Wot I Think: Transistor

Transistor is a phenomenal thing in places. Just tremendous. Sometimes overwhelming in its cleverness and subtlety. It had me on the verge of tears from both laughter and a creeping, ever-constricting stranglehold on my heart, and a talking sword (given life by the sultry tones of Bastion narrator Logan Cunningham) was responsible for most of it. This is a very different story from Bastion, arguably a much more personal one. It is, however, also a more natural progression from the latter’s painterly walk on sunshine than its dusky cyberpunk setting might suggest.

All that said, Transistor is a strong tale and a very good game. But it could’ve been much better. Here’s wot I think.

Transistor’s dual nature is a strange one. At many points it seems like this gentle walk through a cyberdystopian rose-gilded paradise, but it also feels rather rushed in places. Hurried and, as a result, less than the sum of its parts on paper, but – thanks to Supergiant’s knack for nailing little details – also more. After a somewhat slow start, the game breaks into a full-on sprint to the finish, and while there are some incredibly strong moments all throughout, the final third or so ends up a bit weak as a result.

It’s weird. I will unreservedly say that I really liked Transistor, but there’s more rough on this diamond than I was expecting. More untapped potential humming along almost silently, hoping that someone, anyone, will hear.

It all begins with an introduction to the titular Transistor. Main character and voiceless (for spoilery reasons) singer Red retrieves the electrically rippling blade from the body of a very close friend after the two were kinda almost (but not completely) murdered by mysterious forces. The blade hums to life at her touch, and her not-exactly-deceased friend speaks to her. The Transistor, then, really is the heart of this game. He’s part-character, part-narrator, and your only weapon of choice.

He is also the game’s soul.

As in Bastion, Cunningham turns in an amazing performance, but Transistor (the character) isn’t Rucks. The game’s early goings gave me that impression, but Transistor is much more… overtly emotionally involved in the proceedings. It’s almost funny, actually. One of the more powerfully, subtly vulnerable characters I’ve come across in games in quite some time is a sword, of all things. A weapon meant to pierce and kill, not falter and babble out heartbroken confessions in what it thinks are its final moments.

Without spoiling too much, the relationship between Transistor and Red (and no, I won’t say what sort of relationship it is) is the core of the game’s story, but it’s nothing terribly revolutionary. The way they communicate is really what makes it – how Red expresses herself despite her total inability to speak, especially. Body language involving the sword, ultra-clever use of message-board-style terminals, split-second decisions she makes. Red is a complex, interesting character whose personality is painted in thin, precise strokes. Quiet moments that reverberate like a Viking shout. Professionally she’s a singer, but that’s not her identity. She is action. She is fury. She is silence. The only thing left when everyone else is long gone.

Transistor and Red really are a duo, though. Both are, in their own ways, equally empowered. A mind and voice without a body, and a body and mind without a voice. And there’s a warmth underlying their interactions. Humanity that drips and gushes between the cracks of a cold, sterile world. As I watched these characters do their thing, my smiles were sweet, my frowns bitter. Transistor composed masterful folktronica melodies on my heartstrings. Well, most of the time, anyway.

I could write multiple articles dedicated to how Red and Transistor’s interactions are handled. I won’t, though. I’ll let you go discover that. We can talk about it again later, and be all like, “And then that one part…! And he said… I KNOW, RIGHT.” We will do this while sitting on a bed and consuming ice cream. Mandatory ice cream. Those are my terms.

Transistor’s overall story, too, is a rather traditional tale given power and life through exceedingly smart storytelling techniques and deceptive depth. It’s an enormous world – if not physically, then from a lore perspective – diced up and squeezed into exchanges, terminals, and abilities. The latter is especially interesting, as it’s one of the smarter marriages of story and gameplay I’ve ever seen in what is essentially an action-RPG.

Each ability is four things: an active attack, an upgrade for other abilities, a passive ability that augments Red’s base stats, and a character. You slowly unravel new information about each character by mixing and matching abilities, giving you a new incentive to vary things up even after you’ve settled into a comfortable, possibly boring plan of attack. Each character helps paint a portrait of a vibrant, culturally rich world – a sort of fusion of 1920s American spectacle and utopian cyberpunk futurism gone wrong – bound up in an endless web of conspiracy.

Ability combos, meanwhile, can range from perfectly practical to downright preposterous. For instance, let’s say I take my already heavy hitting upward strike as a base and then bake in a gooey, molten “crash” attack filling, which melts defenses – clearing the path for even more damage. Then let’s say I take my long-range bouncing energy ball attack and slot that into my upward strike’s other upgrade slot. So now this attack wreaks havoc on defenses and spreads to other enemies.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I once built a three-pronged ultra-long range attack that also turned baddies to my side in brief, five second bursts. Then I just ran around the outside perimeter of a combat zone making half the enemy horde wage bloody bit-hacking war against the other. If anyone ever noticed me, I just used another active ability to briefly turn invisible and scamper away. It felt good. It felt like being a little kid playing blocks, only I had all the blocks and I was using them to beat other children. Then they’d tell on me, and I’d beat up their parents with blocks too. It’s a strange, slightly disturbing metaphor, I’ll admit, but Transistor made it great fun and also I was a troubled child.

