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Sony bets fall lineup on Ember Lab's game debut

Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a colorful action game by a little-known company that began as an animation and digital content studio

Kena: Bridge of Spirits was unveiled at the PlayStation 5 event last year 

With hotly anticipated PlayStation exclusives like God of War and Horizon Forbidden West delayed to next year, video game publisher Sony Group Corp. is headlining its fall release schedule with a game from a little-known company that has never released a game before.

It’s an unusual move for Sony, which tends to rely on developers with proven track records, but early reviews suggest the strategy is a winner.

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Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a colorful action game made by Ember Lab, an Orange, California-based company founded in 2009 that began as an animation and digital content studio. Although Kena resembles a Pixar film, it was made by a small team that’s just a fraction of the size of this fall’s competitors. 

The game, which is only available on computers and PlayStation consoles, was unveiled at Sony’s big PlayStation 5 event last year and has taken center stage at other events from the Japanese console manufacturer, receiving the type of marketing support that’s usually reserved for larger releases.

The PlayStation 5 is selling out faster than it can be made, in part because of Sony’s strategy to churn out exclusive blockbusters through its several internal studios such as Sony Santa Monica and Guerrilla Games. But games like God of War Ragnarok and Horizon Forbidden West can take more than four years to make, and have faced additional delays due to the pandemic, forcing Sony to rely on external developers such as Ember Lab to help fill the gaps. 

Kena joins Deathloop, a more traditional big-budget console exclusive made by the Microsoft Corp.-owned Bethesda Softworks, to lead this fall’s PlayStation lineup.

The effort seems to have paid off. Kena came out Tuesday and received a rave response, receiving an 84 out of 100 on the review aggregation website Metacritic. The gaming website IGN called it “a wonderful first game from Ember Lab.” Bloomberg spent some time with the game and found it gorgeous and charming.

Kena’s impact has been significant, particularly considering that it’s Ember Lab’s first title, said Lewis Ward, research director for gaming at IDC. “It’s not easy to come out of the gate and hit a solid single or double, which is what Ember Lab has done at a minimum.”

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