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This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Kena: Bridge of Spirits.

Transcript[]

I don't indulge hype. Watching pre-release trailers and gameplay videos at any time other than E3 feels like watching someone scoffing birthday cake on any day other than their birthday: unaccountably wrong, and I feel sorry for the small children whose party it was supposed to be. So for that reason, I neither knew nor cared what Kena (HRUUH) Bridge of Spirits was when the review code dropped into my lap, but now having played through it in full, one of those facts has changed; I now know what it is.

This review is going to be a bit difficult for me, 'cos I finished Kena (HRUUH) Bridge of Spigots on day two of the five days I had set aside for finishing it, and then spent the subsequent three days trying to beat my record for most whiteboard markers shoved up a single nostril; definitely one of the shorter open-world exploration games I've had to dodge-roll through. So I'm already having trouble remembering it, even before factoring in its utter forgettableness. Fortunately, if I do start to struggle, I can just bring to mind the character design, and the way those freakish, gigantic eyeballs bore into my soul like those of a hungry barn owl to a timid field mouse.

The protagonist - presumably named "Kena", but the Zelda games have confused this issue for decades - is one part Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn, one part Jade from Beyond Good & Evil, and one part What's-Her-Name from Legend of Korra, living in a classic example of "video game generic, primitive, spiritual society that's a little bit Viking and a little bit Ancient Japan and just enough Native American that it keeps insufferably bringing it up in social settings". Kena is a spirit guide, who has come to a ruined village to help the ghosts of the newly dead move on to the next world by getting over the lingering embarrassment they feel about whatever poorly thought-out wank accident claimed their lives while, at the same time, getting to the bottom of the disaster that has filled the land with evil, corrupt monsters and purging them with her nice, good, not-corrupt magic. We know her magic is nice because it's teal and white, while the monsters and the blobby things they hang around are red and black, and therefore, corrupt. Smacks of profiling, if you ask me; oh sure, purging a forest grove of red, blobby things and restoring a luxurious carpet of green grass is all very well until you get the bill for having to run the fucking sprinklers every morning.

Strike one against Kena: Sprinkle of Biscuits is that it's not exactly effervescent with exciting new gameplay ideas. It’s a slightly Zelda-like - Zeldesque? - open world about going to the blobby, red, corrupted areas of the map in turn and restoring life and tealness to the land, generally by beating up a few angry, corrupt things with some utterly bog-standard combat featuring Mr. Light Attack, Mrs. Heavy Attack, and their delightful children, Dodge, Block, and Parry; broken up with some puzzling here, and some climbing around a highly selective sequence of highlighted ledges there.

Strike two is that our engagement with the story takes a hit from Kena, the protagonist, not having any personal connection to events; basically, she's a roaming janitor, who's come to sweep up someone else's mess so she can put it on her CV or something. She meets a sequence of restless spirits, and then, after fighting a series of generic humanoid boss monsters, stands off to one side with a slightly condescending look on her face as the spirits talk about all the very interesting things they did in the run-up to their deaths, and how it's a shame Kena missed them and now has to be in the middle of things, bringing all the energy down with her general presence.

It probably sounds like I have an axe to grind - or at the very least, a machete to twerk - for Kena: Smoky Bacon, but I really don't; while it doesn't do anything mind-blowingly well, it doesn't really fuck anything up, either. For a modern open-world game, there's surprisingly little extraneous bullshit: no multiple varieties of meaningless collectibles; no elaborate action setpieces; no equipment system to let you trade out your +0.7% liquorice damage Legend of Korra costume for a +1.2% elbow stamina Legend of Korra costume identical, but for slightly longer turn-ups. None of that; just a rather bare and autumnal upgrade tree, and everything wrapped up in two gameplay sessions. It's refreshing, at least; just not the sort of thing you'd write fan-fiction about, or aggressively defend in the YouTube comments of video reviews by people who couldn't give two pumps of a second-hand Fleshlight for your opinion.

And the lack of upgrades or equipment does present the problem of having little with which to reward the player for exploring and doing side stuff; the solution the designers hit upon for that was hats, possibly after being bitten by a radioactive Team Fortress 2. There's these tiny, adorable potato-men who fuel Kena's special attacks, and who hang around staring at her like dogs when you linger near the treat cupboard, and half the time, the only thing hidden chests contain are little hats for your potatoes to wear. I wouldn't mind this if all the optional chests contained hats; then I would know not to fucking bother with side stuff at all, because I've got better things to do than play tater tot dress-up. But when you take on a tough challenge, hoping for upgrade points or extra potato-men, and come away with nothing but a root vegetable-sized tam o' shanter, it's hard not to feel a little bit kicked in the spuds.

But that's more of a minor fingerling issue than a great big deal-breaking King Edward. As I say, there's nothing particularly wrong with Kena: Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, which is probably why the couple of things I do find irksome stand out all the stronger, like choking hazards in my morning porridge. And the biggest, most notable fish hook in the oatmeal for me - and I stress, this might just be a me thing - is the character design.

They've gone for a Disney Pixar-inspired look, so everyone's got that "Elsa from Frozen" face, with the manipulative doe-eyes so gigantic that if you intend to get lost in them, you should probably pack at least twelve days' worth of provisions, and the chubby cheeks and tiny noses, and slightly unsettlingly-realistic hair, and constant lopsided, condescending expression like they're expecting the photo for the movie poster to be taken at any moment, and the general look like they've just been through Jeff Goldblum's wonky teleporter with a gerbil who, in turn, had just gone through Jeff Goldblum's wonky teleporter with a balloon animal. This is an art style that suits goofy family musicals about friendship, not the humorless, po-faced psychopomp shit going on here; you look at their feet and slowly track upwards, and your brain goes, "Normal proportions, normal proportions, normal proportions, JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! The gerbil got into the helium cupboard!"

