There’s plenty of merit to interjecting a much more grand storyline into a relatively simple game. Being able to make players care about what they’re doing for greater reasons than “move the pretty blocks” makes the experience compelling and relatable instead of just a time sink. This is why no one has “fond memories” of playing Snood, just the realization that they put hours into nothing and got back some enjoyment but not anything concrete. But you have to pick and choose your implementation wisely, because, otherwise, you’re left with a lack of cohesion: that is to say, it feels like you’re doing two totally different stories at the same time.
Transcripted is the story of a scientist/lab technician named Adam, who is snarky, cynical and, at the start of the game, basically disillusioned about his work. However, a frantic voice email from his boss his confirmed that whatever it is they’re currently researching, be it manmade or alien, is far, far more important than punching out of work on time. Adam needs to figure out what is going on with this pathogen and how they can cure it, because it’s currently spreading and the big pharma people only want treatment; curing makes them no money. So, assisted by an AI that makes pleasant, deadpan commentary, Adam deep-dives into the world of fighting disease in order to race against the clock and help humanity on a grand scale.
Transcripted plays in a truly unique and engaging manner, combining a 2D, full movement shmup with a match-3 sequence. Essentially, you are the ship that’s been injected into this sample, and you’re trying to unravel the not-DNA (so is that RNA? I failed biology) in order to find out what makes this thing tick and how to vaccinate against it. The sample sends different kinds of microbes after you, some that merely float along, some that shoot at you and others that are massive, “boss” fights. Additionally, there’s an undulating strand of chemical makeup that is the core of each stage: create enough reactions in the strand to finish your analysis and beat the stage. Doing this means shooting the microbes so that they drop different colored building blocks (red, green and blue) and then shooting them into the strand to make chain reactions. It’s very similar to how things play out in Sparkle 2, but on a sci-fi scale that’s also much more intense.
I actually really enjoyed the shooting and the way the ship was handled. You can pick up points from each stage through completion, doing long-distance success shots and generally being agile. The points then upgrade your ship, and every upgrade, from extra health to being able to shoot longer before resting your cannons, felt like a game changer. It was important to me to try and find some balance as I went into Transcripted, so I appreciate the ability to adjust the difficulty on two different fronts: one for the shooting and one for the match 3. This is incredibly interesting, and I loved the idea of being able to max out the strength and tenacity of the attacking microbes while, in the same swing, simplifying the match 3, especially because that sometimes felt like a bit of a pain in the ass.
When you pick up one of the building blocks necessary for the match 3, the whole game changes. Microbes stop attacking you, but you also slow to a crawl and have a window of only seconds to fire off the block into the information strand. Miss and you just add more work to the analysis. The idea, as far as I can tell, is to make it both frustrating and rewarding to try and make these matches under assault, but it didn’t always come across that way. There were times when the whole process felt super annoying, especially when you realize that multiple blocks will “react” to each other if they’re in proximity and then self-destruct. So if you successfully take out a swarm of microbes and they all drop blocks, you’ll have less than two seconds to grab one and figure out what you can do with it. In that sense, I can grudgingly appreciate the fact that Transcripted can be humbling for anyone who’s a shmup fan but maybe views match 3 as something “casual” or simple. Strangely, in the same swing, I don’t think a single fan of Bejeweled or Bust-A-Move is going to think the shooting will be easy and then bury the difficulty needle there.
As much as I liked the game itself, the storyline and exposition between the levels was a bit disjointed and, to be honest, almost distracting. Alkemi, the developers, did a good job of getting some strong voice talent, but it doesn’t distract from the fact that there’s a lot of times when Adam is straight up unlikable. Far from being sympathetic to his stress and his short temper, I almost felt bad that he was curt and sarcastic to his computer. Everything his boss told him was exceptionally grandiose and wrapped in mystery and suspense, and Adam just seemed tired and annoyed that he’s working on the weekend. Combined with the elements of needing to cut to a frantic shooting and matching engagement immediately afterwards was a bit jarring. I’d like to see something where just the cutscenes of Transcripted are lifted out of the game and played in order so that fans can see the game without the play. I think there’s merit to the whole storyline, but maybe something where I can get through Adam’s “woe-is-me” moments would be best.
Graphically, Transcripted is a visual feast. They’re captured the idea of being inside an unknown organism really well, and the blue hues, the visceral pinks and the glowing, pulsing blocks of RNA really pop on screen. This is one of those games where being up on the big screen let’s you feel the whole story, and playing handheld allows for focus on the details. You can and should absolutely do both.
Transcripted is, for me, in the “recommend” pile. It’s unique, it’s fun, there’s a lot of difficulty to manipulate and I haven’t done anything quite like it. There’s plenty of replay in terms of giving it another go, changing up how to play and beating your own score. You can honestly skip over the cutscenes as fast as you’d like, and knowing about the boss’ family crisis and such doesn’t change how you go into each stage. If you’d like a different take on the shooting and matching genres and are curious about how they mashup, then this indie darling could be a great addition to the Switch’s impressive shooting library.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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