It’s an excellent system, and it all makes great sense within the context of the game’s world. The resulting battles are great fun too, albeit pretty much the only thing you “do” in the game. The combat system is an intriguing mixture of Bastion (or Diablo or what have you) style hack ‘n’ slash and turn-based role-player. The twist, however, is that you’re the only one who gets to stop time and take a “turn.” Functionally speaking, it’s a lot like the VATS battle system from Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, with the player queuing up as many attacks as they have action points and then unleashing them rapid-fire on baddies who move like they spilled molasses all over their shoes.

Unlike in Fallout, however, movement also factors here, so turns are one part positioning, one part offense, and one part “oh no I’m all out of turn juice help help help runnnnn.” Positioning isn’t as key as in, say, a true top-down turn-based RPG, but efficient movement and punching through high-tech cybernetic armor with good old fashioned backstabbing will give you a significant upper hand. Playing purely in real-time, meanwhile, is technically an option, but the game’s clearly not designed for it. Encounters just devolve into frantic dodging and button mashing, and you miss out on the glorious satisfaction of watching Red execute your plan (and, like, six enemies) in the blink of a suddenly bleeding eye.

To end the egregiously positive part of the review, Transistor is very good and you should absolutely buy it. As if it even needed to be said, it’s also utterly gorgeous both visually and sonically. Your eyes and ears are in for the grandest of treats (PLAY WITH HEADPHONES AND ALSO EYEPHONES IF YOU HAVE THOSE OR, INDEED, IF THEY EXIST), though I will say that I don’t think there were any musical moments quite as memorable as That One Part of Bastion. There is, however, an entire button dedicated to humming, and it’s delightful. Observe.

Right then, onto the portion where I pick Transistor apart for not being quite as good as it could’ve been.

So many elements of Transistor have the potential to be incredible, but they never quite get there. The story, while largely very nicely told, quickly careens into a powerful but somewhat unconvincing conclusion. Once the game gets going, it moves at a breakneck pace, and a few story and character dynamics don’t get quite enough room to breathe, resulting in weaker motivations all around. Also, a couple plot elements just kinda fall by the wayside as the game dashes toward a clever but ultimately somewhat anticlimactic final showdown.

Moreover, it often feels like the game is telling more than it’s showing, spoonfeeding us delicious morsels of this great world through character blurbs that – let’s face it – function more or less as glorified codexes. All we experience, meanwhile, is a version of this place that’s alternatively a series of battlezones and completely empty, with not even a single cybernetically enhanced tumbleweed ambling by. I understand why, given the story Transistor is telling, but it’d have been amazing to actually play one or two of those backstory segments – if only to briefly exist in a place that, frankly, seemed more interesting before it became a videogame level.

I’m still picking apart the world, the story, and its myriad meanings, though, and I think that’s an accomplishment within itself. Themes of power, change, media, and individuality course strongly throughout, but there are many narrative puzzle pieces to snap together, many dots to connect – some intentionally spaced, others clumsily separated. But maybe that’s what Supergiant wanted. To craft something that would sit with me a little longer than most games. If so, bravo. I still feel shortchanged on the sights I actually saw, but I can’t stay too upset with what I got.

Combat also falters both due to pacing woes and untapped potential. The former comes in the game’s third act, when a single, exceedingly dull enemy type takes center stage and basically serves as filler in the lead up to the story’s final moments. Encounter design just kind of… goes away, replaced by incredibly slight variations on the same thing over and over and over. It feels sloppy. Rushed.

And while Transistor’s fusion of real-time and turn-based ctrl+alt+biffery is brilliant, it’s mostly applied to encounters that rarely go beyond a base level of strategy. The biggest exception to this rule – at least, during your first playthrough, before unlocking the remixed New Game Plus-style Recursion mode – are challenges accessible from “backdoors” into a sort of beachside hub area. Here combat really shines, taking on an almost puzzle-like cadence with opportunities for both creative constraints and wild player expression. These more puzzle-like setups broke me out of the trance created by Transistor’s otherwise straightforward encounters, handing my brain something meaty to chew on. I just wish Supergiant had embraced that side of their own game a little more.

Transistor does technically let you customize your own difficulty on the fly with unlockable limiters that either buff enemies or make your stats go haywire, but they don’t really require a huge reprogramming of your core strategy, and they don’t change which specific enemy types you’re fighting. You just have to be a lot more careful when they’re in play. Recursion (aka New Game Plus, which I’ve made decent headway into but have yet to finish) varies up encounters pretty significantly and really spices things up, but I had to beat the whole game to unlock it. I wish there was a difficulty level in between, or at least the option to play with Recursion-style enemy layouts from the get-go.

