridge of Spirits follows her efforts to locate a mysterious mountain shrine while cleansing the world that is slowly dying all around her and simultaneously offering a helping hand to the spirits who linger behind.
Featuring a heavily Legend of Zelda-inspired mixture of Breath of the Wild's exploration (albeit in a smaller, more linear world) and the puzzles and platforming of Ocarina of Time, along with an eye-catching art style straight from any number of Pixar productions you'd care to mention, Bridge of Spirits very much wears its influences on its sleeve but definitely goes to great lengths to create its own unique identity. Pretty much everything that the game attempts is solid and enjoyable – exploring the handful of well-designed environments never feels like a chore thanks to an abundance of secrets and surprises, combat is simple but satisfying (if a little tricky to get the hang of at first, due to its rather unintuitive default control scheme), and the adorably fuzzy little helpers known as the Rot who band together to help Kena with puzzle-solving and enemy-battering lend a unique twist to the otherwise-familiar gameplay formula. If there were any nitpicks, it's that many of the ability upgrades kind of feel like they should have been available from the beginning of the game rather than being locked behind a skill tree, and many of the hidden areas don't reward you with anything other than cosmetic items, which can threaten to remove any real sense of motivation to explore too far off the main path.
The folks at Ember Lab have combined their not inconsiderable animation talents with the kind of accomplished gameplay that even some AAA companies would be envious of, resulting in a genuinely remarkable debut game that demonstrates the undeniable blockbuster potential of this fledgling studio. It might be a relatively short adventure – around 8-10 hours from beginning to end – but nothing is given chance to outstay its welcome. That Kena takes inspiration from a number of other well-known titles means that there's a vague sense of "seen it all before", but everything's so tight and well-refined that Bridge of Spirits still manages to be enjoyable. If you're after something chilled but engaging to see you through a long weekend without breaking the bank, this may well hit the spot. And don't be surprised to see it on most of the “games of the year” lists that will start appearing in a few months' time!