It’s never a good sign when you forget you played a game the day after finishing it.
Supergiant is one of my favorite indie game studios. Bastion is one of my all-time favorite indie games and, recently, I’ve poured a ton of time into their latest game, Hades (I’ve put am hour into Pyre, but haven’t finished it). These games are exactly what I look for: stylish, replayable, and addictive.
So why don’t I like Transistor?
This game has everything I like in a Supergiant game. It looks amazing, the music is great, and the gameplay is interesting and challenging. But the story is just… Well…
Let’s talk about that, actually.
Story: Uh… What the Fuck is Happening?
Alright, let’s head to the wiki and pray for answers.
You play as Red, a singer who’s lost her voice after an attack that’s left her lover dead and trapped inside a mysterious sword, the titular Transistor. With this blade in hand and his consciousness narrating her adventure, she makes her way through the city of Cloudbank to claim revenge on those who attacked her, the Camerata. But to do so, she must defeat the robotic army known as the Process, which is slowly destroying the city and can only be stopped by the Transistor.
Okay, so, I’ve got some questions. Firstly: who are the Camerata? Why did they attack Red in particular? Why would they leave the Transistor behind, considering how important it is? How did they lose control of the Process in the first place? How does any of this shit work?
Well, I hope you are prepared to die with those questions. Because the game does not answer them. And if it does, it does so so poorly that I can’t even remember.
Throughout my entire playthrough, it felt like I was missing context for everything. Like I jumped into a story right in the middle of the second act. I had assumed the game was gonna take some time to explain everything, like they did in Supergiant’s preceding game, Bastion; that game had a similar narrative structure, but it ultimately explained everything to the player in a clear and interesting way.
Transistor never does this. So, when it comes time for the story’s climax, it’s nigh impossible to be invested in what’s happening. I couldn’t even tell you who the final boss was or why we were fighting him! I genuinely have no fucking clue what happened!! I played the whole damn game and I had to check the fucking wiki! AND I STILL DON’T KNOW!!
From that summary, you’d think this is a revenge story. But what’s the point of that if I don’t know who I’m getting revenge on?!
Follow up question: how do you make a narrator that I actively want to shut up?! Come on, Supergiant, narrators are your forte!
Presentation: Surprise, It’s a 10/10
What? A Supergiant game with amazing presentation and music? Next you’re gonna tell me that the sky is blue! Or that global warming is real!
Yeah, this game looks amazing. The techno style of the setting is pretty slick and nice on the eyes and the design of the main character is pretty solid. All the enemies look cool and memorable, at least all the robots (the few human enemies are suuuuper boring to look at). Aesthetically speaking, this game is pretty good!
And, of course, the music is stellar. It has that classic Supergiant vibe to it. All the insert songs are super nice and the regular gameplay tunes enhance the experience magnificently. No joke, this might be my favorite Supergiant soundtrack.
Although Pyre is pretty good. And Hades has some bangers, too… aw, fuck, this is a tough choice.
Gameplay: Stop and Think
Thankfully, my issues with the story are more than made up for by the gameplay. You know. The most important part of a video game.
At it’s core, Transistor is a strategy RPG. In each encounter, you’ll face off with a wide variety of enemies with unique abilities. In order to defeat them, you’ll need to customize your four abilities and strategically maneuver around the enemy maximize your damage output. As you play and level up, you’ll unlock different upgrades to enhance your abilities, get new ones, and even get a few extra challenges to make things even tougher!
Now, I’m not gonna lie: if not for one mechanic, I wouldn’t like this combat. Considering how quick some enemies move and how specific their weaknesses are, it would be a huge pain in the ass to deal with them. Thankfully, they include one little mechanic to make your life easier: time stopping.
When time is stopped, you can plan out all your attacks and watch the fireworks. Each move takes up their own amount of time, so you can’t just spam moves while in time stop mode. Hell, you can’t even move without burning your time! You need to find a way to maximize your output, performing as many moves as you can. Depending on your build, this can turn into a game in it of itself!
Better yet, they play with this mechanic in some interesting ways! Later in the game, there are some enemies that can straight up cancel that ability, become invisible when you use it, so on and so forth! Hell, the final boss straight-up uses it against you!
I also love how this game handles dying. Rather than just dropping dead and getting a game over, you’ll be put into a weakened state, losing one of your abilities. In order to get it back, you’ll need to survive long enough to reach an upgrade station and fix it. This adds a really fun extra layer of strategy; how do you survive the upcoming battles with a crippled moveset?
But it ain’t perfect. The gameplay can get pretty repetitive once you’ve got your preferred build down. Some of the enemies are more frustrating than challenging, the boss fights are pretty mediocre, and it isn’t all that replayable. It’s one of those games where it slowly becomes less fun and more tedious the longer it goes on.
Thankfully, the game is pretty short. You should be able to finish it before it becomes unbearable to play.
My thoughts on this game are… mixed. The presentation is great and the game itself is pretty fun to play! But the story, one of the most important aspects of the entire game, is really not all that well executed. The writing in this game is so poorly done that it becomes distracting! It drives me crazy!
Recommendation wise… well, I would say this game is worth playing. At least once. It’s not a bad game by any means. But when you compare it to the other masterpieces released by this same studio, it just becomes perplexing. I genuinely don’t understand it.
Now, if you’ll excuse me. Hades is begging for me to go kick his ass again.