That said, Recursion or not, Transistor doesn’t have all that many enemy types. There’s basic dude and laser dude and stompy dude and healer dude and dog dude and annoying satellite shield dude and grenade-lobbing egg dude and girl dude. I might’ve left out one or two, but beyond that you just come up against slightly better versions of those same enemies all throughout. They pick up new tricks as time goes on, but they reach their evolutionary zenith toward the middle of the game. After that, I was never really surprised. There were also a few boss fights, but they were pretty straightforward.

It should be noted, too, that I came across a surprising number of bugs and glitches during my playthrough. Maybe Supergiant has already swatted them all into electric booga-gloop for the final-final release, but I personally endured numerous full-stop crashes and a glitch where visuals wouldn’t load unless I alt-tabbed out of my game and back in. Oh, and at one (admittedly hilarious) point Red went rocketing off screen and into some mad background dimension where I could clomp all over the sides of buildings until I hit… nothing. The void. Ragnarok. A land where not even flimsy cardboard cutout programmer art dared to tread. Eventually I had to take a hit on progress and restart, because there was simply no way back from The Place Between Places.

Curious, I checked in with a couple friends who were also reviewing the game, and while they didn’t encounter quite as, er, colorful of a cast of issues as I did, they were plagued by multiple crashing bugs. So it wasn’t just my machine. At least, not entirely.

Other PC-related nitpicks are less severe. When Transistor isn’t glitching, it runs quite nicely, but I really wouldn’t recommend playing it with anything other than a controller. And even then, ability menus are pretty poorly designed just, like, for humans. The equip screen is a strangely arbitrary oil slick of a mess, entirely contingent on you selecting a non-equipped ability before you can check to see what abilities you do have equipped. It’s a bizarre little annoyance, but after multiple hours, it grates.

Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that a single playthrough of Transistor won’t take you long. My first run clocked in at around six hours, and I completed most challenges and unlocked every character profile. That said, I feel like it was a good length given that a) I actually like short games, and b) Transistor was already running out of steam by that point. Anything more would’ve been overstaying its welcome. Plus, Recursion varies things up enough that it’s worth another playthrough, especially given that there are some subtle story changes to sift through on top of all the re-calibrated monster mashing.

I do not believe Transistor is everything it could’ve been, but it’s still close enough that I won’t hesitate to recommend it to basically anybody. I critique because I love, and that second part is especially true in this case. Transistor’s got brains, heart, and a knack for always knowing just what to say and when to say it. And also, perhaps more importantly, it knows precisely when it’s better to say nothing at all.


  1. Shodex says:

    I want it. Ooh, I want it.

  2. trjp says:

    Noticing that this was due today I decided to revisit Bastion.

    Bastion is a game I love but it has a few flaws – flaws I’d ideally like to know aren’t repeated here but it seems they are?

    1 – it’s a gorgeous game but the graphics often “get in the way of the gameplay” (enemies which match background, too much ground clutter, it’s just “too busy” at times)

    2 – the upgrade systems in Bastion were many and complex – esp for what wasn’t the longest game in the universe – and the UI for them wasn’t exactly slick (understatement of the year!?)

    3 – even if you like the commentary (and I did) it sometimes you wish it would just STFU :)

    4 – some of the ‘waves’ challenges are just taking the piss – they will easily treble your playtime for nothing-like-a-commensurate reward IMO

    At it’s core it remains a lovely game but it could have been lovelier with just a BIT more focus on the ‘game’ and a bit less on the ‘drop dead gorgeous’

    From reading this – we have the same situation again?

    • Philomelle says:

      The upgrade system in Bastion was amazing precisely because it didn’t try to be a “focused” character progression system where “powering up” your character boiled down to keeping the difficulty level the same via making the character stronger whenever tougher enemies are introduced. That is an issue numerous action/RPGs suffered from since the dawn of time – leveling out difficulty via permanent power-ups in order to help the player progress without becoming more skilled.

      Bastion’s numerous upgrades were simply choices that allowed you to play the same game in many different ways, each one different from each other and consistently viable. It was a system that allowed you to choose how to play, but still required you to get better at the game as you progressed.

      I wish more games did that. To my memory, the only games that try it are Bastion and Diablo III (which does it in a very boring way).

      • GameCat says:

        “I wish more games did that. To my memory, the only games that try it are Bastion and Diablo III (which does it in a very boring way).”

        Play Dark Souls 1 & 2.

        • Philomelle says:

          Ahhh, I suppose Dark Souls does that! Although with various gear configurations rather than abilities.

          I do wish more games experimented specifically with abilities, though. Transistor is gorgeous in that regard. I beat it in 8 hours and had a different ability configuration in every single fight.

