By Josh Speer / December 3rd, 2018
Though I’ve known about Supergiant Games for a while, I hadn’t actually gotten around to playing any of their games til now. Not for a lack of interest, mind you. It’s more because for a time many of their titles were only on systems I didn’t own. By the time they rolled around to more platforms, I was more focused on more current titles. That said, I have always been attracted to the aesthetic design found in projects by the team, and after getting a chance to play Transistor at the most recent PAX West, I knew I had to give it a shot. Thanks to the opportunity provided by a review code, I decided to write up some impressions of how Transistor plays on Switch.
It’s immediately apparent that the world of Transistor, set in Cloudbank, is a beautiful, dystopian nightmare. While I can’t say I completely understand the nature or “rules” of the universe the game is set in, that doesn’t make it any less compelling. The entire game has a wonderful hand painted aesthetic, and even the stationary imagery is fantastic. While you won’t see any cutscenes of characters moving or talking, Transistor uses cool static comic book screens to convey the flow of the story. It all revolves around Red’s quest for revenge for the theft of her voice and the murder of her lover. There are significantly more twists and turns than that, but I’ll avoid too many for those who want to experience the game fresh.
Since Red is voiceless, the bulk of the emotional experience is conveyed by the game’s narrator. Her sword, the titular Transistor, constantly talks to you, and serves as a sort of mirror to Red’s emotional state, as well as shedding light on the nature of the world. Frankly, the narrator rarely shuts up, so it’s a good thing the voice actor put in his best effort. He ranges the gamut from assertive to teasing to even drugged, and is always believable in his delivery. Combined with a low key noir soundtrack, Transistor delivers visually and musically. But you don’t just get a game for the design, so let’s delve into how the game plays on Nintendo Switch.
I may be the first to make the comparison, but in a weird way Transistor reminds me strongly of the original Parasite Eve. Granted, there’s a lot of differences, but both games rely on freezing time, and making tactical decisions to survive combat. Both also use neon geometrical representations to show the range of attacks. That’s pretty much where the similarities end, but any time I compare a game to one of my favorite classic PlayStation entries, it’s a good sign.
Red may not have a voice, but she is fierce in battle. As you progress, you’ll find more and more attacks, seemingly uploaded from dead citizens, ranging from laser blasts to mighty sword swings to even infatuating foes. There’s a lot more than that, and better yet, there’s a variety of ways to utilize each attack. You can set up to 4 attacks at a time to selected buttons, or you can set them as upgrades or passive effects. Upgrades improve the utility of your individual attacks, such as decreasing their cost or making them deploy faster. Passive upgrades give wide ranging effects, such as drawing in enemy cells from farther away or giving Red the chance to transform into a Superuser. As if that wasn’t enough, you can also use Limiters to make foes stronger, rewarding you with more experience points. Put together, you have a lot of control how you battle in Transistor. I generally liked to have one short distance attack, one ranged attack, one group attack and one evasive maneuver. I also made good use of upgrades like charming enemies and bolts that deflected from foe to foe.
While I appreciated the variety of combat options, I wouldn’t say I ever truly mastered it. Usually I would do well in minor battles and barely scrape by against the challenging boss fights. This was mostly due to peculiarities of the combat. The game provides a preview for your attacks while time is frozen, and sometimes would show me taking down a foe, only for the reality to be quite different. I wasn’t clear if that was due to my positioning or not, but it was always frustrating when it happened. Especially when facing multi-phase boss fights against massive horrors, though also occasionally against regular foes. My most hated antagonist was the Young Lady, a laser toting bitch that teleports away whenever you damage her, subsequently splitting into multiple shadow clones. Though I can appreciate the novelty of Transistor’s combat, I wish it felt a little more transparent and polished.
As for how the game handles on the Switch console, I should point out I only played it portably. I encountered almost no slow down during play, which was great, though the load times could be a bit on the long side. The only real problem I had was when I got lost wandering about. Yes the game is very linear, but the areas you travel through are all very large, and it’s not always clear where to go next. There are small visual clues, but a bit more signposting wouldn’t have hurt. The only truly frustrating issue was in a late game area where I could see the door I needed to go through, but had a hell of a time reaching it through stage geometry.
All in all, I was very pleased with Transistor. It’s taken me from a fan of Supergiant Games from afar to someone who needs to play all their titles ASAP. It plays pretty well on Switch, and is an easy recommendation to those looking for an original and interesting premise. While the plot is a little confusing, the overall package is quite attractive, and a good example of why I love indie games so much.