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

Gaming

Sony unveils PlayStation Classic, comes pre-loaded with 20 games

It brings back good memories

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Since gaming consoles today are all about great graphics and superb gameplay, it’s nice to have a break from them and enjoy a classic title. That’s what Nintendo realized with the reborn retro consoles, and now Sony wants to join the fun with the introduction of the PlayStation Classic.

The PlayStation Classic comes almost 25 years after the first PlayStation. It’s a miniaturized version that’s approximately 45 percent smaller than the original release, but it still emulates the look and feel. Here’s a short video showing off the new retro-style console:

Fans of the original PlayStation will be able to relive 20 legendary titles including Final Fantasy VIIJumping FlashRidge Racer Type 4Tekken 3, and Wild Arms. All of the pre-loaded games are playable in their original format.

Unfortunately, you can’t put in your old but still working PlayStation game because it has no CD drive. The open disc and reset buttons have been remapped to serve different functions, but they’re nice to have for the complete nostalgic feel. The PlayStation Classic also comes with a pair of original PlayStation controller replicas.

Sony is already accepting pre-orders in key markets for around US$ 100. The PlayStation Classic will be available in stores starting December 3.

SEE ALSO: The Nintendo Family Computer from your childhood is back

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Gaming

Razer Phone 2 launch date confirmed

This year’s best gaming phone?

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No more speculation needed: The next Razer Phone will arrive on October 10.

Currently named the Razer Phone 2, it succeeds the Razer Phone that was launched in November last year. This will be Razer’s second gaming smartphone, and it’ll likely be a familiar-looking product.

An earlier leak revealed that the new Razer Phone will have the same physique as its predecessor’s, probably so that it’ll still fit into the Project Linda game plan.

This means Razer will have a new gimmick to present in order for it to separate itself from the original — plus more powerful hardware, of course.

We’ll definitely see the return of the 120Hz display, which enables smoother gameplay for certain mobile titles. The inside should get significant upgrades as well, such as a Snadrapdargon 845 processor, up to 8GB of memory, 512GB of integrated storage, and at least 4000mAh of battery capacity.

The event will happen transpire in Hollywood based on this invitation sent to select media:

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Features

4 big announcements headline the latest Nintendo Direct

Not even an earthquake could stop them from dropping something big

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Nintendo did not let an earthquake deter their chances of bringing something explosive to its audience. After being rescheduled to a week after its original air date, Nintendo Direct finally took place and brought with it a whirlwind of game releases. So, if you don’t have a Nintendo Switch yet, now would be a good time to get one.

More classic games for Nintendo Switch

The company’s cloud-based hub Nintendo Switch Online adds more classic titles to the mix before its official release on Tuesday. Apart from the original ten titles announced back in May, games such as YoshiExcitebike, Ice Hockey, and Ghosts ‘n Goblins are among the additional titles added. Nintendo also expects to add in a few more titles within the coming months. The company also mentioned that these titles will now feature online multiplayer — both cooperative and competitive gameplay.

Apart from these titles, there will also be new Final Fantasy games for the Switch in 2019. Square Enix will bring Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, and Final Fantasy X to the Switch through the Nintendo eShop. It was also announced that there will be a remastered version of Final Fantasy X-2 available around the same time as these games.

More Super Mario for the Switch

The popular Wii U platforming game New Super Mario Bros. U will be arriving on the Switch, now in a deluxe package. It will feature the same level of platforming from the Wii U classic, along with your lovable plumber brothers Mario and Luigi. What’s new about New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is the introduction of two new characters in Nabbit and Toadette. Nabbit is a magician-like rabbit that will not take any damage from opponents, while Toadette has the ability to turn into Peachette when grabbing a super crown.

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe will also come with another game in New Super Luigi U, with Luigi finally getting a starring role in their adventures. Both games are scheduled for release in January 2019, with New Super Luigi U bundled for free. And speaking of Luigi and his adventures:

Luigi’s Mansion 3 announced for the Switch

While Nintendo still claims this to be a working title, it was also announced that Luigi’s Mansion 3 will also come to the Switch. While a Nintendo 3DS title is already on its way in October this year, Nintendo said that the Switch game would be a new title altogether. This is the first time that the Luigi’s Mansion franchise will return to a console since its initial Nintendo GameCube release in 2001. The company also included new features for the 3DS title, including multiplayer and amiibo compatibility.

Animal Crossing finally gets a Switch title

Arguably, the biggest announcement during Nintendo Direct is the arrival of Animal Crossing to the Nintendo Switch. Part of a two-part announcement at the end of the live stream, Nintendo revealed little details as to the release date of the new Animal Crossing title, but it is expected to come out in 2019. Company executives also revealed that this will be a mainline game, meaning it will feature the same gameplay from before.

The announcement came in two parts, with the first part revealing that Isabelle will be a playable character in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. After showing gameplay footage from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it quickly transitions into Tom Nook looking at his computer in a possible setup as a playable character. Instead, he decides to prepare the town when they stop “camping and smashing,” leading up to the reveal of Animal Crossing‘s release.

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