      • trjp says:

        The problem with the idea that “you can complete the game whatever you choose” approach is that it’s converse applies too – which is “All the upgrades and stuff are a waste of time because every possibility is equally valid”

        If there are options – I’d like them to mean something. Some parts of the game should require some options – or at least be a LOT easier with them.

        Otherwise you’re really just putting in ‘filler’

        • Philomelle says:

          I never said every configuration is optimal for every situation, I said every configuration is viable. Meaning you can win the game with any loadout in existence, although some make certain situations much easier.

          I’m sorry, but your complaint still reads like “I hate experimenting and want games to let me approach every situation by letting me press the same button in the exact same pattern over and over and over,” which is probably the most boring thing I have ever heard.

    • vivlo says:

      i just realize that i got a little disinterested in Bastion at the beginning of (what i think is) the last chapter, when you have to *SPOILER* go to the land of that guy who threatened you, and you begin to learn that the old narrator is *EVEN MORE SPOILER* a filthy manipulator who originated the war, destroying that late friend’s homeland, to which you must go and sack. That sad and unexpected twist drove me away of the game – i didn’t want it to happen, i wanted to rebuild the world in which i had been playing for a while with my new virtual friends, not be threatened by one and learn that an other is a bastard. Of course i don’t know how it all ends, so… but that twist indeed drove me unconsciously away from teh game ; it’s one of those cases where not playing the game feels like a lesser defeat than going to its end.

      Is there such a thing to fear in Transistor ?

      • lumenadducere says:

        I would highly recommend finishing Bastion if you can. In part because I think you may have misunderstood the role that Rucks plays (he isn’t forthcoming about who he is or what he’s done, but he also isn’t a filthy manipulator. And he certainly didn’t originate the war with the Ura), but also because the ending winds up playing out in a fairly satisfying way, all things considered. But of course, to each their own.

      • Rymdkejsaren says:

        You sound like one of those people who get upset at HBO when someone in Game of Thrones dies. A good story requires sacrifice. I imagine that Transistor will be more of the same so you should probably avoid it and stick with something safe.

        Unfortunately, all of the suggestions I can think of will only make me sound even more patronizing.

    • SageGaspar says:

      I loved the narrator in Bastion, but after a full game of that and a couple years of the internet echoing it, it was a bit tiresome for me in Transistor. From the beginning to the end, it’s a constant stream of narration. I wish they’d had a slightly bigger cast or made the sword a bit less talky.

      It would have helped a bit (and I hate to say this because it has nothing to do with the man himself) if they’d found a different voice actor at least.

  3. plsdeleteme says:

    With Bastion being one of my favorite games (despite all its flaws) I really had my doubts if I want to get this one. Thanks for clearing that one up!

  4. Laurentius says:

    Controller ? For real ? Can anyone confirm this ? I mean, there were similiar talk about Bastion as well but I didn’t have problem with beating the game with m+k whatsoever…

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      Lexx87 says:

      I really don’t get this – so many PC games are better with a controller it’s bizarre not having one as essential kit for your PC.

      • AngelTear says:

        But the controller is the symbol of the dumbed down Console scum that we PC master race hate, don’t you understand? It’s not about what is the best input method, it’s about race mastery.

        • Durkonkell says:

          Nooooo it isn’t. I have TRIED using controllers in the past and I just utterly suck at everything to do with them. I can’t think of a single game that’s supposed to be better with a controller that I’ve not been able to play and enjoy with keyboard and mouse. I’m just ten times more comfortable with them!

          I remember playing Borderlands 2 at the first Rezzed, and coming away with absolutely no idea what the game was like at all because they only had 360 controllers there. I spent half my time looking at the sky and the other half trying to at least shoot vaguely in the direction of the enemy while walking into walls.

          So yeah. Let people use the control method they’re most comfortable with, I say, be that controller or KB/M.

          • Christo4 says:

            I tried playing borderlands 2 only with the controller since it’s only PvE and it was my first fps with a controller.
            When you do it, it’s so obvious the amount of auto-aim needed for FPS’s to be good with a controller.

          • frightlever says:

            You actually prefer racing and platform games with M+K?

          • Shodex says:

            FPS games with controllers are a joke, they were considered shit for a very long time until. It was Halo: Combat Evolved that really put FPS games on consoles and standardized the control layout. But they weren’t better or on par with PC controls still, just actually manageable and fun. it’s fighting games, platforms, and basically any genre that finds it’s origins in an arcade machine are better with a controller.

            I use my 360 controller (I don’t own a 360, I just like the controller) just about as much as I use my mechanical keyboard and mouse with too many buttons.

