Echoes of the Emergent, a hauntingly beautiful Playdate exclusive, sold me on visual novels

Somehow in all these years, I’ve never gotten into visual novels, despite being a person who loves both reading and video games. The idea has always intrigued me in some way, but I’ve never really felt compelled to actually pick one up. That changed when I first saw the announcement for Echoes of the Emergent a few months ago. Described as “a personal journey through a shattered post-apocalyptic world,” all it took was a glimpse of Echoes of the Emergent’s gritty aesthetic and melancholic atmosphere to get me to preorder it. And now that I’ve finally gotten around to playing (reading? experiencing?) it, I’m kind of blown away.

Echoes of the Emergent is a Playdate-exclusive title from RNG Party Games, the same team that made Bloom. It opens with its main character, Ayumi, on a tense scavenging trip to find any food she can in a ruined city. She’s alone, afraid and increasingly concerned about her dwindling resources. As the story progresses, it bounces between Ayumi’s bleak new reality and flashbacks to a time when things were normal. Her panicked efforts to stay alive, to keep going, are interwoven with memories of her family and friends — some of them happy, some painful. And there’s a cat.

A still from Echoes of the Emergent showing a girl (viewed from behind) looking out at dilapidated buildings. The text reads: It was all gone
RNG Party Games

The narrative is illustrated with haunting backgrounds of Ayumi’s dilapidated surroundings, and these move ever so slightly to create a really unsettling effect. If you press the down arrow on the D-pad, you can collapse the text box to get a full view of the backgrounds. It takes a few hours to get through the entire story, but it’s definitely worth carving out some time for. You can save your place by pressing ‘B’ to pull up the menu.

Echoes of the Emergent is the kind of experience that will stick with you for a little while even after it’s over. It’s available on the Playdate Catalog for $8, but you can also get it — and its captivating soundtrack — on

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.45 PARABELLUM BLOODHOUND is a cyberpunk RPG by the developer of VA-11 HALL-A

Sukeban Games is working on what it describes as a "cyberpunk active time action" game with a battle system that's similar to Parasite Eve. In a blog post, Chris of Sukeban has officially announced .45 PARABELLUM BLOODHOUND, featuring a mercenary named Reila Mikazuchi as its protagonist. Enemies can attack you from anywhere while you're exploring environments in the game, and you'll have to dodge and wait for an action bar to fill before you can launch a counterattack. The action bar fills at a speed based on your character and weapon stats, so the stronger you get, the faster you can fight back. 

While the announcement doesn't have a in-depth explanation of the game's plot, Chris describes its story as follows: "You play as Reila Mikazuchi; a washed out mercenary whose glory days are long gone. In a last attempt at grabbing life by the horns she decides to go back to the life, only to realize the real enemy isn’t in front of her gun."

The indie developer is planning to make seven chapters for the game, and five are already done and playable. It has yet to announce a release date, though, so as not to repeat its "N1RV ANN-A situation." Sukeban is the developer behind the cyberpunk bartending "booze-em-up" game VA-11 HALL-A, which is set in a post-dystopian world with a corporate-controlled society. 

VA-11 HALL-A was wildly successful for an indie title, and Sukeban announced a sequel called N1RV ANN-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action back in 2018 after it hit 200,000 copies sold. The developer hasn't released N1RV ANN-A yet despite announcing a 2020 launch date, and it doesn't look like we're seeing it anytime soon. Chris said .45 PARABELLUM BLOODHOUND is "significantly ahead in development" and that the developer is dedicating its "full attention to it for the foreseeable future."

Sukeban has also released the first trailer for .45 PARABELLUM BLOODHOUND, and you can watch it below.

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‘Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess’ review: Demonic delights

Rhythm is everything in Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess. On a micro scale, the maiden Yoshiro dances through the game with graceful, measured movements, her steps cleansing the black defilement that has consumed her mountain and its people. In combat, Yoshiro’s protector, Soh, directs their sword in nimble arcs, landing attacks and parries based on timing and flow. On a grand scale, Kunitsu-Gami employs a soothing cadence of frenzied combat and peaceful base building. Soh’s abilities grow into a powerful crescendo as they guide Yoshiro down the mountain, her body deteriorating with each encounter.

