Gaming

Pyre review: A slam dunk in story and splendor

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Sports ignite people. We map stories to players’ careers. We label rival athletes facing off as heroes and villains. We cry when the home team loses a deciding playoff match. We rejoice when they finally win championship gold.

Pyre sets out to spark that real human passion in its fantastical basketball/visual novel combo.

Entrancing aesthetics

Supergiant Games, the creative studio behind Pyre, is known for its sensuous, painterly art direction. The developers do not disappoint, as one look at the screenshots should make clear. Vibrant blues and reds blend in soft brush strokes and end in thick lines in the lovingly detailed player portraits. Neon greens, yellows, and purples contrast strikingly to form surreal panoramic landscapes littered with titanic alien skeletal remains.

The character designs feel familiar yet fresh; towering horned demons and alluring harpies get mixed in with armored worm-knights and small, scrappy dog men. These creatures spring to life like in classic hand-drawn Western animation, their frames moving with the conviction of the weight they carry. Tiny imps dart about manically, savages soar with wild grace, and the sentient trees lumber as if they own the earth.

These animations playing out in the Rites, which is what Pyre formally calls its magical 3v3 sport, is a dazzling display of balletic athletics.

Darren Korb’s zydeco-electronica fusion soundtrack ramps up the tension in every contest, brings things down to a wistful melancholic chill on the road in between matches, and rouses the spirits with folksy ballads alongside soulful vocal talent Ashley Barrett.

Fantasy basketball for freedom

In-universe, you are the Reader. You have been exiled to the Downside, a desolate no man’s land, for the crime of literacy. Reading is strictly forbidden in the Commonwealth, the nation where you came from. The only way back to civilization is through winning the Rites, as the purity of performance in this divine tradition pardons victors of all their sins.

In the Rites, two teams of three players fight over control of a celestial orb, with the goal of dousing the opposing force’s pyre. This is accomplished by plunging the orb into the pyre repeatedly until its flames are snuffed. Points signify the strength of the pyre, dwindling every time the orb is thrown into it. Once the points are reduced to zero, the match ends.

As the Reader, you act as coach to the Nightwings, once hailed as the ultimate test for other teams to prove their worth, but have now just returned as a ragtag band of misfits, eager as any of the exiles to earn freedom.

Increasing complexity in competition

In-game, you take direct control of the Nightwings, maneuvering one player at a time. The mechanics are easy to understand upfront for a somewhat novel take on basketball, and the control scheme feels natural given the one-player limitation. However, the variations in character abilities, statistics, and equippable items make matches more intricate and even overwhelming when the difficulty spikes.

You might find yourself cruising through the early battles, as the AI players are content to watch you zip across the field, sail over their heads, and slam dunk that orb into their pyre. I certainly did, especially with immediate access to the speedier characters that can run past enemies with ease. It didn’t take too long for me to start experiencing more intense competition, though, eventually resulting in losses where my opponents choked my offense and danced all over my defense.

And this is where the unique beauty of Pyre shines through.

There is no game over

Win or lose in the Rites, the plot keeps moving. Remember that everyone in the Downside is an exile and yearns for liberty, too. So when your adversaries triumph, their own personal narratives advance in step with the Nightwings’ journey. And while a majority of the teams you face are headed by unrepentant evildoers, there are a couple of genuinely good people also vying for liberation.

When you learn how the aged cur Dalbert Oldheart was unfairly banished from the Commonwealth, losing doesn’t sound so bad if this kind old critter goes free. You can be victorious next time, and without a guilty conscience, dunk on Witch Udmildhe and her bog crones who wish to unleash the malevolent Yslach Astral-Born on the world.

Not that winning doesn’t come with its own price either. When you win and let a team member go back to the Commonwealth, you let that team member go for good. In addition, you can only choose from the three characters you’ve used in matches the most. This means you’re constantly losing the players you’re most accustomed to when you keep winning.

MVPs, one and all

Thankfully, every individual you recruit into the Nightwings is a standout, both in how they play in the Rites and how their own story arcs develop and overlap with the rest of the colorful cast. Pamitha, the sassy harpy, cuts across the field with winged fury, but relents at the immediate sight of her sister out of guilt. The pale white, blue-eyed blonde demon Jodariel cuts an imposing figure with her steely stare and twisted horns, and she commands the court with her presence. Yet, past her stoicism lies warm, motherly instincts.

Pyre introduces such outcasts with complicated backgrounds at a reasonably rapid clip, and when you’ve assembled the entire crew, revelations are dropped at an even pace to keep you driving forward to see where the plot goes.