        • Laurentius says:

          Geez, you are obnoxious, aren’t you ? Because that was exactly my question, right ? If controllers are best way for people to experience games on PC or they feel super comfortable switching inputs form game to game, that’s really super great. But this question bogs to down to being perfect gaming input device for ME and as such controler is not this thing. First I don’t have one, second I’m complelty not used to use one, third I’m too old to get frustrated by learning how to operate characters on screen by device i’m not used to while m+k have proven to be satisfactionary for my 20 years on gaming on PC. I played Bastion with m+k and didn’t have any problem with controls but if Transistor is different story that it’s not a game for me. I’m not objecting to people buying this game, playing it with controllers and enjoying it.

          PS. Yes, I will keep bringing up question about m+k controls in games I’m interested in so instead of coming with obnoxious comments better hit “block” button under my comment.

          • NathanH says:

            There seem to be quite a few people online who don’t understand that an adult can find learning a new control scheme that they’ve basically never used before extremely difficult and frustrating. Struggling with a game’s controls is really annoying and even though it might be in the long term worthwhile to overcome, I really can’t bring myself to overcome the controller hurdle either.

          • shaydeeadi says:

            How in 20 years of PC gaming have you never had a controller?

            Bastion was absolutely playable but sub-optimal on M+K, lots more fun on a controller. So if you enjoyed Bastion this should be fine.

          • dr. fondles says:

            You took that comment far too seriously, have some chips and hummus my friend

          • Zorn says:

            There is only one way, only thing to do: Wir mussen die Konsoletarden ausrotten!

      • Christo4 says:

        Other than the odd third person like dark souls (which imo really is better on controller) i have found most other games in no such need for one, or worked just as well with M+Kb

        • Continuity says:

          I think that’s very much down to what games you’re playing, IMO there are some that simply demand a controller e.g. super meatboy, dark souls, spelunky, brothers – a tale of two sons and any racing game or situation that requires dual analogue input e.g. flying helicopters in something like arma 2.

          For the most part you can get by without a controller, but you will definitely miss out on some great games, and you will definitely have sub-par experiences with others.

          • aoanla says:

            I was with you until you said Super Meat Boy and Spelunky were games that “demand” a controller. I assure you that I’ve had a very good time with both of them using the keyboard only…

      • SuddenSight says:

        It is an audience limitation thing, though. I recently bought a controller for the first time in my life, and I must admit it is a nice input method for many games. I have since played games such as Guacamelee, Binding of Isaac (required a key mapper), and Megabyte Punch with controller. I even seek out games that use controller specifically because it is a nice, comfortable input method that is easy to use while lounging in bed or on the couch (my preferred method of video game playing, currently).

        That said, until recently I would avoid games that were definitely controller-focused (though most games are *fine* with M&K, to be honest).

        Heck, before I finally bothered to buy a mouse, I used to seek out games that were keyboard only (platformers ahoy!) because all I had was my laptop touchpad, that did not work at all well for timely mouse inputs.

        However, from a game design perspective I must say too much controller focus is deplorable. Almost any game that plays well with a controller plays at least decently with M+K. Those include Guacamelee, Megabyte Punch, Skullgirls, Super Meat Boy, and probably more. All of these games strongly recommend controllers, and all of them are perfectly playable with just a keyboard.

        • Ich Will says:

          M+K works fine if you only need one analogue input – games which require 2 cannot be played well (and of course some games which need one and the mouse is just bad for, like race sims) and that is just a physical limitation of a keyboard; it’s digital so one of your hands is tied to a digital only device.

          • SuddenSight says:

            Hmm… Sometimes true?

            The thing is, 8 directional input is easily done with 4 direction keys, and that’s enough for many games. Most “twin stick shooter” type games work nicely with this.

            Just about every FPS, the original Bastion (which I beat with M+K), every top-down twinstick I’ve ever played, and probably more are nice using arrow keys/WASD for movement and mouse for aiming/shooting.

            Heck, Magicka even uses the mouse for both movement and aiming and I feel it works very well indeed.

            Which isn’t to say some games aren’t *better* with controller, just that never bothering to consider how your game might play using a different control scheme is unnecessarily limiting.

          • Ich Will says:

            Oh I agree, but when I refer to digital, I mean 8 directions. Plenty of games as you say work fine, but plenty are borked by the limitation dramatically changing the balance of the game. If you have a diablo style game which allows you to move with the keyboard, let go of the mouse and attempt to play, you’ll quickly realise games which need analogue, need analogue and attempting to play without is just the worst.

      • Rizlar says:

        I use a controller regularly, but Transistor’s combat looks like it’s much better suited to a keyboard and mouse. So it’s surprising to hear that controller is heavily recommended.

      • Sweetz says:

        Yup, any game where movement is more important than precision aiming is more natural with a gamepad, period. That means stuff like Batman, Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider, etc.

        It’s weird to me that there are PC gamers out there that will spend $1000 more than they need to in order to get absolutely top tier hardware, which at the end of the day runs games maybe 5-10% better than the next level of hardware down, yet will then balk at the notion of buying a $40 gamepad, which makes for a far, far greater improvement to the game experience.