Amid these crashing waves of tension and tranquility, Kunitsu-Gami also balances beauty and hellish terror with supreme skill. The slopes of Mt. Kafuku are lush, but its plants, animals and people are slathered in caustic pools of defilement, oil-slick and sticky. Yoshiro and Soh wear layers of delicate fabrics and glinting metallic jewelry, their movements mesmerizing. The demons that have taken over the mountain are vile — eyeless and bulging with toxic pus, many of them armed with sharp claws and gaping maws. The creature designs in Kunitsu-Gami are body-horrific and each beast is uniquely, grotesquely gorgeous.

Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess screenshot.

Kunitsu-Gami finds harmony in its dichotomies. The game’s core loop involves a day-night cycle: During the day, players carve a path for Yoshiro to cleanse a settlement, meanwhile collecting crystals, repairing defenses and freeing villagers from cocoons of defilement. At night, creatures called Seethe pour out of the Torii gates, and Soh must defend Yoshiro with the help of the rescued villagers. Protecting Yoshiro and completing her ritual reverts each region to its pre-defilement form, creating a base where Soh can upgrade their units and abilities.

The game blends real-time combat with tower-defense mechanics, and all of it takes place in a zoomed-out third-person view with a fully adjustable camera anchored to Soh’s body. It’s an effective approach, inviting players to mess around with perspective and investigate every detour in the environment, purging defilement as they go.

There are 17 bases to cleanse on the mountain plus 10 boss stages. Defeating a big bad in a challenge stage unlocks a new warrior type for Soh to deploy, including healer, sorcerer, ninja, spearman, cannoneer, marksman, and an aesthetic that can slow down enemies. As night falls on a base battle, the game's music grows louder and more discordant, signaling the imminent Seethe invasion. Players assign roles to villagers using the crystals they’ve collected during the day, and then place their fighters around Yoshiro on the map. Each battle involves a different number of units — there are even fights that Soh has to complete on their own, and others where they’re incapacitated, leaving combat to the villagers entirely. The variety built into these encounters is refreshing.

Combat requires preparation and constant attention, as the Seethe attack Yoshiro from multiple sides with a variety of moves, including aerial slashes, suicide bombs and bulbous projectiles that explode in toxic pools. It’s often essential to reposition units mid-battle, and thankfully, time freezes during these tactical moments.

Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess screenshot.

Soh mainly attacks with their sword in a smooth, rhythmic form that feels fantastic to control. Attacks are simple — on the DualSense, it’s square for smaller strikes and triangle for a large hit. Pressing square before triangle lines up elaborate sequences where Soh twists and swings their body before landing a series of big blows, and their positioning is completely controllable the entire time. This makes combat feel like one elongated dance, the input perfectly predicting Soh’s on-screen movements. Soh’s abilities evolve steadily with every victory and base repair, eventually adding a ranged bow, an extra form of swordplay, stronger attacks, multiple special moves and other upgrades to their kit.

Mandatory boss levels appear after some settlements are successfully cleansed, offering massive fights against gloriously gross creatures. I had to replay most of these bosses at least once, adjusting my unit types and positions according to each demon’s unique attack style and vulnerabilities. The enemies are all giant and covered in intricate, iridescent designs, but they’re otherwise distinct: There’s a skittering centipede that rushes in for rapid hits, a literal cherry tree with stabbing tentacle roots, a vicious floating sorcerer orbited by a ring of rocky spikes, and a juicy larval beast that moves like a petulant toddler and spews lethal sludge. That last one is called Notsugo and it’s my favorite because it’s so disgustingly adorable.

Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess

After a fight in a settlement or boss stage, there’s time to take a breath and fix up some bases. The bases trail down the side of Mt. Kafuku in the stage-selection screen following a successful purge — once the defilement is cleared from a settlement, players still have to make it habitable by assigning villagers to fix broken buildings and platforms. Repairs take a few in-game days to complete and they unlock extra resources. It’s easy, tranquil work. This mechanic provides a soft place to land after a big battle, where players can strategize, upgrade their skills, pet a Shiba Inu or let a deer scream at them. I recommend repairing bases as quickly and thoroughly as possible: Not only does this net necessary resources at the proper pace, but it prevents an uncomfortable base-repair backlog from forming. By mid-game, I generally had three or four bases on the go at all times, and that was with immediate, maxed-out repairs.

