Nostalgia Review: Transistor

Image Credit: Samaneh Sadeghi Marasht

Liam Ferguson fondly reviews an old favourite by Supergiant Games

With the recent success of Supergiant Games’ newest front, Hades, I thought it apt to revisit my personal favourite from the developer, 2014’s Transistor. The game centres around Red, a mute singer who has lost her voice following an attempt on her life that leaves her boyfriend trapped inside a sword known as the Transistor. The player is met with consistent narration from the sword they wield as they traverse a beautifully rendered cyberpunk city known as Cloudbank to enact revenge against those who tried to kill Red.

The gameplay is astounding, blending traditional elements of a top down beat ‘em up game similar to Supergiant’s previous work, Bastion, with a time stopping mechanic that allows the player to plan out their movements as if it were a real-time strategy game. Stopping time to plan out your turn and see how the chain of attacks succeeds, or fails, brings a never-ending amount of satisfaction. You essentially have four lives, with an ability disappearing whenever your health bar depletes (which takes two checkpoints to regenerate). This adds to the strategic elements of the game, as you may have to plan for working without an ability you rely on if you mess up a turn. Transistor urges you to mix and match these abilities together, as different combinations allow you to expand the lore of the world and its characters, building upon Red’s backstory. This time stopping mechanic, paired with the means to add a deluge of abilities to existing ones, as well as limiters to enhance the difficulty of gameplay, make for a riveting experience. Even years after my original playthrough, it was interesting as ever. There is also a decent range of enemy types with the ones you become familiar with, levelling up in rank themselves and posing new threats to you every few levels. The boss fights are also quite varied from your standard robots to a giant worm that you have to climb inside of to defeat.

Additionally, it wouldn’t be a Supergiant game without an impeccable soundtrack. As has become the standard with their work, Darren Korb scored Transistor, and as usual, he outdid himself. As the protagonist is a singer who lost her voice, it is only natural that the game is accelerated through the use of music. Whether it’s subtly in the background to support the dialogue, a cutscene told entirely through song, or the final credits sequence, the score of Transistor brings the game to life completely. Regardless of it using pure instrumentals or vocals from Ashley Barrett, an immense amount of emotion is consistently displayed via music. The soundtrack is enough to transport me back to a simpler time and makes the experience of replaying the game so much more enjoyable, really contributing to the memory of my playing it the first time around.

Visually, the game is also astounding with the wonderfully rendered Cloudbank serving as a perfect backdrop to the game’s story. Buildings, posters, and general environmental design never waivers, with each area feeling distinct from the last, while never clashing against the overall aesthetic. The cutscenes are all done through 2D drawings which add to the stylistic art direction, and these scenes really stuck with me the first time around, further adding to my nostalgic playthrough. The art style itself even shifts in certain sequences, at one point emulating that of an ancient Greek vase for example. Every nook and cranny is eye-catching enough to make you explore it, and while certain character models themselves look a little stilted at times, there’s no denying the level of polish put into the environments and how they’re used to bring the game’s narrative to fruition.

The voice acting and dialogue within the game are similarly brilliant, as is also typical of Supergiant’s work. The soothing narration from the titular Transistor you carry at all times completely aides the silent protagonist. Whether he’s providing exposition, cracking jokes, or delving into more serious topics, the impeccable voice work from Logan Cunningham bolsters the story forward and helps you believe in the world and narrative presented. This voice work, alongside well-rounded dialogue and top-notch environmental storytelling creates an unforgettable experience with a bitter-sweet, cathartic ending.

All in all, Transistor is incredible. The team at Supergiant take you on a meticulously crafted narrative adventure with rewarding, strategic combat and gorgeous, luscious art design to boot. Incorporating an open sandbox area with various challenges to complete and a New Game Plus that awards you with more lore, the game gives you plenty of reasons to replay. It took me about four or five hours to play through the game again for this review and even though I’ve played it a few times at this point every beat still hits just as hard.