Hey everyone, Josh here. Today I am reviewing the indie, action RPG “Transistor” by the company Supergiant Games. Supergiant Games is the creator of one of my favorite indie games of all time, “Bastion.” I had to look at “Transistor” because I had very high expectations that Supergiant Games would create another beautiful masterpiece. Right out of the gate, I am going to answer this question: Do I like “Transistor” better than “Bastion?” Well, the simple answer is yes, I do. I think this was a great step forward for Supergiant games.
The developers themselves said “Bastion” was their take on the fantasy genre; as such, “Transistor” is their take on the sci-fi genre. You play as Red, a young woman who was a famous singer in the city of Cloudbank and lost her voice. You start the game with a strange and talking sword, called The Transistor. The Transistor has great power which you use to fight off the enemies called The Process.
The game has a isometric view like “Bastion.” You run around and have four abilities on your action bar that you use to fight. You can use these actions freely and fire them off over and over again to fight, if that’s what you want. However, the main combat mechanic in this game is the ability called Turn(). The Turn() ability stops time, lets you move around freely, and plan your attacks. When you use it, Red will execute the movements you commanded in the planning stage at a super high speed. The trick to using Turn() is that when you are done, it goes on cool down and doesn’t let you use any of your abilities to fight (there is one exception to this, as the Jaunt() ability can be used while Turn() is on cool down). The game lets you fight either way you want, and both tactics have pros and cons attached to them. You might think you should just use Turn() at all times because it lets you plan everything perfectly; however, this is not the case. There were many times I wished that I had not used Turn() because I ended up getting caught with no defense. This combat system is very good, interesting, and something I have not seen before. The abilities you get in this game are very interesting. Like the narrator, all of the abilities are other people trapped within the Transistor. Every ability you get has lore about the person that the ability came from. These abilities are called Functions. You can change between the many different abilities that you gain throughout the game at Access Points. Every ability in the game can be placed as one of your four actives, a passive attached to another ability, or a passive for Red. Combining the different abilities together fundamentally changes how they all work. This means that the range of customization for this game is huge! You can swap up your play style and fit the abilities to work pretty much however you want. My set up was designed for a big, burst combo whenever I went into Turn(), but you could do all long-range attacks if you wanted to. This makes the combat very fun and enjoyable, and all of the abilities have some very nice punch to them.
This game is not as easy as you might think. The way your health and lives work is very interesting. When your health bar hits zero, one of your functions overloads to protect you. So you live, but you lose a function. Therefore, with four functions you get four lives. You get your abilities back by visiting a certain number of Access Points. This mechanic does two interesting things. For one, it makes it so that once you die the first time, you have less options; thus, dying again becomes easier. The second thing it does is force you to swap up and use other abilities the next time you see an Access Point. It usually takes about 2 or 3 Access Points to get a function back, so you will have to use a new set for a decent amount of time. I think this approach to lives is very cool and creates some fun situations.
The enemies in the game, The Process, are living machines, so they don’t simply die. When you defeat one of them, they explode into a Cell. If you don’t pick up the Cell and absorb it with The Transistor, The Process creature will respawn. This makes it so that even after an enemy is defeated, you have to risk getting the Cell while other living Process are already shooting at you. Red is a young girl who has never fought before in her life. This means you can’t swing a sword or do fancy combos, flips, and evades. You can’t easily dodge anything, with the exception of the Jaunt() dash, so they had to balance this out. Whenever you enter a battle, this box that the Process creatures form from comes up from the floor and provides your only source of cover. Running between these walls makes for very stressful situations. There are several different enemies in the game. As you get farther in the game, they upgrade and gain new abilities. Many of the enemies are dangerous fighters by themselves, but The Process are a giant computer mind; they are never alone. Each one of the enemies helps out the others, or works together with each other to make Red’s life that much harder. The most obvious example is the Cheerleaders, who put shields around their allies. The Cluckers will fire bombs at you, which can be easily dodged. However, when you start seeing Jerks and Creeps that are level 3, they have beams that will pull you in, causing Clucker bombs to hit you more often. The dynamic between each of the enemies makes for a very fun fight where you really have to pay attention to what you are fighting if you want a chance at winning.
The lore of “Transistor” is much more fleshed out and intriguing than “Bastion”, which is a real accomplishment. On top of every function being a person with a story, there are other things to find. There are OVC terminals around the city that give you news info and other such things that really build the world up. There are also sections of the world you can look at that will cause The Transistor to comment about them and talk about some history. This is a different approach than “Bastion”, as that game had Rucks, creatures, and other objects telling you everything as you went along. “Transistor” makes it so that you have to search a little more and pay attention to the lore only if you want to. This is a very good balance between story fanatics, like myself, and people who care about mechanics. We can live in harmony with “Transistor.”
When it comes to the art, this game is indeed a piece of art, just as “Bastion” was. The world of “Transistor” is very interesting, colorful, and beautiful. As for the music of this game, it is as fantastic as you would expect. The music of Supergiant is really something to behold. I recommend that everyone should listen to it, even if you didn’t play the games. The only thing I would say is that I do like the music of “Bastion” just a little better, since it is a bit faster paced. “Transistor” has music that is a softer and more touching.
I am not going to spoil anything or go in depth into the story but it was a very good story, in my opinion. I liked the story to “Transistor” I think because of one major point; the man in The Transistor. You really feel bad for this man who is now trapped in a sword, and his relationship with Red makes you feel that much sadder. His character carries a lot of story.
So, do I have any negatives about “Transistor?” To be honest, it is very difficult to find negatives within this great work. The only major one is that early on, the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining how the mechanics work. How to use slot functions correctly and what they are has to be sort of figured out on your own, but it isn’t that hard. The only other negative that people have said, which doesn’t bother me, is the length. The game is about 5 to 6 hours long and priced at $20. Some people might be in debate on the game being worth that much because of how short it is, but I personally think it was worth every penny. There is also a new game plus mode which I will definitely be playing through. I could see myself beating “Transistor” several times.
Do I recommend “Transistor?” Yes, I do, a thousand times over. I recommend this game to anyone and everyone, it is that good. Your uncle that sits around playing cow clickers like “Farmville” on Facebook — he should play it! Your friend who is in debate about getting it, grab his credit card and buy it for him! Your partner who has never touched a video game in their life — have them play it too! Heck, if they don’t want to play it then you have them sit down and watch you play, cause it is just that good. I want you guys to spread this game around so much that Supergiant Games becomes so loaded that they swim in money pools and buy gold cars. Supergiant Games has set the bar not just for indie games, but video games as a whole. They have two beautiful examples of masterpieces on their hands, “Bastion” and “Transistor”. They are two of my favorite games ever, and they prove that if you have passion for your game, it can be great. You don’t need millions of dollars, just hard work and passion. I bid you guys goodbye, and I hope you are already downloading “Transistor” as you read this.