What would a official “darkish” Legend of Zelda sport appear to be? I do not imply a sport made by one other studio that copies Zelda ideas whereas including violence, cursing, or gothic structure—we have seen loads of these. I am extra curious how Nintendo itself would possibly craft a 3D “E-10” rated journey—filled with magical melee fight, puzzles, attraction, and meticulous artwork route—that one way or the other takes the collection right into a extra sinister route.
My reward for this week’s Kena: Bridge of Souls, the first-ever sport from Ember Lab, is that it’s as near that pitch as I’ve seen because the Zelda collection revolutionized the 3D-adventure style. This new, 15-hour collection premiere is exhilarating, accessible, cute, beautiful, ominous, and above all, touching.
Okay:BoS does not essentially exceed what we obtained from Nintendo’s 2017 classic Breath of the Wild, and its occasional slip-ups and points are agency reminders that its creators are a bit inexperienced. However there’s one thing particular right here in a debut sport that almost all studios would kill to launch as their third or fourth sport.
Collect ’spherical for a jubjub?
Kena: Bridge of Spirits [PS4, PS5, PC]
Ember Lab’s debut sport embraces the core of what makes Zelda video games particular, but it finds distinctive magic by reimagining Nintendo’s tunic-clad hero as a supercharged teenage grim reaper. The Zelda-adjacent parts should not come as a shock: the studio examined Nintendo’s command of IP legislation with a 2016 CG animation video that loudly features characters from Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Unsurprisingly, Okay:BoS appears fairly much like that video.
When the sport first emerged throughout a PlayStation 5 reveal occasion final 12 months, Ember Lab’s origins as a CGI animation home and its prior homage to a single Nintendo collection set off as many alarm bells as you possibly can think about. I view gorgeously rendered sport trailers with suspicion—a reasonably sport shouldn’t be the identical as a very good one. And I’ve seen loads of Zelda clones. However a hands-on K:BoS preview earlier this summer boosted my hopes, whereas the ultimate product has achieved much more.
At Okay:BoS‘s outset, the titular Kena emerges from a cave to find a largely abandoned village. Toxic vines cowl an in any other case empty city sq., and desolate forests, mountains, and rivers stretch throughout the horizon in each route. The exceptions are two youngsters and a small, ink-black creature who follows you round. (The kids—who’re twins—name this Ewok-like blob a “Rot,” they usually clarify that you will discover extra Rot in case you decide by way of the sport’s outskirts and corners.)
Rot may even warp forward so as to pose adorably on the perimeters of a given path.
The twins are named Beni and Saiya, they usually need you to assist them discover their older brother. They magically vanish as they run away from you, solely to reappear for a chat on the opposite facet of a forest passage. This traces up with a number of different magical issues about Kena, together with her glowing blue employees that may summon a magical protect and make varied totems in and across the village mild up an identical shade of blue. And when Kena notices any small purple-glowing objects on the earth, she will smack her employees on the bottom to uncover extra Rot.
Kena quickly learns she will use these Rot to take care of varied issues on this grim village. For instance, you might be approached by monsters, which normally encompass carved wooden and gathered grass and dirt which were molded into bipedal humanoid beasts. Whereas partaking in fight, faucet the suitable button to make your Rot supercharge a slam of your employees, harvest a close-by therapeutic berry for quick consumption, or do different helpful strikes. (Extra on fight in a bit.)
Exterior of battles, the Rot can collect, raise, and drop heavy objects, within the type of Nintendo’s Pikmin. They’ll additionally quickly mix into a robust snake that slithers and slams into sure toxic brambles, thus clearing your path. And generally, they stroll or crawl as much as objects of curiosity in your basic neighborhood so as to get your consideration. Rot may even warp forward to pose adorably on the perimeters of a given path, as a result of, hey, why not.
Choosing and selecting its storytelling battles
The twins’ request comes as a response to Kena’s mission: scaling the village’s ominous mountain and liberating the trapped spirit on the prime. However Kena involves study that what befell this village was greater than the work of a single darkish entity. Serving to the twins is a smaller, extra manageable purpose on the best way to uncovering a bigger tragedy from the previous. For this reason Okay:BoS makes me consider a “darkish Zelda.”
I used to be persistently impressed by Ember Lab’s mastery of visible storytelling. Visible and nonverbal cues fill out the village as you discover all the things from its forest glens to its seaside docks to its deserted manufacturing unit. The sport’s “extensive linear” method does effectively to choreograph gamers’ transitions from one location to the subsequent, nevertheless it nonetheless leaves you free to hunt for shiny collectibles. And also you sometimes discover clues tucked in hidden corners. However Okay:BoS does not conceal journal entries or different dumps of textual content. Tales generally emerge as a result of Kena has damaged down a wall of toxic decay, thus exposing what the village appears like within the mild of day. Or a ghost-filled phantasm could seem after finishing a puzzle to point out what life used to appear to be on this place.
Full-blown cinematic scenes function guideposts between these exploratory moments, and goodness: in case you’re on the lookout for a happy-go-lucky journey with zero severe emotions, go elsewhere. Okay:BoS advantages from having just a few massive scenes, and regardless that its dialogue is serviceable at greatest, it nonetheless exceeds your common anime. The sport actually shines when it connects the dots between your journey and the best way the world was earlier than you bought right here. You are not simply exploring a village—you are exploring the lengths that its earlier inhabitants went to within the title of affection and hope.
With out spoiling the dots that Okay:BoS connects, I’ll say, with a tear in my eye, that I have not been this touched by a online game in a while. Hats off to Ember Lab for understanding how you can be a part of storytelling with interactivity in significant ways in which do not require tabbing out to a text-filled submenu.