Transistor: Freezing Time in the Virtual City of Cloudbank

Having finally played the critically acclaimed Bastion, I decided it was finally time to check out another one of Supergiant’s games, Transistor.  The game takes place in a futuristic cyber city known as Cloudbank and follows the story of Red, a famous singer whose voice has been stolen.  She quickly teams up with the Transistor, a talking sword who will serve as your narrator throughout the game in a manner quite similar to Rucks in Bastion.  (They even share the same voice actor, Logan Cunningham.)

In fact, I can see a lot of ways in which Transistor was inspired by its predecessor.  The game features the same stunning hand-painted artwork and great music, so it’s both a joy to behold and to listen to.  Transistor also features an ever expanding assortment of abilities, which I shall discuss in greater detail soon enough.  There are also limiters, which make the game harder in various ways, but in exchange, allow you to gain more experience in a manner similar to Bastion’s shrine.

There’s also an interesting story, which takes place in a world that I think was more fleshed out than in Bastion.  For example, throughout your journey, you’ll find these different terminals that tell you more about what’s going on in Cloudbank.  Sometimes, you can make choices, such as voting on the color of the sky.  This seems a bit pointless at first, but by the latter portion of the game, some of the choices and interactions that you made earlier really help you to better understand the world you’re exploring and the motivation behind the game’s antagonist, a mysterious group known as the Camerata.

The battle system in Transistor is also quite good and rewards (and kind of forces) experimentation.  Your character attacks fairly slowly in comparison to the much faster enemies you’ll be facing, so you’ll be utilizing something called Turn(), which freezes time and allows you to plan out your movements and abilities.  These abilities are known as functions, and you acquire more and more of these as you level up.  Furthermore, these functions can be used in multiple different ways.  You can assign them directly to one of four main spaces, or you can assign them to a slot connected to one of the main four for various benefits, or you can assign them to a passive slot that aids you in battle regardless of what ability you’re using.

For example, Jaunt() is used to dash forward quickly and is available even when Turn() is restoring, and Switch() is used to temporarily cause enemies to side with you and attack your foes.  I would often assign Switch() to Jaunt() because it allows me to dash through enemies and make them docile as I wait for Turn() to become usable again.  This is especially helpful with fast enemies that are otherwise difficult to avoid.  As another example, when you assign Help() to a passive slot, you have a small chance of getting the Kill() function to become available, allowing you to deal massive damage to enemies.

Whenever you completely run out of health, you lose one of your four main functions (you die once you lose all four), which will remain unavailable for the next few battles, leaving you with no choice but to assign something else to those empty slots next time you get the chance.  In this way, you are required to experiment and try functions you’re not as familiar with as you wait for your favorites to be restored.  In the process, you may very well discover that you like some of your new moves better than your old ones!  There are so many combinations that surely everyone will have their own unique way of playing the game.

Once again, I can’t help but compare Bastion and Transistor, and I will summarize these comparisons in my closing thoughts.  Transistor is fairly linear and lacks a hub like Bastion had, though you will sometimes encounter a place called the Backdoors where you can complete various challenges similar to the optional trials Bastion provided for each weapon.  Rather than winning upgrade materials, you gain experience from completing these challenges, which is probably more rewarding.  Challenges include surviving for a set period of time, defeating enemies within a time limit, and defeating enemies using a limited number of moves.

In regards to the story, I probably enjoyed Transistor’s story more throughout the game, and I definitely preferred having a narrator that spoke to me rather than about me.  In comparison, Bastion spent a lot of time throwing around terms that weren’t properly explained, making me feel left out of the world I was exploring.  In the end, however, Bastion’s story had a more satisfying and emotional conclusion than Transistor’s, though I’m not sure I can explain why without spoilers.

As for the gameplay, Transistor’s is easily superior thanks to your move set being very customizable, along with featuring a unique mix of real-time and turn-based combat.  In Bastion, I see little reason to use anything but the most recently obtained weapons.  In short, Transistor may not be superior in every way, but it’s improved enough upon its predecessor to be generally a better experience that also feels less outdated.

As far as I can tell, Transistor seems to be available on all major consoles and operating systems except for XBox One and costs $19.99, though I got it on sale for a couple of dollars.  The game’s not terribly long and can be beaten in roughly 6 hours, though I read that it could take closer to 15 hours to get 100%.  I played the game on the Nintendo Switch, and it performed pretty well, aside from occasional stutters and the one time it froze completely.  I would highly recommend Transistor to anyone who’s interested in a fairly short game with an interesting story set in a virtual world and a super unique battle system that I’ve never really seen before.

One Comment

  1. Hatm0nster says:

    I’m so glad you were finally able to give this one a try, Duck! Transistor is one of my top 5 favorite games of all time, and it’s because of a lot of things your mentioned. The story and world are so intriguing, the villains are realistic in their aims and motivations, and the combat is so deep without getting obnoxiously complicated. If there were more opportunities to flex one’s combat muscles (like more challenges in the Recursion mode) I think it would be a perfect game in my mind!

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