Kena running through a gateway toward a glowing blue ribbon of energy.

How Far I Got: Finished the main storyline. Made no real effort to chase down the collectibles, like the Rot hats or the Spirit Mail, but I picked up a few here and there.

What I Liked:

  • The game looks gorgeous, with lushly detailed environments and charming character designs and animations.
  • A nice old-school approach to the way the world is laid out and how you advance. It makes no attempt to be an open-world game and instead constructs a series of relatively narrow paths out from a central hub, unlocking them as the story progresses. It feels like something from the PS2/Gamecube era and it made for a pleasantly focused experience.
  • The creepy boss designs are intimidating, and the battles with them are satisfyingly dramatic.
  • Kena turning her staff into a cool spirit-energy bow.
  • The story is heartfelt and your goals feel personal and human-scale. It’s a nice change of pace from the more typical save-the-world stakes of many fantasy games.

Kena and a spirit regarding the half-buried bull-like automaton made of rocks and branches.

What I Disliked: Every single thing in this game feels just slightly off.

Kena swimming in a lake surrounded by lush forest.

It feels off so consistenly that I had to wonder if the problem was the game, or just me. Every element of Kena’s gameplay is something I’ve experienced in other games, and I came in with expectations built off of those games’ designs. All those expectations were thwarted (again, only slightly!) and I never managed to get used to it. Kena never seemed to jump as far as I thought she would. I couldn’t get the timing right to dodge or parry enemy attacks. Fights seemed to last too long and smacking angry spirits with my staff never did enough damage. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong for the puzzles and had to look up the solutions. I got lost constantly because the game seemed to be signaling me to travel pathways that turned out to be dead ends, or just looped around to where they started.

I was getting stomped so frequently in fights that I ended up switching to the easiest difficulty, which eased my frustration but just made the combat feel rote and boring. Using the bow was fun but I really wished it would have used motion controls for fine-tuning, because one of the powerful arrow-based attacks involved enough buttons and thumbsticks for me to use up my fingers and miss constantly (or, for some reason, frequently cancel out of using the bow entirely, right when I’d finally lined up a shot with a boss). The final boss is a cool spectacle at first, but the game makes the bizarre choice of dropping you suddenly into platforming puzzles in the middle of it, a flashback to the final boss of the original Half-Life that people still complain about to this day.

Kena in a wintry mountain shrine, approaching a floating mask in the middle of a wide circular arena.

I’m inclined to be forgiving to the game and to Ember Labs, this being their first outing and all. There’s enough good craft on display here that I’m genuinely excited to see what they do next. Hopefully it’s a sequel to Kena; the titular character gets only the bare minimum of a backstory and clear hints that something more complex is going on with her, so I’d like to see the creators actually dive into that. But I can’t recommend the game without the qualification that it can be pretty frustrating when it doesn’t line up with your muscle memory from Zelda and Dark Souls games.

Kena surrounded by Rot, standing before a spirit and a brilliantly flowering cherry tree.

I did get this little piece of Elden Ring crossover fan art out of it. Worth it for that alone.

Malenia, the Goddess of a Different Kind of Rot, sitting in a meadow with Kena and grinning as she plays with the cute little Rot from this game.