Welcome to The Backlog, where I’ll play old games that I’ve missed. If there’s anything I’ve learned when I played their previous game, Bastion, SuperGiant Games is one of those studios that demand your attention. Not because they create big AAA experiences that demand the most out of your console or graphics card, but because their games are short, intimate stories that slowly unravel themselves until they hit you with a visceral gut punch of an ending. Their second game, Transistor – recently ported to the Nintendo Switch – is not different.
After playing through Transistor, I needed to put down the controller. I didn’t know how to feel about it. I spent a good eight hours getting to know the protagonist, Red, and the man trapped in the sword known as Transistor. I traveled the city of Cloudbank with these two, surviving one attack after another from the legion of robots known as the Process.
Cloudbank was once a bustling city, full of life, ruled by the Camerata, before it all went to hell when the Process started to assimilate everything. Red was in the center of it all. Formerly a singer, she was attacked by the Camerata with the Sword known as the Transistor, but was saved by an unknown man. He was absorbed into the sword, and acts as the game’s narrator. It’s weird to have a mute protagonist with a talking sword that provides exposition, but trust me, it works.
You start the game in media res, Red looming over the man’s corpse, with no idea what happened and how you got there. Red pulls the gigantic sword known as Transistor out of the man, and you traverse Cloudbank.
Plan Yourself out of Trouble
I expected another hack-and-slash adventure in the vein of Bastion, but Transistor plays at a much slower and deliberate place. Red is slow, Transistor is an oversized and unwieldy weapon, and blindly mashing the attack buttons will only get you killed.
Instead, you are encouraged to hit ZR to enter the game’s “planning mode,” where you are given a limited number of moves to execute in the most efficient manner. Transistor’s enemies are tough, with some units having massive AoE attacks, some that are invincible unless you get near them before you enter the turn-based mode. It took me a while, but once I started to get the hang of this mix of real-time and turn-based mechanics, I was cutting through legions of robots like it was nobody’s business.
Transistor provides you with different attacks/moves that you unlock throughout the game, and you can equip Red any way you want. An attack can be put in a secondary or passive slot as well to turn it into a buff, and it’s pretty extensive. However, these attack slots also serve as your lives. Lose all your health, you respawn – but one of your attacks gets deactivated. Lose all four attacks, and you get thrown back into the previous checkpoint.
A Beautiful Game
One of the main draws of Transistor, for me, is its absolutely gorgeous art style. It is a SuperGiant game, after all. Amazing art is to be expected. On top of the art, we also have an amazing soundtrack that just makes up a huge part of the experience for me as well.
I really don’t have anything else to say about the art style and the soundtrack. They’re both pitch-perfect and they lend themselves really well into Ttransistor’s bleak and dystopian cyberpunk world.
Okay, So Let’s Talk About That Ending
After traveling all around Cloudbank, Red is transported into the Transistor where she finally meets the architect of the Camerata: Royce Bracket. We are treated to an incredible final fight where Royce has access to all of the abilities and skills Red has, and we are rendered immobile for various intervals as he also has his own planning mode.
We know what he’s about to do to Red, but there’s no way you can stop him. This fight is by no means the hardest one – I’d say the one before this one is more difficult – but this feels like a proper culmination and climax of everything we’ve done for the last eight hours.
Once Red defeats Royce, she’s given root access to Cloudbank, where she has the power to recreate the city – or remake it in any way she wishes. However, she finds that she can’t bring back the man who saved her. He’s still stuck, doomed to spend eternity as a disembodied voice in the Transistor. Red chooses to forgo all of the power she in her possession, stabs herself with the Transistor, and dies. It was this moment I dropped my controller, screamed, ran from my sofa to sit in front of the TV, waiting for Red to change her mind at the last second.
For the closing credits, we are treated to a montage of images of Red and the unnamed man living their lives inside the Transistor. Sure, it made sense for the character and the journey she went through. But I feel iffy about this scene’s implications of glorifying suicide. It’s not enough to turn me off the game, but it’s enough to stick with me. Just have that in mind when you do your own playthrough.
I’m thinking if I should do a second run of Transistor and activate the Recursive Playthrough, but I might wait. This game is something special, and I want to let it simmer for a bit before I attempt to play it again.
What do you think of Transistor? Do you agree that it’s a masterpiece, or am I insane for loving this game? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!