Kena Should Have Been An Actual Disney Game – TheGamer

Kena may look like a Pixar movie, but it’s missing the Disney magic that would have made it Game of the Year.
The comparison between Kena: Bridge of Spirits and Disney/Pixar is perfectly apt. The animation style and character designs could easily be mistaken for something like Raya and the Last Dragon, and the familiar narrative structure would be the perfect fit for a modern Disney movie. Kena desperately wants to be compared to Disney, which makes it impossible to ignore when it falls short. As much as Kena looks and feels like a Disney game, it fails to reach the same emotional heights, deliver the same dramatic beats, or establish the kinds of characters that will live on in our memories forever. It’s not an actual Disney game, but it should have been.
Ember Labs is an incredible animation studio. If you haven’t seen its work on Majora’s Mask – Terrible Fate, it's a short animated fan film that is indistinguishable from a Disney movie like Raya, and in some ways, looks even better. Kena too is a visually stunning experience – perhaps one of the best-looking games ever made in the eyes of hardcore Disney fanatics. The problem is that Disney movies aren’t just showcases for pretty animation. They’re filled with charm and wit, dynamic characters and imaginative worlds. They’re thematically dense and aren’t afraid to answer some big questions that resonate with viewers young and old. They have great heroes and even greater villains. They’re funny, they’re sad, and they’re unforgettable. Call them formulaic, but Disney movies are effective at being affecting. Kena looks like a Disney movie, but for a lot of reasons, it doesn’t manage to do what Disney does.
Related: Kena's Lack Of Innovation Is Exactly What Makes It So Appealing
The biggest problem with Kena’s story is that Kena herself is so outside of it. We don’t learn a single thing about who she is or why she’s on this adventure until the final act, and the revelation is simple, glossed over, and unsatisfying. She is not quite a blank-slate player proxy, but her story is one that is apparently being kept for another time. By detaching the main character from the world she explores and the game’s wider story, Kena loses any opportunity to build emotional stakes or develop catharsis. We can’t care about Kena’s journey if she isn’t on one, after all. We learn about other tragic and complicated characters, but their stories are not Kena’s story, and it feels like something essential is missing.
The other thing that’s missing is a sense of humor. This may seem like a small part of the Disney formula, but the story simply won’t work at all without it. There are light moments in the game to be sure. Beni and Saiya are charming little kids, and we can’t forget how adorable the Rot are with their silly little hats, but in the end it's all style and no substance. You need genuine humor to contrast the light and dark thematic elements, not just a cute aesthetic with nothing to say beyond being adorable. The Rot are just collectibles, both literally and figuratively. It needed a Sisu to complement Kena, help us explore her character, and bring personality to the world. Unfortunately, all it gave us was Hello Kitty dolls; fun to hug and hold, but devoid of life or meaning.
Kena has the right look, but it’s missing the Disney magic. I can’t help but imagine what it would have been like if Disney had actually been involved. The era of the movie tie-in is long past, and Disney Interactive Studios is no more, but films and games are closer to one another than ever, and Kena is proof of that. A game like Kena just needs a Brad Bird or Pete Docter type behind the wheel, shaping the story and co-leading the game development with the experience that only a Disney veteran can bring. Disney’s Kena would have been game of the year without a shadow of a doubt, but I hope the House of Mouse will at least see the opportunity right in front of them. Kena proved that a Disney game would work really well, even if it itself fails to be one.
Next: Kena: Bridge Of Spirits Just Reminds Me We Don't Have Beyond Good And Evil 2 Yet
How about a round of Gwent?
Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.


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