If I start by saying Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a difficult game, 50 people will tell me another game is more difficult. Kena isn’t Dark Souls, and doesn’t try to be, but I found the fight much more difficult than I expected. Call me a noob, but there have been a few encounters that I really struggled with, especially early on, and mostly on higher difficulties. I haven’t played such a difficult game since last year’s Mortal Shell, or maybe Kingdom Hearts 3 Re Mind. If you thought Kena was going to be too simplistic for your hardcore gamer skills, it might be worth giving her another look.
I admit that I judged the book by its cover here. Kena has a great aesthetic and maybe the best animation I’ve ever seen in a game, so it caught me off guard when the first boss smashed my head. If a game doesn’t have gothic castles, hellfire rivers, or demons with six arms, I guess I just guess they’re going to be fun. Kena teaches you early on that you have to be on your A-game or you’re going to get slapped.
Timing your blocks and dodging can be tricky until you get a feel for the pace of the different enemy types in Kena, but the one thing that always caught me off guard was the ranged attacks. There are several enemies that can charge you through the arena, and their attacks are incredibly magnetic. If you don’t perfectly time your dodge, they will bend their attack to hit you. The window to dodge is often only a few frames, so getting the timing right – even when I knew what to do – was a constant challenge for me throughout the game.
Part of the challenge at the start is simply the lack of tools. Until you unlock the bow for ranged attacks, the bomb for stuns, and the dash for quick escape, you’re extremely limited in your abilities. Even the shield has to be upgraded twice before it can withstand heavy attacks, and until then blocking will still take damage to you and may even leave you stunned and open for a follow-up attack. Your health reserve is incredibly low for the first few hours, and on normal difficulty you can be killed with just two or three hits. It’s not quite the fireproof that something like Bloodborne hits you with from the start, but Kena’s fight is still pretty demanding.
Combat improves a lot once you get the bow upgrade, but it gets legitimately good once you unlock the Bomb and its associated Rot perk. By being brave and infusing the bomb with Rot energy, you can create a field that temporarily freezes enemies inside. This allows you to get up close to deal a lot of damage, target weak spots with your bow while they’re frozen, or ignore them to focus on cleaning the arena of small enemies. It is a powerful tool that takes time to be used successfully, as well as a good sense of resource management given the limited courage.
The final boss is a remarkable test of everything you’ve learned throughout the game. When it starts, you’re stripped of all of your rot abilities and tasked with fighting in multiple arenas full of enemies without healing or using your super. attacks. We have the impression of being back at the start of the game, forced to rely on its fundamentals. When you regain your abilities later in the fight, the instant power boost is amazing. The fight has six stages, including a platform section, and if you die at any point you have to start the entire challenge all over again. It’s a great throwback to the kind of multifaceted boss fights that we don’t get to see a lot of anymore, and while I got quite frustrated after a few failed attempts, the satisfaction of beating him was incredible.
I don’t go out of my way to play a lot of tough games these days, but Kena reminded me of those long summer nights grinding Ninja Gaiden Black and Devil May Cry 3, fighting the same bosses over and over again until that I finally beat them by the skin of my teeth. I’ve come to appreciate Kena for the way he reminds me of so many other games, and while it’s not technically a “hard game,” combat certainly has enough gaming DNA. hard to satisfy even the most sweaty gamers.
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