The bases are also home to some of the most beautiful aspects of the game. Yoshiro sets up a tent in each base where players manage upgrades, and it also contains plates to share food with her. The dessert menu fills up first, offering a variety of mochi treats and crystalline sweets in a fabulous photorealistic viewing mode. I don’t know what it is, but I could stare at hyper-detailed video game food all day. Kunitsu-Gami understands this urge and caters to it.

Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess

Additionally, the tent contains scrolls featuring traditional, woodcut-style art pieces relating to completed stages, and the bases have collectable ema plaques that showcase detailed, rotatable 3D images of the demons and villagers players encounter. These are sensational touches that not only expand the game’s lore, but shine a brilliant light on Japanese history and culture.

Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess is perfectly balanced, lovingly crafted, and metal as hell. It’s filled with foreboding demons and intense combat, but it’s also a peaceful experience that invites players to slow down and recognize the beauty around them — even when it’s in the form of a giant, oozing monster. Especially then.

Kunitsu-Gami: Path of the Goddess is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and Game Pass. It's developed and published by Capcom.

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What to read this weekend: The Light Eaters, Paranoid Gardens and I Was a Teenage Slasher

Recent releases in fiction, nonfiction and comics that caught our attention.

The cover for the book I Was a Teenage Slasher

Stephen Graham Jones is something of an expert on slashers. The author has tackled the genre in a slew of his novels (most notably in the Indian Lake Trilogy, with its slasher-movie-obsessed main character) and has an ongoing column in Fangoria dedicated to its impact, so it’s not really a surprise to see he’s churned out another entry for the canon. But this time around, we’re getting a different perspective: the slasher’s point of view.

I Was a Teenage Slasher is the fictional memoir of Tolly Driver, who in 1989 reluctantly became Lamesa, Texas’ very own Michael Meyers at the age of 17 — a transformation that’s seemingly driven by powers beyond Tolly’s control. It takes the classic slasher formula and injects a whole lot of heart.

The cover for the book The Light Eaters

The Light Eaters: How the Unseen World of Plant Intelligence Offers a New Understanding of Life on Earth was released in the spring, but it just popped onto my radar and I was immediately drawn in by both the premise and Schlanger’s easy-to-digest writing style. The Light Eaters explores the long-debated concept of plant “intelligence” through conversations with scientists and deep dives into the complex processes that underlie plants’ survival.

There’s a fair amount of anthropomorphizing, but The Light Eaters provides a really fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of plants that’s accessible to non-scientists and at the very least could inspire you to look at the natural world a little differently.

The cover for issue 1 of Paranoid Gardens

The digital first issue of Paranoid Gardens, a new six-issue series from Gerard Way and Shaun Simon, dropped this week and it’s wonderfully bizarre. We’re introduced right away to Loo, a nurse with memory loss and a tragic (but as yet unexplained) backstory who works at a care facility for aliens and paranormal beings. And it’s not just the patients that are out of the ordinary — there’s something unusual about the building itself, too. Drama quickly unfolds, and Loo “must fight her way through corrupt staff members, powerful theme park cults, and her own personal demons and trauma” to understand her role in all of it “and discover what secrets the gardens hold.”

Paranoid Gardens is written by Way (yes, of My Chemical Romance fame but also The Umbrella Academy) and Simon (The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, written with Way), and features art by Chris Weston, colors by Dave Stewart and letters by Nate Piekos.

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Schim is an inventive, beautiful platformer that’s just a little too repetitive

Schim is one of the games I was most looking forward to this year, and I generally had a pleasant time with it. It’s a pretty platformer in which every object and living thing has a soul called a Schim. These frog-like critters live in the shadow of their host but can become lost when its object or creature is neglected, damaged or going through something life-changing.

You play as a Schim that gets separated from its person, who is going through a difficult spell in their life. There are no prizes for guessing that the goal is to reconnect with them. You’ll have to navigate some treacherous environments to do so, but the catch is that you can only swim through shadows and jump from one inky blob to another. If you miss a jump, you can take one extra little hop to reach it.

