Pass The Controller* is a Slice of Culture series where we highlight video games, both AAA (blockbuster) and indie. Llanes will share honest and balanced opinions on what could be your next favorite game as well as some random tips every now and then!

Ember Lab is a small animation studio that has worked on few commercials and an animated fan film based on “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask” titled “Terrible Fate.”

In 2020, Ember Lab announced their first video game, “Kena: Bridge of Spirits.”

Upon the release of the first teaser, it was clear that this game would be a visually pleasing treat.

And after viewing “Terrible Fate” shortly afterwards, “Kena” remained on my radar for a bit over a year.

The game finally launched back in September digitally on Playstation 4 and 5 as a timed console exclusive.

With a physical release dropping on November 19, I thought now would be a good time to play through the game and write about it. 

“Terrible Fate” – An Animated Short By Ember Lab

The titular character Kena is a spirit guide, someone who helps the dead pass on to the afterlife by helping them resolve any past trauma and regrets.

She discovers an abandoned village that is full of a sickness known as “corruption.”

There she helps some of the spirits of remaining villagers move on to the afterlife while fighting off the “corruption.”

Even though Ember Lab had its roots in animation, it is pretty hard to believe that this is developed by a smaller indie studio.

Everything in “Kena” looks gorgeous from the character models to the environments.

The entirety of my eight-ish hour playthrough gave off major Studio Ghibli vibes.

The central village at times is just extremely fun to explore and look around.

There were a few moments where I had to pause the game and play with the photo mode on several occasions.

This title is easily a must own for any Playstation 5 owner who wants to see some beautiful graphics.

This game’s performance mode running in 60 frames per second looks mesmerizing.  

Ember Lab Screenshot

The actual gameplay of “Kena” is actually pretty solid.

There’s an excellent mix of combat, exploration and puzzle solving.

At the start fights were pretty simple and bare bones, but by the halfway point I began to unlock more weapons and abilities such as arrows, bombs and even a dash mechanic that is discovered near the end.

And all these mechanics added a ton of fun to an already entertaining game.

The most notable of these abilities are the Rot.

They are these tiny creatures that Kena can give commands to. They can carry heavy objects around, and even assist in combat usually by stunning enemies.

The Rot are like Minions from “Despicable Me” if they weren’t obnoxious.

Ember Lab Screenshot

“Kena: Bridge of Spirits” isn’t without its share of flaws.

The way the world could be explored could have been improved. I wouldn’t mind a mini map while playing the game or any other creative way of telling me where I’m supposed to head to.

Having to constantly pause the game to pull out the map does really kill the momentum at times.

Additionally, the characters are extremely bland.

Kena is actually a very boring protagonist.

There is very little development with this character until about the last hour of the game. And the same can be said about every other character as well.

Nobody in this game is all that memorable except for the Rot. 

This game definitely has the potential to expand into possible sequels with a bigger budget.

The world and characters are heavily underdeveloped, but could be fleshed out more if “Kena” becomes a franchise.

Either way, I can’t wait to see what Ember Lab does next.

This is a pretty quick and fun adventure with a visual quality that is outstanding.

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