Yeah, I'm probably harping on it too much now, but its constant presence was a little burrowing terrier in the back of my head for the entire experience, constantly holding me back from fully engaging with it. As I say, this might be a me thing; I am, by all accounts, a miserable bastard. I broke up with my last ex for maliciously-excessive smiling; that’ll teach me to stop going out with dolphins.

Addenda[]

  • Binging spirits: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Funny how teal is now generally accepted as the colour of nice magic, like good wizards are habitual Listerine users
  • There isn't even a bridge in it
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
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2008
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2009
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2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
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Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
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2011
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Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2018
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II · Hand of Fate 2 · South Park: The Fractured but Whole
2018
Q1 Top 5 of 2017 · Okami HD · PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds · Fortnite and Dusk · Doki Doki Literature Club! · The Inpatient and Doom VFR · Monster Hunter World · Subnautica · Kingdom Come: Deliverance · Metal Gear Survive · Hot Coffee · Hunt Down The Freeman · Ghost of a Tale
Q2 A Way Out · Far Cry 5 · Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom · Extinction and Attack on Titan 2 · God of War 4 · Yakuza 6: The Song of Life · Silent Hill 4: The Room · Conan Exiles · House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails · Detroit Become Human · Agony · E3 2018 · Vampyr
Q3 Jurassic World Evolution · Resident Evil 4 · Totally Accurate Battlegrounds and Moonlighter · The Crew 2 · Octopath Traveler · Observer · Chasm and This Is the Police 2 · We Happy Few · Unavowed · Guacamelee! 2 and Not Tonight · Shenmue · Marvel's Spider-Man · Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Q4 Dragon Quest XI · Star Control: Origins · Assassin's Creed Odyssey · Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 · Return of the Obra Dinn · The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories · Red Dead Redemption 2 · Call of Cthulhu · Fallout 76 · Hitman 2 and Killer7 · Darksiders III · Just Cause 4
2019
Q1 Top 5 of 2018 · Super Smash Bros. Ultimate · Gris and Ashen · Katamari Damacy Reroll · Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes · Resident Evil 2 · Kingdom Hearts III · Metro Exodus · Far Cry New Dawn · Anthem · Crackdown 3 · Left Alive · Devil May Cry 5
Q2 The Division 2 · Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice · Unheard and Outward · Yoshi's Crafted World · Mortal Kombat 11 · Katana Zero · Days Gone · Close to the Sun · Rage 2 · Observation · A Plague Tale: Innocence · E3 2019 · Blood: Fresh Supply
Q3 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night · Judgment · The Sinking City · My Friend Pedro and Sea of Solitude · Acclaim Entertainment Hall of Shame · Wolfenstein: Youngblood · Horace · Rebel Galaxy Outlaw · Control · The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan · Remnant: From The Ashes · Blair Witch · Gears 5
Q4 Astral Chain · Contra: Rogue Corps · Ghost Recon Breakpoint · Indivisible · The Outer Worlds · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare · Luigi's Mansion 3 · Death Stranding · Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order · Shenmue III · 2019 Games I Haven't Reviewed Roundup · Phoenix Point & Bug Fables
2020
Q1 Top 5 of 2019 · The 2010s' Most Significant Games · Boneworks · MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries & Wattam · Journey to the Savage Planet · The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners · Kentucky Route Zero · Zombie Army 4: Dead War · Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem · Dreams · Doom Retrospective · Black Mesa · Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Q2 Doom Eternal · Half-Life: Alyx · Resident Evil 3 · Animal Crossing: New Horizons · Final Fantasy VII Remake · XCOM: Chimera Squad · Cloudpunk & Streets of Rage 4 · World of Warcraft: The Corrupted Blood Incident · Ion Fury & Void Bastards · Maneater · Minecraft Dungeons · Shantae and the Seven Sirens · Desperados III
Q3 The Last of Us Part II · Persona 4 Golden · Stadia · Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise · Paper Mario: The Origami King · Ghost of Tsushima · Carrion & Beyond a Steel Sky · Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout · Mortal Shell · Spiritfarer · No Straight Roads & Battletoads · Marvel's Avengers · BPM: Bullets Per Minute · Serious Sam 4
Q4 Hades · Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time · Amnesia: Rebirth · Remothered: Broken Porcelain · Ghostrunner · Watch Dogs: Legion · The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope · Assassin's Creed Valhalla · Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales · Yakuza: Like a Dragon · Immortals Fenyx Rising · Cyberpunk 2077
2021
Q1 Top 5 of 2020 · Bugsnax and Super Meat Boy Forever · Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond · Demon's Souls (Remake) · Hitman 3 · The Medium · Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood · Little Nightmares II · Breathedge · Persona 5 Strikers · Harvest Moon: One World · Loop Hero and Everhood · Evil Genius 2: World Domination
Q2 Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town · Outriders · Oddworld: Soulstorm · It Takes Two · Balan Wonderworld · Resident Evil Village · Returnal · Biomutant · Subnautica: Below Zero · Miitopia · Necromunda: Hired Gun · Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 · Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Q3 Scarlet Nexus · Mario Golf: Super Rush & Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights · Ys IX: Monstrum Nox · Cruelty Squad · Death's Door and The Forgotten City · The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles · Dreamscaper and Jupiter Hell · Twelve Minutes · No More Heroes III · Psychonauts 2 · Tormented Souls and The Artful Escape · Deathloop · Lost in Random
Q4 Kena: Bridge of Spirits · Far Cry 6 · Metroid Dread · Back 4 Blood · Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy · The Good Life · Sherlock Holmes Chapter One · Call of Duty: Vanguard
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