        As far as not being able to learn a new control scheme – oh please. The same people who complain about console games for being “dumbed down” for the masses are now apparently saying they don’t have the mental capacity to learn how to wrangle a two sticks and a couple buttons designed for those same masses?

        • ansionnach says:

          Think I’m probably better at Street Fighter with the keyboard than a Saturn pad or DC arcade stick since I played so much DOS SSF2T. Think it’s actually more precise, unless you want to do a 720 degree rotation. Do find controllers suit console-lead games better but this is possibly because that’s what they were designed for and the port may not have been that good. More inclined to use a controller just so I can sit back on the couch and give the mouse some rest!

        • aoanla says:

          No, they’re saying that, without extensive experience of any control scheme, using it will be awkward (at least at first) compared to control schemes you’re used to.

          I’ve only intermittently used controllers, and I find them very awkward to use simply because I don’t have the muscle memory or experience to find them natural. (The last time I spent any significant time using a “controller” for every game was when I had an Amiga, and that was when “controller” = “single stick joystick”, so these two-handed multipad and button modern devices really don’t map onto that experience.) As a result, I find playing games that require controllers also be to be awkward, as I’m “learning” the controller itself as much as the game.
          (I suspect this is one reason why I bounced off Rogue Legacy as much as I did, since I did give it a good try with a controller, and just found it frustrating. Using the keyboard felt much more natural to me, simply because I’m much more used to it.)

        • AndiK says:

          Now here’s an idea:

          Some way to use an analogue stick in one hand for movement — and the mouse in the other to aim! I’m thinking of some kind of trackball shape with a stick instead of a trackball. And a real, actual mouse, not some kind of steam controller pad thingy.

    • skyturnedred says:

      TotalBiscuit actually recommended mouse+keyboard for this game, while saying it works fine with a controller too.

    • Nova says:

      Recommending controllers over M+K is something RPS is doing for quite some time now. Which is really weird considering they’re a PC-only site.

      • Tiax says:

        What the hell does that even mean.

      • UncleLou says:

        That’s not weird at all, because different input methods, and picking the right tool for the job, have always been a staple of PC gaming. I had joysticks and gamepads for my PCs before I ever played on any console (Atari VCS notwithstanding).

        It’s a comparatively recent thing – maybe in some sort of attempt to establish a border between PC and console gaming or gamers – that there is a vocal “m/kb” ideology.

        Now don’t get me wrong, I mostly prefer m/kb as well, and I have no problem with people asking for decent m/kb support, but: gamepads aren’t a “console thing”. That’s a point of view that negates the rich history of PC gaming.

    • Wobblit says:

      Once you enable the instant ability option M+K works better, in my opinion.

      I started using M+K, and hated having to switch the active ability to fire. I swapped to a controller, but ran into issues where auto-targeting refused to line up my penetrating shots as it locked onto something else.
      After this I discovered the instant ability option (Thanks RPS review!) and M+K feels like the best option now.

      You’ll end up pointing at things with your cursor and just hitting your 1-4 keybinds to fire your 4 abilities. Using Jaunt() to dash around accurately is so much easier and as you just point at the enemy you want to fire at you’ll never really miss any shots.

      Running around outside of Turn() (the planning phase) might feel a bit wonky with M+K, but I get around that by dashing around until Turn() is ready again.

  5. blobb says:

    More like transiSNORE.

    Am I right?

  6. J Arcane says:

    I honestly found the narrator in Bastion to be so obscenely irritating that between it and the edgeless world and archaic isometric movement, I couldn’t even stand to finish the demo.

    Is Transistor as relentlessly and persistently banal and intrusive, and are there still sections that entail traversing narrow passages lined on either side with a bottomless void in which you will inevitable fall because left is right and down is up?

    • blobb says:

      But it’s quirky and indie and has fancy art, which makes it good. Don’t you understand?

  7. Heimmrich says:

    I really don’t think it’s just about being “drop-dead-gorgeous”. Bastion plays on its strenghts, which is not so much being pretty, but creating a really powerful atmosphere (which being beautiful helps, but doesn’t pull it off by itself). I hope Transistor can make me feel as different as Bastion did.

  8. Demiath says:

    Bastion as a whole left me curiously cold, and I seem to be just about the only person on the planet who wanted that damn narrator to shut the f**k up once in a while. Transistor looks cool but it also seems to be more of the same.

    • Geebs says:

      You’re not the only one; I found it strangely charmless too. I also thought the gameplay was annoyingly floaty, spammy and lacking in any sense of impact. Also all of the characters were jerks.

      • newc0253 says:

        I didn’t even get past the first level. I don’t doubt it was pretty and – hell, who knows? – maybe even well-written but it took me only a few minutes to decide it wasn’t my kinda game.