Developers Ewoud van der Werf and Nils Slijkerman play around with this idea in some joyful ways. You might hop between the shadows of trees and animals one minute and use a bounce house to travel some extra distance the next. None of this was incredibly difficult, though it took me a while to nail down the timing of jumps between conveyor belts in a factory level. I found some other mechanics mildly frustrating, such as getting to grips with how to launch the Schim in the correct direction from a spinning rotary clothesline.

The game is at its most creative and compelling when it plays around with inconsistent light sources and distended and disappearing shadows. There are some inventive ideas here, many of which are executed flawlessly. While there’s a fundamental joyfulness to Schim (which is styled as SCHiM), there’s a surprisingly affecting narrative that touches on mental health concerns and how regular folks struggle to get by.

Unfortunately, I felt that Schim was too repetitive overall. It doesn’t quite do enough with its core mechanic, and. tThere were too many stages set in urban environments with too similar objects to jump between. This bogged down what could have been a tighter and more rewarding experience. By the halfway point, I was more than ready for the Schim to reconnect with its human — not a great sign for a game that only takes about three hours to finish.

My main takeaway will be the impeccable aesthetics. Each stage uses a couple of main colors and various shades of black to denote the shadows, objects and characters. The music, animations and backgrounds combine in gorgeous fashion. It often felt like I was playing a piece of living art. The visuals make for true lockscreen material and speak to the beauty that can emerge from minimalist, stylized renderings.

There are a ton of great ideas in Schim, which has a touching and rewarding ending. I just wish the journey to get there was more consistently enjoyable.

Schim is out now on PC, PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch. (It runs smoothly on Steam Deck too.)

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The live-action Halo show has been canceled at Paramount+

Many moons ago, back in 2013, we learned that Hollywood royalty Steven Spielberg had teamed up with Microsoft to create a live-action Halo television series. It took about ten years for the vision to finally come to fruition, but the show has now been canceled by the Paramount+ streaming service after a mere seventeen episodes. The first season aired in 2022 and the second earlier this year. We had mixed feelings about the show's debut, but it's still a sad conclusion for the big-budget project.

According to an unnamed Variety source, the show creators plan to shop the project around and search for a new home for the chronicles of Master Chief and Cortana. "We deeply appreciate the millions of fans who propelled the Halo series to be a global success and we remain committed to broadening the Halo universe in different ways in the future," 343 Industries said. "We are grateful to Amblin and Paramount for their partnership in bringing our expansive sci-fi universe to viewers around the world."

This is the latest hurdle for fans of the UNSC to get more Halo action. Not only is the TV show gone, but last year's rounds of layoffs at Microsoft didn't leave 343 Industries unscathed. The studio reportedly had to restart its development of the series' next chapter, and we haven't heard much about the games since.

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Netflix will drop a new multiplayer game when Squid Game season 2 premieres this year

Netflix is expanding its games roster with an intriguing (and probably gruesome) new tie-in. During the company's quarterly earnings announcement, Netflix shared that it plans to launch a multiplayer game inspired by Squid Game. Its release date will be timed to coincide with the second season of the South Korean TV sensation. We have no other information about what style of game it will be, but we can guess that it will echo the children's games contestants play for survival on the series.

The program has already spawned several spinoffs for the streaming service. After season 1 became an international sensation in 2021, Netflix created a virtual reality version as well as an in-person pop-up experience in Los Angeles based on the fictional reality show. The company also teamed with a British production company to create Squid Game: The Challenge, an actual reality TV show that is fortunately a lot less lethal than its source material.

Another insight from the quarterly report is how much advertisements have grown in importance for Netflix. The ad-supported tier is responsible for 45 percent of new sign-ups in markets where the subscription option is available. The plan has only been available for about 18 months, and its audience has already grown 34 percent sequentially in the second quarter of 2024. Part of that shift is happening because the basic plan option is being phased out; it left Canada and the UK already, and the US and France are next up.

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Fandango co-founder J. Michael Cline dead at 64

One of the founders of the movie ticketing service Fandango has died following an apparent suicide in New York City.

J. Michael Cline, the co-founder of the movie ticket website and service Fandango, died Tuesday after falling from the balcony of a Manhattan hotel in what the medical examiner’s office ruled as a suicide, according to The New York Times.