And before I forget, most of the interactions with the characters and the world at large is through the visual novel format of still portraits and lots of text interspersed with choices. Voice acting (save for one particular role which has to be heard to be believed) is limited to mumblings in a made-up language. It’s charming in how distinct the delivery is, and I never noticed a single canned soundbite.

Consuming, fiery storytelling

Yet this static presentation never left me bored or buttoning through dialogue. I basically marathoned 10 hours on my first session, and reached the very end on my second five-hour sitdown with the game. Despite the archetypes that make up the cast, the authenticity in characterization made me love each of the Nightwings.

I laughed at Rukey Greentail’s boasts landing his furry tail in hot water. I was in awe of Sir Gilman’s boisterous determination. I pondered on Volfred Sandalwood’s notions of true independence. I was gutted over Hedwyn’s broken promise. I agonized over every choice as to which of them I would anoint for freedom.

I will be replaying Pyre. I want to learn more about those I let go early, fight even harder, and just make better decisions to see how all the Nightwings deal with the burden of losing comrades and gaining liberty in a land of oppression. I will cast myself once more into the fires of competition for their sake, because Pyre made me believe their bonds are worth burning for.

SEE ALSO: 7 must-play re-released video games in HD

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Gaming

Kobe is the cover of NBA 2K21 Mamba Forever Edition

For both current and next gen

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Give us a quick second as we wipe the tears off our faces. The third and final cover athlete for NBA 2K21 is Kobe Bryant. Instead of being called the Legend Edition, it will be aptly named Mamba Forever Edition.

The Mamba Forever Edition will be available in both current gen and next gen consoles. On the current gen cover, Kobe is shown wearing the No. 8 jersey displaying the peak of his athleticism. On the next gen cover, he’s seen wearing the No. 24 jersey in a scene during his final game where he scored 60 points.

2K says the covers are a celebration of the late athlete’s lifetime achievement and basketball excellence. He passed away in a tragic accident earlier in 2020 with his daughter Gigi Bryant and seven others.

Kobe was the cover athlete for NBA 2K10, the Legend Edition of NBA 2K17.

Damian Lillard and Zion Williamson were revealed as the covers for the current gen and next-gen standard editions respectively.

NBA 2K21 will feature MyTEAM Cross-Progression and a Shared VC Wallet within the same console family (PS4 to PS5, Xbox One to Xbox Series X).

MyTEAM Cross-Progression enables all MyTEAM Points, Tokens, cards and progress to be shared on both current and next-generation versions of NBA 2K21 in the same console family. Similarly, the Shared VC Wallet means any earned or purchased VC is accessible across both current and next-generation versions of NBA 2K21 in the same console family.

Pricing and availability

NBA 2K21 will be available on current-generation platforms on September 4, 2020 and is available for pre-order today. NBA 2K21 will be available for PhP 3,190 on current-generation platforms.

It will also be available on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X as a launch title this holiday. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X version of NBA 2K21 will be available for PhP 3,690.

The NBA 2K21 Mamba Forever Edition will be available for PhP 5,390 for both current and next-generation platforms.

It includes dual-access where purchasing Mamba Forever Edition on either current or next-generation platforms provides a copy of the standard edition game on the other generation at no additional cost, within the same console family.

A full breakdown of pre-order details is available at NBA 2K’s website.

NBA 2K will release additional announcements and news about NBA 2K21 including the soundtrack reveal, first looks at gameplay and features for both current and next-generation versions of NBA 2K21, 2K Day celebration and much more.

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Dating

Pokémon launched Pikachu-themed wedding rings, but there’s something nasty about them

How big is your love?

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As of late, The Pokémon Company has increased its reach to a lot of other industries outside of gaming, including lifestyle apps and wireless earbuds. Now, the ubiquitous brand has expanded to the most precious catch of them all: wedding rings.

Partnered with Japanese jewelry company Ginza Tanaka, The Pokémon Company has officially launched Pikachu-themed engagement rings and wedding bands. The list of products includes simple platinum and gold wedding bands that come in a PokéBall-style box. Couples can also get their rings engraved with their own personal customizations. (However, the company rightly suggests a variation of “I choose you, [insert name here].”)

Meanwhile, the engagement rings are a bit more ostentatious. One design is a simple silhouette of Pikachu’s face, but the face’s center holds a diamond. Another design has two Pikachu tails holding the diamond in place. Like the wedding bands, they can come in either gold or platinum.

Cute as they are, there’s something awfully weird about them, as The Verge points out. In particular, the ears of the Pikachu rings look particularly nasty. Call us skeptical, but we don’t think Pikachu had *those* for ears. And yes, while they are part of the marriage process, we don’t know if you’d want them wrapped around your finger forever.

