Thursday, November 1

Review: Transistor [Nintendo Switch eShop]

Throwing players into the action without much orientation and then revealing the underlying story slowly over the course of a game can be a risky move since it can be disorienting. In the case of a game like Transistor, a cyberpunk-y action RPG set in an absolutely gorgeous hand-drawn future, it can certainly work if you roll with it. In many ways similar to the brilliant Bastion (no surprise, it’s by the same developer) an ever-present narrator helps you through things and explains what has happened and is happening as you go… just in this case the voice happens to be coming from your massive sword.

Playing as a character named Red, who was a singer but has lost her voice (and apparently her lover) at the hands of the Process, your goal in the game appears to be roughly equal parts saving the city from being taken over and a measure of revenge. The really engaging part of the game is all of the varied combat along the way and the enhancements you’ll slowly acquire that will allow you to cater to your personal sense of style. Your sword is able to acquire new functions from people who have fallen, whether foes or people terminated by the Process. You can then map these functions to each of your face buttons, some representing direct attacks and others giving you special moves or abilities you can use more passively.

Some of these functions can then be further enhanced with modifiers that you’ll need to experiment with in order to understand their full effect. On top of the upgrades and experimentation you’re able to engage in combat in real-time, which can get quite chaotic, or you can periodically pause things and work more strategically, plotting out movements and attacks and then executing them. This combination of various upgrade paths and ways to execute combat make the action in the game very intense and engaging, but it can also be challenging as taking too much damage will then cripple specific abilities and force you to dig down and finish the battle a skill or two down.

In terms of disappointments I’d say the only big letdown is that the experience isn’t a terribly long one. Outside of the story you’ll be able to extend your enjoyment by challenging yourself in the Sandbox, which is essentially a challenge mode that will provide you with a variety of scenarios to contend with, but which also serve to help you better understand your capabilities and play more effectively. You’ll also be able to play through again in a New Game + which will no doubt up the challenge further.

Between the somewhat different way that its story and details reveal themselves, the terrific music and visuals, and the custom-catered abilities you’ll use in challenging combat Transistor is a satisfying cyberpunk romp. No matter how powerful you may feel the Process continues to send new enemies and scenarios at you so you’ll need to experiment and adapt, keeping everything engaging throughout. While the story feels like it’s over a bit too soon it’s a satisfying ride and if you want even more challenging combat you then always have the Sandbox and New Game + to indulge in.

Score: 9

  • User-configured abilities and skill combinations lead to a wide variety of combat options and flow
  • Looks and sounds absolutely fantastic
  • The way the story is conveyed as you work through it by your sword’s narration is creative and different

  • It can be a bit overwhelming trying to understand everything being thrown at you at first
  • The main story is over after a handful of hours