    • Kefren says:

      Bastion is one of those games I bought because of the good reviews. I played through the whole game and hardly enjoyed any of it. OR rather, most of it was just average-feeling. I could see why people might like it, but it never did anything for me, and I wished I’d played something else instead. The music and colours were my favourite parts, not the game itself.

      • SkittleDiddler says:

        Bastion was better as a showcase of creative artwork than it was as an actual video game, something that’s becoming increasingly common with too many releases these days.

    • Premium User Badge

      FhnuZoag says:

      I liked Transistor a lot more than Bastion.

  9. Prolar Bear says:

    “a place that, frankly, seemed even more interesting before it became a videogame level”

    BInfinite, is that you?

    Still, this sounds very enticing.

  10. amateurviking says:


  11. ansionnach says:

    The difficulty sounds like quite an issue to me. Prefer to choose a challenging one to begin with as I probably won’t play through a game multiple times (meaning unlockable difficulty spoils the game). A game that’s quite combat-focused should be balanced so that players need to know and use the game’s systems and strategies in order to survive. It’s become common for this “game” bit to be irrelevant, making the experience a virtual trudge from start to finish and requiring little skill from the player to succeed. Sounds like the game was simply released without any difficulty balancing and very little in the way of enemies. Completely different game, but Dragon Age 2 suffered from the same thing and people were less forgiving…

    • Ich Will says:

      DA2 suffered from many more issues as well and was put through the EA hype engine and released at full AAA price with day 2 (or 3) DLC.

      • ansionnach says:

        Yes, that’s right. Since I played it anyway I just remember the awfully unbalanced Nightmare difficulty mode was the worst thing about it! My complaint is a reasonably general one, sadly. It was never my intention to single this game out for it. Maybe when other factors indicate that a game’s a bit rough around the edges and possibly rushed there’s hope that the absence of challenge was not necessarily by design; that each encounter should in theory engage the player rather than just waste their time with more drudgery.

        The fact is that I’m probably not going to bother playing games that left the challenge out even if I am attracted by their other qualities. Even though DA2 Nightmare could swing between ridiculously easy and piss-takingly difficult (especially with so many cheap waves descending on top of you and poor control over the party) I did enjoy the challenge up until the ending made me wonder why I bothered. As you said there were other issues with DA2, like the pay-to-win DLC that effectively ruins the game.

  12. Gap Gen says:

    Huh, this snuck up on me.

    Also, I agree to those terms. You and your beds.

    EDIT: Oh, and the OST is also out: link to supergiantgames.bandcamp.com

    • Znea says:

      Woo, thank you.

      I shall be purchasing Transistor when I have some time to play it, but the OST was always going to be a day one purchase for me.

      • Gap Gen says:

        You can buy both on Steam at the same time, btw. It’s also on Spotify.

  13. Jason Moyer says:

    Bastion was a game that I either purchased cheap or in a bundle somewhere (can’t remember) and then randomly installed at about the same time I discovered how wonderful the Ys games are. It’s basically a westernized Ys-like game, and I love it to death. I’ve been too busy using various sales as an excuse to sink cash into games I’ll probably never play to pre-order this, but it’s at the top of my wishlist.

  14. shaydeeadi says:

    6 hours? Sounds like a game I’ll finish!

    I adored Bastion and what I’ve seen of Transistor looks different enough to tempt me. I wasn’t going to get any new games this month, oh well….

  15. K33L3R says:

    Played about an hour so far, personally I’m enjoying it more than most of the games I’ve brought this year
    soundtrack is stunningly good, so good I’m considering getting the OST

    • Vandelay says:

      I was just skimming through here to see if anyone else had actually played the game and I had go all the way to the last comment to find it!

      It really is beautiful to look at and listen to, which is enough to make me want to keep playing, but I am not convinced by the gameplay just yet. The combat sounded like it would be great, but it is already feeling rather repetitive only 40-odd minutes into the game. Jaunt behind enemies, then crash, crash, crash. Run around to recharge your freeze time ability and repeat. That seems to be the main tactic. You mix it up by using a couple of your other abilities in there too, but for the most part there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly tactical about it. The couple of upgrades I’ve unlocked change the abilities a bit, but it doesn’t change the actual combat very much. Hopefully this will diversify later on, but it sounds as if the game doesn’t present much of challenge that requires you to think more about your moves.

      Also, word of warning, I had some problems getting the game to run initially, which other people on the Steam forum had too. It was crashing with the standard Windows “Transistor is not working” error as boots. I had to correct this by copying a folder in the game directory called “content” into the “x86” folder, also in the directory. The exe file in the x86 folder would then work, but it will not load from Steam. I also seem to have a cursor that flickers a lot, which is quite frustrating. On the whole, it seems to be a bit of an unstable release, so might be worth waiting on a patch.