However, if you’re not bothered by them and think they’re perfectly innocent and fluffy Pikachu ears, they retail for JPY 346,500 (approximately US$ 3,225). Meanwhile, the wedding bands range between JPY 115,550 (approximately US$ 1,076) to JPY 121,000 (approximately US$ 1,126). The collection also has a keepsake photo frame selling for JPY 13,200 (approximately US$ 123).

SEE ALSO: Pokémon Unite is the very first Pokémon MOBA game

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Gaming

Best TVs for the PS5 and Xbox Series X

Be ready for the Next Gen consoles

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With Sony PlayStation finally unveiling what the PS5 looks like, the conversation around the Next Gen consoles has once again gained momentum. For sure, you’re going to buy either the PS5 or the Xbox Series X, but what TV should you get along with it?

One of the key specifications of the next gen consoles is improved graphics quality with support for up to 8K graphics, and 4K graphics at 120Hz refresh rate. It stands to reason that you’ll need a TV that can take advantage of these features.

One key specification to look for in your next-gen console TV companion is HDMI 2.1. HDMI 2.1 enables a host of features that are beneficial for gamers. These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • 4K at 120Hz (vs to [email protected] with HDMI 2.0)
  • Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) — enables FreeSync and G-SYNC like the ones on gaming monitors for reduced screen tearing.
  • Up to 10K Resolution
  • 48 Gbps Bandwidth (vs to 18 Gbps with HDMI 2.0)
  • Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) or ‘Game Mode’

Naturally, every TV that’s listed here has that particular specification. These TVs also have a ‘Game Mode’ that’s supposed to optimize your entire gaming experience.

We haven’t used any of these TVs ourselves, but based on collected opinions from other websites as well friends and colleagues who have tried some of these TVs, these are what we ended up with.

Best Overall — LG B9 OLED Ultra HD 4K TV

While researching this topic, the LG B9 is the specific TV that kept coming up. You have two size options — 55” and 65” and a host of AI features thanks to its A7 processor (Picture, Brightness, Sound, Sound Tuning).

Based on experience (we have an 65” LG TV in the GadgetMatch HQ), WebOS is pretty fluid to use, and LG has taken extra care to make sure cable management is properly handled.

At US$ 1599/ PhP 79,999 it’s actually a pretty sweet deal considering all the high-end features you’re getting.

Best 8K — QLED 8K Q950TS (2020)

If you’re looking towards the future, have some serious cash to burn, and a considerably wide enough space, consider getting this future-ready 8K QLED TV by Samsung.

We’ve talked lengthily about Samsung’s 2019 8K QLED TV. So this is essentially that but with a few improvements, chief of which is the Infinity Screen. This is a bezel-less beauty and one that looks absolutely premium.

This 85” massive TV that should look good as your primary home entertainment hub retails for US$ 12,999.99. Samsung does have other 8K QLED TV options for much less than that which we’ll list later on.

Everything else 

LG

Name Size/s Price
LG GX 65 inch 4K Smart OLED TV 65” TBA
LG CX 4K Smart OLED TV 77”, 65”, 55” TBA
LG NanoCell 8K 75NANO98PNA 75” TBA
LG C9 OLED55C9PPA 55”, 65” US$ 2,499 (Special deal US$ 1,499 at time of writing)

PhP 142,990 (Special deal PhP 99,990 at time of writing)

LG OLED 4K OLED65E9PPA 65” US$ 2,199
LG NanoCell 65SM9000PPA 65” TBA

SAMSUNG

Name Size/s Price
Samsung QLED 8K Q800T 65” N/A
Samsung QLED 8K Q900R 82”, 98” Starts at PhP 4,990,000
Samsung QLED 8K Q900TS 65”, 75”, 85” Starts at US$ 5,499.99

SONY

Name Size/s Price
Sony Z9G 8K 85”, 98” Starts at US$ 7,999.99
Sony Z8H 4K 75”, 85” Starts at US$ 5,999.99
Sony X900H 4K 55”, 65”, 75”, 85” Starts at US$ 999.99

VIZIO also recently had their 2020 Summer Showcase which listed a bunch of TVs with support for HDMI 2.1. In the Philippines, we were told that XTREME’s S-Series of TVs are all equipped with that feature.

It’s worthwhile to note that whatever UHD TV with HDMI input you have should work fine with the next generation consoles. The ones listed here are just the TVs especially equipped to take advantage of all that next gen goodness.

We’ve reached out to other brands to confirm which of their TVs have HDMI 2.1 so look for this list to be updated once we get their confirmation.

H/T: Premium Builds/ Tom’s Guide/ IGN/ Rtings

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