I try not to harp too much on the subject in my reviews, but I’m decidedly on the “Not Art” side of the infamous Are Games Art? debate that continues to rage on. Call me selfish or narrow-minded, but I’m more interested in whether something is fun and worth your money than whether it’s art; in fact, games that would really like you to consider them art tend to be pretty iffy games in my experience. Sorry guys, guess that means I’m out of the Games Journalists’ Club.
On the other hand, games like Transistor shake my viewpoint a little. It’s gorgeous, well-written and, unlike your usual artsy game, it’s fun. And now, after a stint on various platforms like Steam and PS4; now it’s on iOS. Let’s take another look.
Transistor remains the spiritual sequel to Supergiant’s previous title Bastion. You control Red, a singer who wields the titular technological sword against the monstrous Process. Said sword contains the spirit (?) of someone close to Red, and he’ll chime in regularly with tips and commentary on your progress. Going into the plot any further risks giving it away, so instead I’ll just say that Transistor is both linear and fairly short, averaging around 4-6 hours for a first playthrough.
That might sound like a condemnation, but it’s not, really. Transistor boasts fantastic graphics and sound along with a unique hybrid combat system. It also wraps up right around the time that you’d be getting over all of that, which is nice. Said combat is a cross between a real-time and turn-based system; Red can move around and battle with the Transistor like any other action-rpg, but she’s also capable of stopping time and planning out moves for more precise attacks. Proper use of the latter TURN() ability is the key to victory in later parts of the game where the Process creatures become more complex and dangerous.
The transition to iOS doesn’t really hurt the game at all in the gameplay department, largely because of how readily available TURN() is – the touch controls are fairly solid for what they are, but it doesn’t matter either way when you can pause combat to plan things out at your leisure.
There’s more to the game than that, of course. For instance, there’s loads of flavor spread all around the game, adding depth to what might otherwise be your typical cyberpunk setting. That depth also extends to your combat arsenal; you’re rewarded with snippets of flavor text for using the Transistor’s mutable abilities in ways you might not otherwise consider. For a game that really doesn’t last all that long, Transistor’s great at leaving players with a lot to think about after the fact.
Aesthetically, this is a mind-blowing game, and if you’ve only heard one or two things about Transistor this is probably something you already know. The graphics are great, of course, but the real highlight here is the sound design. In particular, the game itself recommends you play with headphones. It’s absolutely right. In the end, this is a game about well-delivered dialogue and memorable music as much as it is about beating up cyber-baddies with your techno-sword. One thing that’s worth noting is that Transistor would really prefer to be played on a more modern iDevice; expect performance problems on lower-end iPhones and iPads.
So yeah, Transistor is still a great game, even in a mobile state. It’s pretty, it’s thought-provoking, it’s fun and – most pleasantly – doesn’t outstay its welcome. I’d take one of these instead of a thousand walking simulat–er, I mean story-based exploration games. Much like Bastion, this game shines on iOS, so if you’ve got a relatively modern iDevice you owe it to yourself to give Transistor a shot.