Have You Played… Transistor?

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

The mission statement of Supergiant, the developers behind Bastion, Pyre and Transistor [official site], is “to make games that spark your imagination like the games you played as a kid.” They’ve got a knack for doing just that.

Not that I’d have understood what Transistor was as a kid. The game plays with some rather esoteric ideas concerning culture, value, identity and the nature of reality. They’re all delivered via the dulcet tones of Logan Cunningham, who inhabits the titular Transistor. Ostensibly and mechanically, the Transistor is a sword – but it’s more than that. Exactly what, I’m still not sure.

The combat system is as clever as its story, featuring a blend of real-time and turn-based fighting. The real joy of it lay in tinkering with your ‘functions’, each of which could be programmed with a different combination of elements to create custom abilities. It rewarded experimentation in a way that most games aim for but fall short of.

And the music! It might not have been as consistently brilliant as the score in Bastion, but nothing composed by mortals ever will be. Transistor was always going to be Darren Korb’s difficult second album, and it still might be my second favourite soundtrack in all of gaming.

27 Comments

  1. Towerxvi says:

    I really wanted to like transistor. But the combat really killed the pacing, and I didn’t enjoy it much at all- it wanted to be a sort of turn-based/realtime hybrid but honestly the realtime part ended up feeling entirely superfluous to me.

    Also, I really liked the tone set and the art direction, but came out not really caring much for the actual plot, nor feeling like I knew all that much about the characters. I feel like, when finishing a story, my predominant though shouldn’t be “well what was the point of all this, then?” The main character could have spent the entire game napping at home and I don’t think anything of consequence would have changed.

    • Rizlar says:

      Yeah pretty much. It sparked the imagination in the sense that I tried to imagine a much better game and work out what the whole thing was supposed to be saying. It felt extremely confused, resulting in an extremely disappointing ending.

      I loved it despite the major shortcomings, there is a lot to love. Had a piece of Transistor artwork as my phone background for ages. And at least it tried something different. But it’s not very good.

    • Fade2Gray says:

      Glad I’m not alone. So many fans and critics came away from that game gushing but, by the end, I just felt indifferent to it. It was actually kind of an odd experience because I could see a lot of care went into it and there were plenty of moments that promised a huge amount of potential and emotional payoff, but none of it actually connected for me.

  2. StAUG says:

    Bastions little brother.

    I liked it.

  3. digital_sneeze says:

    I really didn’t like it. I couldn’t wait to finish the game and get it over and done with, because I paid for it and felt I needed to get my money’s worth. I love arty games but only if they really commit to the art side of it, but Transistor felt like an awkward and unfinished middle ground between functional and artistic. Felt the same about Bastion for the most part, but I never finished that one. If one good thing came out of those two games it’s how much I love rallying against them in a world where they’re largely considered modern classics. It’s good to vent.

  4. Jovian09 says:

    I loved this game. The combat systems clicked just fine for me, offering a fun balance of planning, tactics and just scramling for your life. I found the story genuinely engaging and moving. The soundtrack, as well as being beautiful, pushed the pacing and atmosphere to perfection. Combining that with the utterly unique art style made it one of the most memorable games for me in recent years.

    • Daymare says:

      I’m on the same boat, except that for me the story ended at what felt like the first quarter or third of the game.

      I also really didn’t gel with Bastion.

  5. LTK says:

    I wasn’t entirely on board with the way they left the nature of Transistor’s world up in the air, but the combat system was inventive and really interesting and I enjoyed it a lot. The merging of turn-based and real-time combat was perhaps a bit awkward but I still had a great time combining functions and tearing through enemies with tactics and cunning.

    The soundtrack may not have been as good as Bastion overall but superceded it in vocal performance at least. And it has a button that lets Red hum along with the music!

  6. Premium User Badge

    calcifer says:

    Loved it. The only Supergiant game that I played not once, not twice, not even thrice, but 4 times. Everything from worldbuilding and story to the mechanics of combat felt perfect to me.

  7. TychoCelchuuu says:

    I thought this was fantastic. Even better than Bastion, which I already enjoyed quite a bit. The combat really worked for me, the world design was tremendous, and the soundtrack was great. I liked the plot and the characters too. I really ought to get around to playing their latest game, seeing as I’ve enjoyed all their other games.

  8. Nevard says:

    I thought this game was alright, but not as good as Bastion.
    Really felt like there was supposed to be another act just before the final one that got cut, and the game felt disjointed in parts and rushed in others as a result.
    Storylines that seemed to be building suddenly ended in an anticlimax, some other things that were set up never came to anything, and also the final act only had one kind of enemy.

  9. cardigait says:

    Loved it, much more than Bastion.
    Great atmosphere, great music, pleasant mechanics.

  10. Freud says:

    I started, found it boring and stopped. I guess when you have a huge backlog you can afford to treat games you bought on sale as demos.

    There was something about the combat that just felt more cumbersome than fun or challenging and since the entire game seemed to be combat with some minimalist story telling I gave up.

  11. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Loved the setting, the aesthetic, the music but the gameplay (the combat) was no fun for me. Had to quit shortly after the first boss.
    I liked the combat in Bastion way better.

  12. Banks says:

    I really liked it. It’s one of the very few games I wish it was longer.

  13. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    Left me lukewarm. The combat system kind of didn’t do either thing well enough. I think it needed more stuff you could do in the realtime combat while waiting for the bar to refill – even if you didn’t complete empty it (IIRC that deactivated all abilities) you’d often just end up running away until the next timefreeze became possible.

    Also, the bit just before the end where you walk down long, empty corridors while a boring man talks at you didn’t help.

  14. LW says:

    Bastion and Transistor seem like a pair where the first one you play is the best, and the other’s not quite as good. Both lovely games, mind.

    But Transistor’s real-time combat was basically just running away until you could use the turn-based bit again. Not very satisfying.

  15. GeoX says:

    I loved Bastion, but I just found this dull. The combat was unsatisfying, and the story never gripped me–though I’ll admit I kind of just drifted away from it at some point, so I must allow that it might’ve improved had I given it a chance.

  16. dethtoll says:

    I wish there was more to the combat, but everything else was brilliantly realized.

  17. second_hand_virgin says:

    still in love with it, one of the best suicide letters ever written in any medium

  18. Stargazer86 says:

    I quite enjoyed Bastion but just couldn’t get on board with Transistor. Something about it just put me off the first few minutes in.

  19. baud001 says:

    Enjoyed the music and art, the gameplay was serviceable with the interesting feature of building your deck with your powers; the story was forgettable.

  20. CrivenS says:

    Loved it! Also loved Bastion, haven’t made the jump and bought Pyre yet but it is only a matter of time.

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    Gassalasca says:

    Definitely preferred it to Bastion.
    I’ve yet to play Pyre though…

  22. LuNatic says:

    I’ve never played Transistor, but I love the soundtrack and listen to it on a regular basis.

  23. Yellow Devil says:

    I played it, but never got a chance to finish it. I love the artwork and the music. The combat was good enough for me, I don’t feel like dealing with anything too complex. The story was ok, I felt there was an incredible amount of world building without enough payoff. But I’ll have to redownload it and play it all the way through to get a better idea.

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