Cline co-founded Fandango in 2000 with former chief operating officer Art Levitt during the dot-com boom and became one of the biggest online retailers. Fandango launched with seven movie theater chains, according to Variety.

Fandango found success by completely changing the way people went to the movies. Moviegoers didn’t have to wait in long ticket lines only to find out that the 6 PM showing of Battlefield Earth was already sold out. They could purchase their tickets before they even left home and still have time to buy an overpriced box of Milk Duds and a watered down Shasta.

The company’s flashy orange “F” logo also made it one of the most recognizable online brands in the industry. Cline described his company's whimsical sounding name to Variety as “fast and fun” and a “perfect match to a service designed to make going to the movies easier and more enjoyable than ever before.”

Five years after its launch, online movie ticket sites like Fandango and its competitor sold tickets worth over $30 million in one year. Comcast bought the Fandango brand in 2007 for an undisclosed sum. Fandango also bought some of the Internet’s hottest movie properties such as the aggregated movie review website Rotten Tomatoes in 2017. The movie ticket brand went through subsequent parent sales until it landed with its current owners NBCUniveral and Warner Bros., which expanded the Fandango brand to a streaming service called Fandango at Home as a replacement for Vudu.

Fandango continues to thrive as an online ticket retailer even at a time when movie theaters are seeing a huge slump in sales. During the Barbenheimer craze last summer, Fandango sold 3.5 million tickets alone just to the Oscar nominated and winning films Barbie and Oppenheimer.

Cline left Fandango in 2011 and went on to become the executive chairman of the tech investment firm Juxtapose that helped launch health and wellness companies like Care/of and Corduroy, according to the firm’s website.

Levitt described his former business partner to the New York Times as a formidable entrepreneur who was “a bit of an adventurer” and someone who “saw an opportunity in the market” with Fandango.

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 or you can simply dial 988. Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741741 (US), 686868 (Canada), or 85258 (UK). Wikipedia maintains a list of crisis lines for people outside of those countries.

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The final trailer for Alien: Romulus looks tense, bloody and awesome

The last couple of Alien movies have been good for the most part but it feels like they’ve been missing the raw, skin-shredding tension of the first few films. The latest trailer for Alien: Romulus looks like the series is headed back to its dark, claustrophobic roots.

Alien: Romulus features a whole new crew of doomed space-trekking souls who encounter the deadly Xenomorph on a derelict spacecraft. This time, it’s a crew of space colonizers who are scavenging for resources from abandoned ships and stations.

This Alien film was co-written and directed by Fede Alvarez, the filmmaker behind cult horror flicks such as the two Don’t Breathe movies and the Evil Dead remake. So, yes, Alien: Romulus is gonna be very tense and very, very bloody. Where the original Alien merely strapped a parasitoid xenomorph to a crew member's face, the trailer for Romulus is willing to show a facehugger penetrating some poor guy's head. Yikes.

Alien: Romulus hits theaters on Friday, Aug. 16.

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Splitgate 2 is coming to PC and consoles in 2025

It was a shame to see 1047 Games putting Splitgate on ice back in 2022. The studio did a great job of freshening up the competitive arena shooter genre by adding portals (think: Quake meets Portal), but it moved on to a new project. We now know that’s going to be Splitgate 2, a free-to-play sequel that’s coming to PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S next year.

1047 Games is going bigger in all kinds of ways this time around, including with a much larger development team. A group of 20 first-time game developers created Splitgate, which started as a school project. The team is now more than 150 strong and features devs with experience on the likes of Call of Duty, Overwatch, Halo, Valorant and League of Legends.

The sequel is being built from the ground up in Unreal Engine 5. It will have three factions you can pick from based on your preferred play style and tactics. The Aeros are agile, Sabrasks are all about power and Meridians can manipulate time. 

There will be many areas, weapons and modes to check out, though the bulk of the action will be in four versus four combat. A debut trailer gives some idea of what to expect and more details will be revealed in August. Fans can check out a free comic series and unlock in-game collectibles through the Splitgate 2 companion app for iOS and Android.

1047 Games has a tough act to follow since Splitgate was very well received and it proved popular — it had more than 22 million downloads. It’s a strong foundation to build on, though, and the Splitgate 2 trailer (despite being a cinematic rather than gameplay-focused one) looks very promising.

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