Down with the sickness
I’ve always been a little bit in awe of the person who invented the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Whoever that brave, forgotten visionary may be, they managed to discover a combination that works so well together that it’s become more iconic than either of its individual partas. Where others saw only division, they saw an opportunity for unity, and our eating habits have never been the same since.
At this point, I imagine you’re probably wondering whether I’ve become a bit unhinged, what with the way I’m babbling on about sandwiches in a game review, but there’s a larger point behind all this rambling. Transcripted, the debut title from French indie dev house Alkemi Games, is nothing less than the gaming equivalent of a good ol’ fashioned PB&J—an absolutely ingenious mashup of two concepts that work so phenomenally well together that you can’t ever imagine them being apart.
To belabor the metaphor a bit further, Transcripted‘s peanut butter is top-down bullet hell shooters, and its jelly is match three puzzle games—specifically PopCap’s Zuma. Strange bedfellows indeed, but the way they work in tandem is nothing short of brilliant. You pilot your ship with the keyboard, take down enemies by shooting with the mouse. When they die, they’ll frequently drop colored cubes, which you can then pick up with your ship and launch at the endless stream of colored cubes that wind their way through the level. Match three in sequence, and they’ll disappear from the chain, filling up the level progress bar at the top of the screen.
Despite the fact that it offers a blend of casual and hardcore gameplay, Transcripted certainly isn’t a pushover in terms of difficulty. On the contrary, the game can, at times, feel far more challenging than its component genres do in isolation. In fact, the one thing that might turn a lot of folks off to Transcripted is how quickly things go from manageable to downright insane. By level 10, you’ll need to contend with a huge variety of enemies, each of which requires its own strategic approach, as well as a number of special twists to the matching gameplay that constantly keep you on your toes. It’s an awful lot to keep tabs on simultaneously, and a few of the levels can feel a bit overwhelming—especially compared to what comes before and after.
Thankfully, the game features variable difficulty for both the puzzle and action elements, as well as a robust unlock system that helps level the playing field somewhat. Killing enemies and completing levels earns you experience points, which you can then use to upgrade your ship along a deep skill tree. There are weapons to unlock and improve, useful new abilities to earn, and a ton of minor tweaks that help to skew the odds in your favor. Even better, if you make it part of the way through a level and die, you still hold onto all the XP you’ve earned, meaning you can continue upgrading and making progress even if you’re stuck on a particularly tricky section.
Though gameplay is clearly the focus here, Transcripted also serves as a scathing rebuttal to anyone who claims that some games just shouldn’t bother with storytelling. Even in a hybrid of two genres that usually settle for abstraction, Alkemi has managed to deliver a surprisingly polished and entertaining narrative, delivered as a series of cutscenes between missions. You’re a biochemist named Adam who’s trying to get to the bottom of a mysterious manmade disease, aided by your superior, Professor Dahl, and a snarky AI named NADIA. Your ship is actually Nano Probe designed to interact with organisms on the molecular level, your enemies are antibodies released by the pathogen, and the colors you’re matching are actually strands of the bio-weapon’s DNA.
As you can see, there’s a fair bit of creative contortion at work in order to get the plot to match the gameplay, but the writing is positively charming, and the voice acting is stellar for a game that’s hitting at a $10 price point. At the same time, however, if listening to exposition just isn’t your bag, it’s all completely optional. You’re more than welcome to skip past the cutscenes and soldier on with no motivation other than killing things, matching colors, and going for the high score.
Ultimately, that’s something that really struck me about my time with Transcripted. This is a well crafted game with astoundingly broad appeal, with enough initial simplicity to draw in the casual crowd and enough meat to keep the hardcore gamers satisfied. I imagine the game won’t strike the same chord with everyone, but I can’t for the life of imagine why anyone shouldn’t at least give it a shot.
SUMMARY: Transcripted‘s unexpected blend of shoot-em-ups and Zuma-style match three gameplay makes for one of the most refreshing and addictive experiences of the year, with the perfect mix of casual simplicity and hardcore depth.
- THE GOOD: Gameplay that perfectly blends bullet hell shooters with casual puzzle elements
- THE BAD: A somewhat uneven difficulty curve
- THE UGLY: Getting splattered with seconds to go in a mission
Transcripted is available for the PC and Mac. Primary version reviewed was for the PC.