  16. Michael Fogg says:


    I officially place it on the list of THE BEST BUTTONS IN GAMES at place 3, right after, 1) the ‘Hey Stampede, how ’bout a poem’ button from Interstate 76, and 2) the Bible-quoting button from that one Call of Juarez game.

    • Blackcompany says:

      So what you’re saying is that its up there with the ‘wipe your mask’ button from Metro: LL. See, there were aspects of that game I liked.

      • jonahcutter says:

        I’ll toss the F key from Cargo Commander into the mix. It’s simple, but oh so evocative.

        It’s one of the few times I’ve actually enjoyed hammering the F key in a game.

        • Michael Fogg says:

          What does it do? Treat us to some more lines from John St. John presumably?

          • SuddenSight says:

            It recites the most beloved word in the English language.

    • grom.5 says:

      I want to add the “Open your futuristic armor to smoke while under cover and under heavy fire” from Vanquish.

      And I remember one to howl in Okami. Frankly, any games from Platinum Games/Clover have this kind of marvel ^^

    • Philomelle says:

      I’m deeply disappointed that the soundtrack didn’t come with two copies of every track, the basic version and the hum version. Red actually hums along with the background music, so her hums change depending on the area.

      Also, flourishing through the “poppy fields” was more fun than it should’ve been.

  17. Nevard says:

    Transistor is a beautiful game with a great soundtrack, interesting mechanics and fun battles.

    Until the last chapter, where it kind of weakly drops everything and gives up.
    I’m pretty sure Transistor was SUPPOSED to be longer, for reasons I won’t reveal because spoilers. The ending boss fight sort of comes out of nowhere, especially certain events surround it, and does not provide a satisfying conclusion. The plot poses many questions, and not only does the ending not answer them it actually just adds a few more.

    I hate when a good game is ruined by a bad ending, but the end is the part that’s supposed to be the payoff for everything you’ve done prior, and is the part that sticks with you longest.

    Bastion is one of my favourite games of all time. The last level & conclusion of Bastion are a moment I’d hold up as one of the ones that justify gaming as a storytelling medium, doing things that print or film could not. Transistor does not do this, and unlike Bastion’s neat little ball of tied plot strings all it leaves you with is confusion.

    This could have been one of my favourite games too… if it had been finished.
    I’d still recommend people buy it but I’d maybe just ask them to stop playing when they’re almost at the end and make up their own conclusion. It would be more satisfying than what is there.

  18. watsonscarmene says:

    I’m so getting this on Steam :D


  19. DrManhatten says:

    Well sounded all good then I read the word controller and that was it. Goodbye transistor! Not that I liked Bastion that much found it pretty much overrated frankly.

    • Ditocoaf says:

      I played with KB+M. I think it worked out great, I can’t even imagine what it’d be like to play this with a controller. I was really surprised to see RPS recommend that. It’s isometric, so 8-direction WASD was perfect for navigating casually, and during the turn-based sections I found the preciseness of click-to-move to be helpful and important.

      So feel free to ignore RPS’s recommendation for that. Nathan is just trying to prop up the gaming peripheral industry by getting you to shell out more money for gear you don’t need! (I’m joking. He probably just played it with the controller first, and this is one of those things where the thing you’re used to is what feels best.)

  20. bill says:

    Is a Controller recommended because it has crap KB&M controls?

    Because Bastion had pretty good KB&M controls and this looked similar.
    I have no problem using a controller, that’s what PCs are for, but I was just surprised to see one recommended.

  21. K33L3R says:

    Played quite a few hours now, still enjoying it.

    combat can be spammed but its a incredibly inefficient way of playing the game, plus mix and matching each ability as active, upgrade and passive lets you adopt new tactics and unlocks more backstory. I’m perfectly happy with it

    personal experience says wait a few for more patch’s, it has issues. Some have been fixed already but a few of mine still persist, i also had to check the DPI scaling option in the compatibility settings (either on or off, can’t remember) otherwise the game was off-centre on my tv
    nothing game breaking through

  22. Sunjammer says:

    I won’t say I hated it, but I’m not getting any pleasure from it. I think the combat is uniform and dull, even when mixing up, and I just don’t care about the story at all. It’s still gorgeous and sounds wonderful, but that doesn’t carry it for me.

    The thing that bothers me the most about the combat, I think, is the notion of the pseudo-turn: In turn based games, you are strong when it’s your turn, which you use to prepare for when it’s not your turn. In Transistor, you’re *crippled* when it’s not your turn. It’s the same principle, but I find it, personally, more satisfying to have a full tip of the balance in a traditional turn based fashion than this half-measure, where I feel like the game is just constantly trying to annoy me into losing.

    Yeah, not a fan. I’m glad others are enjoying it though.

  23. RUN msdos.exe -DMC says:

    “And even then, ability menus are pretty poorly designed just, like, for humans”
    I can’t really make heads or tails of this sentence either. Which seems deliciously ironic. Design can be a hard thing. Even within paragraphs.